Did you know that social media allows people to “over share?” That people post all kinds of irrelevant, trivial, and generally silly stuff about themselves online? It’s true! In fact, there’s an epidemic of over-sharing out there! And if you pay attention to it, it’s kind of annoying!
These are the insights presented by New York Times columnist Roger Cohen in a curmudgeonly screed, titled “Thanks for Not Sharing,” whose tart misanthropy aspires to the heights of Mencken, but ends up delivering an experience more akin to a slightly demented older relative complaining about that Lindsay Lohan.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I love a good curmudgeon, and everyone who writes about technology and society should be allowed at least one column to set forth everything they hate about social media (here’s mine). But it’s all too easy to begin blaming everything which bothers you about life, human beings, and the universe in general on social media, or some other relatively new technology (mobile is another favorite whipping boy). In short, you think you hate social media, when what you’re really trying to say is, you just don’t like people. And that’s okay: no one says you have to like people. But let’s be clear about our feelings.
Casting around for the causes of the “compulsion to share,” Cohen decides that people over-share because they are afraid that if they stop sharing, their “status” -- which I take to mean their online footprint, the amount of attention paid to them by other people -- will go down. “The only antidote, the only means to push that status up again, it seems, is to keep sharing more and more,” Cohen writes. “Here I am -- the posts and tweets and pix say -- a being not anonymous but alive. I overshare therefore I am.”
Beneath all the sniping and bile, Cohen’s argument seems to boil down to this: people like attention and want other people to know they exist -- just like they have for thousands and thousands of years. In other words it has nothing to do with social media, and everything to do with human nature being what it is.
If Cohen doesn’t like people for being vainglorious, self-centered, and narcissistic, that’s fine -- just don’t blame social media. The real idiocy, in my humble op-ed, lies not in people posting a bunch of silly nonsense about themselves online, but in taking the time and effort to, first, actually pay attention to it, and, second, dignify it by complaining about it. As with other media, if you don’t like what you see, just turn it off.