Corrections Appended: July 12, 2013
The original version of this article included several quotes or statements that were not clearly attributed to the original sources.
There it is. On your Facebook feed: a picture of a tall, clear glass full of what looks like a red smoothie. “That looks good,” you think. And then you read the caption: “Mommy’s First Placenta Shake. It tastes like heaven. I put lots of pineapple, orange and mango sorbet. Yummmm!”
Congratulations: you’re a victim of an extreme social-media overshare. Maybe your annoying neighbor told everyone about his appendectomy. Or perhaps you sister posted too much about her attempt to conceive Baby No. 3. Either way, you’re surrounded by people who blab their business online — and it’s happening more and more.
Not too long ago, office water coolers were the place to hear and share that kind of news. But your facial cues — like raised eyebrows and wide eyes — told them when they were going too far. Or you could just walk away when the details got a bit too intimate. Today though, Facebook and Twitter are the hubs of social life, helping you check up on old friends, browse weekend photos and set lunch plans, so inevitably, you’ll run into all kinds of TMI postings.
(MORE: Toxic Facebook Friends: Tolerate, Hide or Defriend)
We all have a near biological urge to overshare, and oftentimes, the results are funny. The placenta smoothie, for example, comes courtesy of Blair Koenig, creator of the submission-based STFU, Parents blog. But more often than not, the joke backfires, and oversharing leads to some sobering and challenging consequences.
The Compulsion to Share
The roots of oversharing go back long before Mark Zuckerberg was born, down to the depths of our subconscious. Most psychology experts say we overshare to try to control anxiety. For example, when we talk to people, we spend a lot of mental energy worrying about how we come off to them. We want them to think we’re funny, smart and interesting, but that often means we don’t pay attention to what we’re actually saying. That’s why we blurt out unexpected comments to the people we want to impress most, like that crush you had back in high school or prospective in-laws. As soon as those ridiculous words leave your lips, you instantly regret it. You know you shouldn’t have said it, and then you try to fix it, making it worse. Why? You pile on the blabbing because your anxiety is rising.
Certain types of people are more prone to BYB, or blabbing your business, than others. It depends on your “attachment style” — how you form emotional bonds with people, Dr. Hal Shorey, a professor at Widener University’s Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology, told the Wall Street Journal. Partly genetic, attachment style is also a by-product of how your parents raised and related to you as a child.
The theory maintains that we’re divided roughly into three types: “secure,” which are loving and comfortable with intimacy, make up about 55% of population; “avoidant,” which reduce closeness, make up 15%; and “anxious,” which were inconsistently nurtured, account for roughly 15%. The remaining population is a combination of types.
Anxious types, which are overly sensitive to social cues, are prone to overmanaging personal connections — they’re also the most routine blabbers. Meanwhile, avoidants rarely overshare, while secure types do so on occasion. Though we manage the urge to blab to varying degrees of success, that basic urge is still instinctual.
Beyond those originals in anxiety, though, it just feels good to brag about ourselves. According to a Harvard study, about 40 percent of our speech, and 80 percent of social media posts, is devoted to telling others about what we feel or think. “Self-disclosure is extra rewarding,” Diana Tamir, the Harvard neuroscientist that conducted the experiments with colleague Jason Mitchell, told the Wall Street Journal.
(MORE: Stop Staring at Your Facebook Profile: It Could Be Making You Stupid)
When you talk about yourself, you engage two areas of the brain associated with reward: the nucleus accumbens and the ventral tegmental. Those areas — linked to feelings of love, pleasure and addiction — send the same powerful feelings you experience when engaged in sex. And it continues until the rational parts of your brain kick back in, and you realize, “Oh, my God, what have I just done?”
Beyond the Ewww Factor
BYB is like the reality TV of social media — cringe-inducing, yet mightily entertaining. Koenig’s blog and her 14,000 Twitter fans touch on a range of topics, from placenta smoothies to lessons in potty training to bouts with puberty.
“Once a poop picture oversharer, always a poop picture oversharer,” she wrote in an email Q&A with CNN. But oversharing isn’t just a joke anymore: people are discovering that what they share on Facebook and Twitter is evidence that can be used against them in a court of law.
In February, Richard Godbehere made headlines after he posted a five-minute video of himself drinking and driving. “You’re not supposed to do that,” he said in the video. “But they didn’t say anything about driving then drinking.” Local police didn’t find it humorous and ticketed him.
Confession is good for the soul, but it’s usually bad for the case — and that’s especially true on social media. Jacob Cox-Brown, an 18-year-old Astoria, Ore., resident, for example, posted a Facebook status that read: “Driving drunk … classic :). But to whoever’s vehicle, I hit I am sorry :P.” Someone tied the apologetic post to news about an unknown driver sideswiping two cars, leading officers to investigate his home and find the damaged vehicle. He was arrested, but he’s fighting the case, claiming icy conditions contributed to the accident.
Your employer, though, has more leeway in dealing with posts that cross the line — a lesson one worker at London’s Luton airport learned the hard way. The employee, whom an airport spokesperson described to NBC News as a “new, over-enthusiastic member,” posted a photo of a crashed airplane to the company’s Facebook page, along with the cheeky caption: “Because we are such a super airport… this is what we prevent you from when it snows… Weeeee :).”
The law protects you against self-incrimination, but it doesn’t cover voluntary gloating, confessions or stupidity. You’re protected against a forced confession, but not against your questionable choice to videos and social-media posts, highlights the very important difference between what goes on in your mind and what you should share.
The real trouble with oversharing isn’t so much that it’s part of human nature, but that digital tools make you vulnerable to doing it — or being a victim of it. Who hasn’t vented to friends about a relationship fight and then having to smooth things out after the make-up? It’s hard making nice after a fight, but if you’ve posted about it on Facebook, it’s even harder. We overshare to manage our anxiety, but after you apologize, kiss and move on, you still have to clean up the mess with all the others you drew in.
You can manage it by recognizing BYB-prone situations. Take a moment to see if sharing will cut your anxiety — try to imagine if the negative effects make it worthwhile. If you’ve already overshared, of course, you may want to consider dropping the subject altogether. By revisiting it, you run the risk of aggravating an already awkward situation. But if you think it’d be better to bring it up one last time, be brief and apologize without asking for approval, which may compound the gaffe.
In our culture, people bare themselves for all to see. And we need boundaries between private and public life — a safety zone. Tech tools improve our lives in many ways, but they can also exacerbate some basic urges that are best ignored. In the end, rethink your computer or social-media use if you’re anxious, doing questionable things or under the influence. Rarely does it end well. And if you have a kid, do us all a favor and don’t post pictures of placenta smoothies. Ewww!
This article was written by Margaret Rock and originally appeared on Mobiledia.
More from Mobiledia: