Why do we post the things we do to the online world?

3718789722_8800a8f2a3_mBack in 2010, I think, I decided that I was done with Facebook. OK, this wasn’t the first time I had come to that conclusion and it would not be the last. In this particular case, I decided I would go back to where my online experience had started, which was the blogging platform called Livejournal. There was a lot I was not liking about Facebook. I did not like how easy it was for me (and others) to post banal, meaningless details about our lives. Livejournal gave me an opportunity to noodle a thought, write it out, and then get more than a “thumbs up” when I was done, if anyone was in the mood to react at all. On Livejournal I was connected to people I had known in my college years, primarily. Facebook was full of people i had met online, and I was becoming confused about our relationships. Were we friends? Facebook said so. I didn’t feel like dealing with the moral dilemma, I guess.

Shortly after deciding that Facebook and I were history, a big thunderstorm rolled into my neighborhood. I did not take this as a sign from above that I had made a mistake, but I did notice that my immediate impulse was to post to Facebook. “It’s thunderstorming! I love thunderstorms!” What was that all about? Who cares that it’s thunderstorming? In fact, more to the point, who cares that I love thunderstorms? What was this new instinct all about? Something happened, I must report it to people I may not know at all.

Of course, I returned to Facebook after some short amount of time, and I have never really returned to my old friend Livejournal. My Facebook world is a hybrid of communities that represent a “This is your life” amalgam for me now. There are people on Facebook with whom I went to nursery school. There are high school friends, college, friends, grad school friends, work friends, and people I have met over my years “doing” social media for my family’s full-service marketing firm. Indeed, if you traced my connections chronologically you’d have a good start on the story of my life. But this does not explain the urge I experience to report on random things throughout the day. “It’s snowing.” “It’s warm.” “It’s cold.” Of course my statements are not so simplistic, but in the grand scheme of things, that is about the level of significance many of my Facebook updates carry with them.

8272939201_eef7695961_mThis is not a self-condemnation. I am of course not the only one who posts things to Facebook that reflect the everyday grind of life. People post pictures of what they are eating. I’ve seen people post pictures of an empty plate, noting that what had once resided on that plate was really tasty. They ate it all. Do I need to know these things? I don’t know what my parents eat for dinner most of the time, nor do I really care. Same for the rest of my family, unless they are eating something I’m really jealous of. Yet every day I comment on pictures of peoples’ food, pictures of peoples’ new shoes, peoples’ observations about airports and grocery stores. Why do we post these things?

I pose this question rhetorically. I don’t have an answer. For me I would say it has become a habit over the years. You might even sy it has become an addiction. Through these tiny humdrum updates I have built real friendships, so each little one can’t be a waste of time. Sometimes posting something seemingly unimportant touches another person in an unexpected way and you learn something about them they may not even have thought about. I like the unpredictability of those kinds of interactions.

I think there is more to the story though. I am often puzzled as to why people post pictures of their food to Facebook while they are out with their spouse to celebrate an anniversary. Why do people post pictures of themselves snuggling with their children? Shouldn’t the focus be exclusively on the spouse, exclusively on the child? Why do people who say they are content with their lives spend hours every day staring at a computer or phone screen, typing to people who are not there. Typing to people who may even be on the other side of the world?

I am reading an amazing book by Sherry Turkle called Alone Together. Right now she is exploring how humans interact with robots that are intended to mimic facets of human nature. Turkle notes again and again that when humans engage with Artificial Intelligence, the human mind changes in a very short period of time. The robot evolves from “a machine” to something the human wants to earn affection from. The robot is anthropormorphised. It is given a name, it is attributed feelings like caring, likes, and dislikes. The human has something missing, and suddenly there is something that can fill that hole, whatever it may be. A child who feels it does not get enough attention can suddenly receive undivided attention from these robots. A person who feels unimportant can become proud if they teach a robot a new word or action.

Is this why we interact online the way we do? Perhaps I post that I like thunderstorms because I want to share that joy with other people. Perhaps people share pictures of them with their children because they feel a need to prove that they spend enough time with their children. Perhaps people post pictures of new purchases or great meals because they want to prove that their lives are really good. Who are they proving that to, however? To others? Or are we all looking for a pat on the back from people, some nod of encouragement saying that even with the craziness in this world, we’re doing ok?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how coaches, teachers, and parents are raising kids with an “everybody’s a winner” mentality. I remember when this surfaced during my childhood. My brother participated in a competitive event called Odyssey of the Mind. He and the other kids on his team worked for weeks, really hard, on what they were going to do. All of the other competitors worked really hard too. At the end of the day, it was announced that there were no winners because everyone who had participated was a winner. I seem to remember a distinct groan from everyone who was there. Or consider the quote from the Pixar movie The Incredibles. “If everyone is special, no one is.” If we’re all winners and all special, we are like everybody else. There is nothing remarkable about us. Maybe we need our online interactions to accentuate what makes us unique.

