Over-sharing?

The June San Francisco Chronicle Magazine (the Chron only does its own glossy-magazine section once a month, a very sensible decision–the weekly book section and review/entertainment section are separate anyway) leads off with an editor’s column with the same title as this post.

It’s not all that long (465 words–shorter than this 558-word post); you can read the whole thing yourself, and look at the amusing picture. The theme: Meredith May (the writer) has been

getting into polite arguments with friends who have been posting pictures of me on Facebook and Flickr that I would never want you to see.

They’re not nude shots or anything like that–but they were “taken in private moments with friends before the world was wide and covered in a Web.” May doesn’t think it’s up to other people–even her friends–to decide which parts of her own history should be made public.

She notes a specific incident–she’s going to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to talk about her story on girl slavery in Nepal and, checking Facebook in the airport, finds that an old friend has psoted pictures of her drinking and posing at high school house parties…

May doesn’t quite understand people’s impulse to overshare their own stuff–“but over-sharing someone other than yourself without his or her permission is baffling.” And, indeed, since we learn that any candid shot is likely to turn up on the web, spontaneity could be suffering.

I have had parties at my house with a dozen of my lovely artist friends, and nine will bring a camera and start shooting. The whole reason for having your homies over for a party is that you can let down your hair and dance on the counter if you want to. But I’m more cautious now. The joie de vivre, the carpe diem, the being alive part of living – is tempered.

In our haste to document and share everything, are we losing what it means to live in the moment?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but this editorial certainly resonates with me. I’ll take it a step further: “Agreeing” that a picture can be posted isn’t always being entirely happy about it. Coercion is a strong word for the process that takes place, but it’s a form of social pressure–the desire not to be thought a complete killjoy.

There are pictures of me on the web (oddly enough, they show up in Google but not on Bing) that I could do without. One of them has a caption about what a good sport I was. “Good sport” in this case really means “didn’t feel he could avoid this without looking like a killjoy.”

I know that my own behavior at, say, conference receptions is now much more circumspect than it might have been in the past, that I’m much less willing to don silly hats or assume silly poses or hold up silly signs. A few years ago, I would have assumed that a few folks would have gotten little laughs out of the silliness as captured in photos. Now, I assume that the silly pictures will live forever on the web and in search-engine results–and while they can’t really do me any harm, I’d just as soon not, thank you.

So does this make me a killjoy? Maybe so. Such is life. Apparently I’m not the only one…

8 Responses to “Over-sharing?”

  1. Angel Says:

    Given that I am not the most social person–I don’t attend parties with any regularity, rarely if ever go something like a social/party at a conference, etc.– the likelihood of anybody snapping a picture of me is pretty slim. Family is the only folk I have to worry about, and there I make sure I temper the behavior, since I know at least one member who loves to snap that camera around and post it to FB a bit much. I don’t give her much to work from, so to speak. If it makes me a killjoy, so be it. But better than having lord knows what crop up someplace where certain folk can see it. Overall, I have observed that often, in the end, what gets people in trouble is not pictures they post themselves. It’s what their “friends” post, usually without thinking.

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  2. GeekChic Says:

    Count me as a killjoy on this topic too – though I’m not as polite as you. I refuse to allow my picture to be taken and am quite firm about why (my image, my choice – not yours). My picture isn’t in my employer’s staff directory – it sure as heck isn’t going to be on someone’s Facebook page (or anywhere else for that matter)!

    I also don’t fully understand the need to over-share but I understand that I’m in the minority on this topic. What I do resent is the implication that there is somehow something “wrong” with me for wishing to be a private person.

  3. walt Says:

    GeekChic: I’m not sure you’re in the minority. Actually, I strongly suspect that you’re not, but that over-sharers are both much more visible on this issue and inclined to believe that theirs is the only reasonable stance.

    I encountered some of danah boyd’s excellent thinking that relates to this topic–about the difference between Public and Publicized. (She was referring to Facebook issues, but it’s the same principle, I think.) Read the July C&I–coming later this week–for details.

    And no, there is nothing wrong with wishing to be a private person.

  4. Daniel Cornwall Says:

    I might be a member of a different minority. I’m a pretty avid amateur photographer, but I never take pictures of people unless:

    – It’s a crowd photo and people are not personally identifiable.
    – They’re in the landscape and in my view can’t be personally identified.
    – I am specifically asked to.

    There might be a few exceptions on my Flickr account, but they are entirely inadvertent.

  5. walt Says:

    Daniel: And I’m pretty sure you’re not part of the problem.

    Part of the problem is time lag–as in the editorial itself: Pictures that were taken years ago, specifically years before Flickr and Facebook made offhand photosharing so common.

  6. CW Says:

    I consider it the height of rudeness to post a photo of someone publically without their permission. I love Flickr and have used it for some years, but my photostream has very few public pictures of people in it, and I have their permission to make them public. I am also a bit careful about posting pictures of children – not because of any worry about paedophiles necessarily, but because I don’t think the children can give me informed permission, even if their parents do. (I do wonder at all those blogs by doting parents detailing their child’s every development. Will your child thank you for it when they start school?)

  7. GeekChic Says:

    I’d like to thank both CW and Daniel for being thoughtful photographers and posters. This private person appreciates the effort.

    And Walt, you may very well have a point about my not being a minority. Even if you don’t, I’ll go with it because it makes me feel better… ;)

  8. Olivia Says:

    Another killjoy feeling conflicted here. Glad to hear others thinking about this — sometimes I can’t tell if I’m just being paranoid when I decline to have pictures of myself identified online. It will be interesting to see if there is backlash by children whose parents are publicly documenting their lives online right now. The newest generation may not find it very cool…


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