It’s a classic tale: Girl moves to big city. Girl blogs in her spare time about life in big city. Girl blogs with nearly reckless abandon — about what she’s “reading and watching and thinking about,” and about her longtime boyfriend, who doesn’t particularly enjoy the attention. But since it is a small blog for just “a few hundred people,” girl insists on her right to blog without boundaries.
Girl gets a full-time job at big-name blog. Girl’s posts are now read by thousands every day. Girl begins flirting with male co-blogger. Girl breaks up with longtime boyfriend, begins dating coworker and proceeds to craft not-so-veiled blog posts about her new relationship. Girl’s new boyfriend — much like her previous boyfriend — does not appreciate the public dissemination of their relationship’s every twist and turn.
And this, dear readers, is where the classic tale takes a turn. Unlike the previous boyfriend, the new guy is a blogger, too, and thus has vast, untold media channels at his disposal. So, when their relationship eventually falters — and how could it not, given the DEFCON 2-level breach in trust? — the male co-blogger retaliates in kind, with an article titled “The Dangers of Blogger Love.”
The author uses only the girl’s first name, but the details are just a Google search away. He uses her words, her own posts, against her. He doesn’t come across very well, but she looks even worse. “You should have known better,” he quotes her as saying. “After all, I’m a blogger.” But she apparently didn’t know better, either, and her insistence on baring both her privacy and others’ is likewise laid bare.
So what does she do? After a time spent in the fetal position on her kitchen floor, the girl responds with an article of her own — a cover story, in fact, The New York Times Magazine. It’s called “Exposed,” and in it the girl tells all, admits all. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, the girl just can’t help it. She is, as the kids like to call it these days, an “oversharer.”
Is this what the blogging culture has done to us? Are we more willing to share (overshare) things online that we would never otherwise reveal in public? Has the Internet created some sort of artificial anonymity that makes many people feel “safe” when discussing the details of their personal lives?
Truth is, oversharing works, at least in terms of increasing Web traffic or reader response. Whether they admit it or not, plenty of readers enjoy those revealing details. It’s why we watch reality TV, why we read People magazine and its less-seemly spawn, why we like to sit in the park or at the mall and simply watch the world walk by. This even holds true at Boundless, where readers tend to respond more when an author illustrates a point with personal anecdotes than with straightforward exposition. Boundless Answers’ columnist Candice Watters, for example, has often referenced the story of her transition from friendship to courtship with her now-husband, Steve. Not surprisingly, some Boundless bloggers are personally more forthcoming than others.
Making a point with a personal story certainly isn’t wrong, not at all. (Look at Jesus’ use of parables.) And it’s often very effective. (Again, parables.) But when does sharing cross the line into oversharing? And who makes the call? After all, one person’s oversharing is another’s everyday conversation. And as long as we’re playing the role of innocent bystanders — i.e. readers — oversharing seems like harmless people-watching.
At least until somebody gets hurt.
Copyright 2008 Thomas Jeffries. All rights reserved.