Why do we post the things we do? It is a hard thing to think about. It’s like that childhood moment when suddenly you realize you’re too old to play “house.” The dolls aren’t real, you’re not really a mom or dad, and anyway, real life may not be so great as to want to play it out more than you have to. Pulling back the curtain of why we post the things we do can make us ponder things about ourselves we don’t really want to think about. Flaws. Bad feelings. Things we know we need to work on but don’t really want to. Are you willing to take the journey?

First Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/openpad/3718789722/sizes/s/in/photostream/ via Creative Commons

Second Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/22261474@N08/8272939201/ via Creative Commons

17 comments
NancyCawleyJean
NancyCawleyJean

Oh what a great question that I've posed to myself so many times! I too took a hiatus from Facebook, but felt the pull to be back there again. Perhaps it's a feeling of missing something if we're NOT posting. Perhaps it's for those of us who might need that external affirmation to feel we've thought or said or done the right thing. Or maybe it's that high school feeling of wanting to be sitting at the cool kids table. Who knows. The fact is that posting to social media has almost become second nature. When we see, feel, hear, smell or taste something, we feel the need to share it! Yup, it's involving ALL  our senses now. I'm just waiting for the scratch-n-sniff tweet to come along! Thanks for another fab post, Margie! Hope you're enjoying a wonderful weekend. 

MyThirdChakra
MyThirdChakra

One theory might be that we need to share stories no matter how minute. We can't survive in silence. The story, even the small accounts of our day, is the dominant sound of our lives. Perhaps Adam and Eve invented speech to define their existence, to confess the need for companionship and consolation. We connect online because we modern day creatures are just as vulnerable as the original humans, and rather than painting in caves about our daily adventures, we simply click 'share'.

geoffliving
geoffliving

My navel looks SO GOOD! Hmm. OK, it's pretty disgusting. What do you think?

 

:P 

AlaskaChickBlog
AlaskaChickBlog

Margie,

You (always) raise some good and deep questions... and I think Stan and Adrian added to it. For me, it is really part of the whole. Discovering and yes, immersing myself, in Social Media, presumably for our business..... (Good word, eh?) opened parts of me, opened the door... to find you (and Ann, Stan, Betsy, Kaarina....) and simply INFUSED me with such HOPE and wonders ... and so much more. Now, personally... I tend to gain weight LOOKING at food, so I wish people would stop doing that, but ...(what did you say)..."Sometimes posting something seemingly unimportant touches another person in an unexpected way and you learn something about them they may not even have thought about." or as Stan said, "And sometimes that's all we need from others - reassurance that we matter to someone - even if only just a little bit."... I have certainly received those gifts and really hope that I have touched someone else's heart with something I shared...

 

Actually, it is truly a HUGE win-win for me... because it IS working for our business... and it has made me so much more than I was, Margie... I have grown so much from who and what I was when I had my last stroke in January of 2010... and really, you are so dear to me and you live almost on the other side of the country from me...Stan just returned home, but he was in Romania! That was umm... what? 10-11 hours after me? Ameena lives in France and I knew if I wanted to talk TO her, I had to get with it first thing in the morning- before she went to bed... These people, whom I have claimed as my own, they are my family... details are what make us who we are, right? Something silly, moan-groan-complaining, worries, triumphs, big deals in our tiny lives... That is what connects us. It takes a long time to make memories... memories to reminisce with "old friends"... but you and I, we have shared moments too, already... we'll have so many more too, Lord willing...

 

What strikes me is this. I do not consider myself anything super-special, all on my own. I have been blessed with circumstances (which, yes, some of which were horrible, traumatic, scary, heart-breaking....) that led me here, to Chisana, which is another Blessing all of its own....not mine, I was blessed to be part of it, but I had nothing to do with the making of it... I am special, because you all taught me to be, and how to share what IS special, about me, about my life, and about my own first hand experience with what is truly special...other people. People that have come into our lives or people who may be looking, just as I was, for somewhere special to be...You all taught me how to share THAT with them.

 

Ok. So this is what I don't understand. You are all at the very least as smart as I am. Right? Right. So why then, the nasty or degrading comments? The negative or impartial reactions? The COMPLETE lack of understanding that what we are actually doing has the very simple and easy power to reach the ENTIRE world? We have that power... look at what the Blankets and Baskets of your own are doing... what about the Online Safe House? THESE are powerfully GOOD things. The Community I am head-over heals for, #bealeader, they are doing WONDERFUL and GOOD things together by helping each other, talking TO each other, to teach us and the ones that follow how to do more and better...to be GOOD and RIGHT leaders... who care.

 

Sigh. ok. Just don't forget how much right and good you are doing and how much it does matter, Margie. You make me laugh out loud at LEAST once a day... that is a really big deal. You make me THINK constantly... that is HUGE.

Faryna
Faryna

insipid, shallow remarks, clicks and shares - they too are necessary data points in our extended neural network.

 

Capability, availability, competence and/or (lack of) interest - there's lots of reasons (good and bad) why we can't or won't give ourselves to another at any particular moment or across time. But we can signal the connection is not dead. And sometimes that's all we need from others - reassurance that we matter to someone - even if only just a little bit. 

 

And then there's the other side of the coin.

