#Privacy: the personal, the public and the culture of oversharing



The threshold between being open and oversharing is one we spend our whole lives navigating. In nursery toilet training boasts might get you a sticker, but by Reception no one wants to hear it. Your Grandma loved hearing about your university offers, but don’t believe the Facebook likes – everyone else wishes you’d kept it between yourself and UCAS. In an age of cat videos and Instagram® Frappuccinos®, it seems as though regard for discretion is as outmoded as Bebo. Even after the NSA/Prism scandal, where we learnt that even the government could be browsing “IbIzA 2010!!!” photos, polling by Huffington Post UK revealed that we don’t really mind snooping and reckon the government are on to a good thing. Have we finally yanked down the net curtains, or are we just indulging our swelling narcissism?

I suppose it hinges on whether we are listening as much as we are speaking. Those who use Twitter to record every blink, breath and burger are generally derided for their desperate solipsism, but the medium exists solely as a vehicle to share. What makes one thought more worthy than another, and is it just a question of quantities? It is possible to peruse the thoughts of others, to pass on ideas and participate in a community of engaged discourse, but it is a rare Twitter user who has not offered such uninspired revelation as “I love summer”.

While I believe that openness is preferable to button-lipped privacy, I wonder if we have unleashed an unhealthy level of expression unmediated. Twitter is just one of the many forums we have created for people to advertise their appointments diary (see Facebook, Instagram, mySpace, blogging etc etc). The recent debate over #twittersilence versus #shoutingback indicates how powerful Twitter uses believe their tweets to be. Indeed, the Arab Spring has been linked to Twitter, and at its finest it provides a means to share human thought across continent and creed. The terrible case of the teenager whose suicide was linked to threats on the internet indicates that while we once used the web to report on real life, it is now the stage for real life itself. You can find a date, have coffee with a friend, catch a late film and do your groceries without leaving your bedroom. Things happen on the internet and we discuss them face-to-face.

With the apparent breakdown of community life (difficult for a North London Jew to believe but I’ll take your word for it), we have moved away from the postcode as the primary criterion for communality. We can join groups on Facebook and share interests and passions with people across the globe. The world is, yes, a smaller place, but perhaps a more discerning one. We are sceptical of our doctors because we have Googled the symptoms already; we don’t need a travel agent when TripAdvisor has it all there. Despite all the toddler chuntering of the web, it may be the thing that is encouraging us to grow up and get out. If we are willing to listen, and to shut up about the great sunset/sushi/soy latte, there is a world murmuring beyond the clutter of invitations to Candy Crush.