“You overshare,” she said.
She was a fairly recent acquaintance, someone I’d met through work. Although she was outwardly reserved, I’d hoped we were kindred spirits under the surface, but it turned out I was wrong. We’d met for coffee and I’d asked her for help dealing with a difficult situation with another work colleague. And that’s when she said it.
It turns out my issue with the other work colleague probably has something to do with my oversharing, too. “It’s not professional,” I can picture her saying, perhaps wagging a finger.
Over the past year, I can think of at least six people who’ve been unhappy with my level of personal disclosure online. Strangely enough, every single one of those people is from an English or Scottish background.
I’m Irish. In my childhood home, arguments were normal. One of my dearest memories of my parents is of me storming off to my room in the middle of an argument, and them gently knocking a few minutes later. They didn’t let me run away from my feelings. We sorted stuff out, sometimes messily, but in the present.
We’re often told not to “bottle up” our emotions, that it might lead to “explosions” of feeling, or maybe violence. But I think I have a better metaphor. Sinkholes are formed when water accumulates under a land surface and the soil underneath erodes, leading to a sudden collapse.
A sinkhole is a good representation of what happened to my marriage, I think.
I’ve always needed an outlet for my emotions. I don’t consider myself an extravert, so often I’ve dealt with things by writing about them. When personal online publishing became a reality in the late 1990s, the issue of oversharing became inevitable, although not many people would have foreseen it at the time. As someone who began keeping a homepage in those days, and then starting a personal blog, I’m bound to be stuck in my idealistic, perhaps naive, way of thinking. We didn’t do it for “hits” or traffic. We did it to find connection, to make some friends who might understand us, even though we didn’t live near each other.
Fifteen years ago this week, I attended my very first SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas. The personal weblog I’d started the previous year, the one you’re reading this on right now, had led to the establishment of a few tentative friendships. As I got off the plane in Austin, I was nervous. Would these people like me in real life? Would we be the same people we portrayed ourselves as online? It was a real concern. Imagine my relief when people I’d only known as text on a screen came up to me and hugged me. We’d found our “tribe,” we’d say, and years later, many of those people are still very dear to me.
So when my life began to come apart last year, I turned to a group of people who are spread out all over the world. I don’t see many of them often, we don’t even speak on the phone very much. This is the new reality of connection. I shared my life struggles with these people, on this blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, wherever else my real friends might be. Sure, lots of other people can see what I’m writing. I’m not ashamed. I wear my heart on my sleeve whenever possible, and I’m freer because of it.
I may lose people who don’t like that. I won’t say friends because how could they be friends if they’re embarrassed by me? I may lose potential jobs or work opportunities because of that. To that, I’d offer that my online presence was formed in the years before “social media” was something for my resume, when it was a way for me and millions of others to find our voices and use them. When the web was more about personalities and less about commerce. I’m not using a bullhorn to talk about myself, but I won’t be shushed, either.
In an age when the notion of “privacy” is under attack, I overshare. My government and several other governments, along with most of the world’s largest corporations, know so much about me already. What I buy, what I read, how I vote, where I go, what websites I visit, what I search for. Why not show them and the rest of the world the real me? I’m so much more than my data points. I’m a glorious ball of contradictions, stumbling through this life making mistakes and finding joy and enduring pain and loving and being loved, being misunderstood and ignored, and maybe hated, too.
I’m a human being. And I overshare.