Adrian Hoppel
Adrian Hoppel

Speaking for myself, I work from home. I miss, believe it or not, the banal office commentary and over-the-cubicle observations that are so commonplace in an office. They helped me more than I realized to be connected in some small way, to bear witness to someone else's triviality, and have someone else bear witness to mine. I get that from Facebook. Not always something deep or important, but something worthwhile nonetheless. 

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

 @NancyCawleyJean Yes, it's that second nature thing that makes me feel kind of off-kilter. I took time away from posting from Facebook a couple of months ago. I commented on other peoples' stuff but I didn't post anything new myself. It became more and more obvious to me, the first couple of days, how often I got the impulse to post something to Facebook. It kind of freaked me out a little, to be honest. :)

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

 @MyThirdChakra That's an interesting theory. But one wonders why we need it so much MORE now. People didn't used to call their friends up to say, "Well, I'm eating tacos. No no, chicken. Yeah, sour cream. Here, let me send you a picture." People communicated to talk about boys or girls or homework or whatever. So communication, yes. But why the minutiae? 

Faryna
Faryna

 @AlaskaChickBlog 

 

Amber-Lee is amazing. I hope she feels herself to be amazing, too,

 

And she's right on in her want to remind us to re-focus on being the amazing that is in each of us.

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

 @AlaskaChickBlog Wow, that is quite the comment.

 

Why the negative or impartial reactions? Jill Manty made an interesting comment about that on Facebook. She said sometimes she goes with the reaction that seems easiest. It can sometimes be very hard to know what to say. For example, if someone posts that something terrible has happened to them or one of their loved ones, you can feel like saying "I'm so sorry" via a Facebook comment is almost insulting in its not being enough, or meaningful enough. People can get tied into knots over what to say or what not to say, and sometimes, even then, something you say can strike a person wrong.

 

As for negativity, I think people are feeling scared and stressed these days. It's easy to be snippy online because you don't have to see the facial expression of the person you're talking to. They remain the same avatar, no matter what you say. I'll be talking about this over the coming posts, but I think we are in danger of turning our "friends" online into robots. We can turn them off when we want, contact them when we want - that's sort of the prime element of what Turkle's book is all about.

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

 @Faryna That's an interesting point, Stan. Some friends of my parents had a son who served in Afghanistan. It was completely nervewracking, but the dad said he would send a message over and then he would wait for the ping back, just hoping to hear something from his son to indicate all was as well as could be expected. However, our pings in the online world are not coming from a place where our relationships are like father/son. We are (one would think) building the relationships. I think that makes the pinging more confusing sometimes. How much or how little does that ping mean?

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

 @Adrian Hoppel Interesting. Do you find that you share the same kinds of things online that you would offline in those daily "how are ya" exchanges?

MyThirdChakra
MyThirdChakra

 @margieclayman It may be a case of 'if you build it, they will come.' Some of us lack filters and love to discuss the details of our lives ad nauseum. We've been doing this forever. We find ourselves fascinating, I guess. Maybe the new media has discovered a way to exploit a propensity that's been traditionally dormant in most of us. Think Pandora's Box!

Faryna
Faryna

 @margieclayman 

 

A network ping tests whether a particular host is reachable across an IP network. A ping tritely searches and verifies route, connection and presence; it also signals the presence of the pinger.

 

The ping in active sonar can provide considerable information - presence, distance and, sometimes, three dimensional descriptions. 

 

The social ping, it means as little or much, as we make of it - pinger and pingee. Which can be quite confusing. [grin]

 

As you know, I am want to be a gentle advocate of likes, +1s, trite and positive comments, and whatever as positive ping backs (whenever possible) - not necessarily as affirmations of content, judgments or qualitative assessments.  Of course, that does not prevent conversations and engagement in which affirmations, contentions, judgment and qualitative assessments are exercised.

Faryna
Faryna

 @margieclayman 

 

My friend, Jack King, would say that we are all connected and not just within the human family - whether or not we recognize or understand that connection.

 

Perhaps, this is why Buddha is said to have recognized the enlightenment of a disciple who held up a flower and smiled (in response to a sermon given by Buddha). Jack often speaks of the need for us to honor our relationship to each other within the sacred circle.

 

We need not be a father, son, sister, brother, etc. to feel or want connection with others, with the sky and the earth, the birds and the fish, etc. Or the divine.

 

Actually, Jack was here and helping me make my gardens this morning. Through these gardens, I will connect with (and serve) butterflies, bees, fireflies, humming birds and others. Of course, I am planning a substantial conversation...

 

All of this, however, strangely speaks to the spiritual nature of relationships. Of love and service, presence and gift, attention and intention...

 

Billy Delaney spoke of these things at last year's SoSlam. And I am told that more than a few people heard his words in their heart.

 

If you think that you met me by coincidence - that would be shame. [warm smile]

 

 

Adrian Hoppel
Adrian Hoppel

 @margieclayman Well, for the most part. Except I have a *little* more audience control on FB that at the water cooler. But the "what I had for dinner" / "weather" / "traffic" /"TV show" / "weird dream" / "sports recap" are almost verbatim.