Do You Overshare Online?

Most of us are guilty of dropping a few bold truths online to give our friends a laugh. But as a new study suggests, this could be damaging our relationships
ByJennifer GibsonWednesday , 12 February 2014
Now? We’re all in overshare mode
Now? We’re all in overshare mode
The Information Age
© (c) Thomas Barwick
The Information Age

Picture the scene. It’s Valentine’s Day and your other half is going all out to impress. A dozen red roses arrive on your desk at work and you do what so many others are doing on this most romantic of days – you take a picture and upload it to your Instagram, being sure to tick the Facebook and Twitter share options before hitting send. A girl deserves the occasional boast, right?

Later, taking your seat at the city’s hot new restaurant, you reach for your iPhone and ‘check in’. After all, it would be mean not to reward him by letting your friends know what a great job he’s done of snagging that table. 

A few years ago such behaviour would have been seen as a little extreme. After all, in the not too distant past, date night meant no phones and washing your dirty linen in public, as the saying goes, was more than a little frowned upon. Now? We’re in an overshare age.

Like so many big trends, it might be fair to blame the A-list. After all, no one loves an overshare quite like a publicity hungry celeb. Rihanna, Lindsay Lohan, Lenny Kravitz, Heidi Klum and Katy Perry are all on the roll call of celebs who love to post pictures of themselves on the net, while Demi Moore and ex-husband Ashton Kutcher used to tweet side by side on the sofa. Then there are the Kardashians. Not content to document the minutiae of their lives for the viewing public, the infamous clan love nothing more than a ridiculously revealing Instagram selfie or tweet. Matriarch Kris may lead the way when it comes to inappropriateness, but daughter Kim is catching up quick, most recently with a series of snaps of her scantily clad bod. Having blasted the press for scrutinising her physique during her recent pregnancy, the reality star has joined in the pap scrum, most recently posting a series of pictures of her slimmed down, but still impressive, bottom.

Also somewhat obsessed with her own body is Gwyneth Paltrow, who never tires of sharing her exercise and diet secrets. She even left talk show host Ellen speechless when she revealed her slight frock for the Iron Man premiere left her team scrambling for a razor to tame her leg hair. Did someone say TMI?

Even traditional interviews are now peppered with shock statements from celebs who should know better. Victoria Beckham designs clothes in the nude, Eva Mendes admitted, “I walk around the house naked – I do. One of my girlfriends always jokes, ‘I’m coming over with someone, so please come to the door dressed’”, while Robert Pattinson got in on the overshare action for the boys, telling one interviewer “I don’t really see the point in washing your hair. If you don’t care if your hair’s clean or not then why wash it?”

While sharing so much might seem narcissistic, there may be scientific reason why we all spend so much time online. In short? Sharing is addictive.

Researchers at Harvard University recently shocked the scientific world when they revealed that fMRI scans could be used to prove that our brains respond to self-disclosure in much the same way they respond to stimuli like food or money.  

Diana Tamir, a graduate student in the institution’s Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab and lead author of the study, found participants were even willing to forego up to 25 per cent of their potential earnings in exchange for the right to reveal more information about themselves to others. She said, “We were interested in why people engage in self-disclosure so seemingly excessively. We wanted to know if people would pay money to engage in this behaviour - to share information about themselves with other people – and it turns out they will.

“You might think that gregarious people are more highly rewarded, but shy people also like to share their thoughts,” she says. “My hunch is that everybody can find some kind of value reward in having an audience or a sympathetic ear.”

It might sound harmless enough put like that, but a second study by Britain’s renowned Oxford University had more alarming results, suggesting that this public documentation of every aspect of our lives could actually be putting our relationships at risk.

Testing the theory of ‘media multiplexity’ with more than 24,000 married individuals, Dr Bernie Hogan’s team found a clear link between the number of media channels used to communicate, the frequency they are used and the strength of relationship ties. 

“We found that those using more media tend to report no greater relationship satisfaction and some even reported decreasing satisfaction,” revealed Doctor Hogan. “This work suggests that while media, which now includes online social media, still operates as a signal of ties of strength in relationships, there may be a cut-off point after which the increasing complexity of maintaining so many separate communications threads starts to undermine relationship ties.”

And that’s only about our romantic relationships. Imagine a potential employer, or even your mother-in-law, were to read all those status updates. Would you be so happy to share then?

There’s no doubt, Facebook, Twitter et al are great social tools and, in this expat-heavy society, do a tremendous job at helping us maintain relationships with friends and loved ones across the globe. But if the experts are to be believed, there’s a fine line and many of us, celebs included, are walking across it rather haphazardly. The lesson for us all? Take your seat in that hot restaurant with pride this Valentine’s Day, by all means. But please, leave your smartphone in your clutch - or you could end up having to buy your own flowers next year… 

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