The Case for Oversharing

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The backlash against services like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare has a long, strong, storied pedigree. And amid other concerns, we've all heard variations on this argument: social networking encourages mankind's worst exhibitionist tendencies. But what if skeptics have it wrong? In the current issue of Time, Steven Johnson writes "In Praise of Oversharing"—a broad endorsement of "going public" with our innermost thoughts.

His primary case study is new media guru Jeff Jarvis, who blogged openly about his battle with prostate cancer. Jarvis tapped into a community of readers who sympathized and offered surprisingly helpful advice. This experience drives Johnson to urge sharing our lives in the "valley of intimate strangers"—an online space where people we don't know personally access our most private details. We have more to gain by sharing, Johnson argues, than by concealing:

Somewhere in the world there exists another couple that would benefit from reading a transcript of your lover's quarrel last night, or from watching it live on the webcam. Even a simple what-I-had-for-breakfast tweet might just steer a nearby Twitterer to a good meal. We habitually think of oversharers as egoists and self-aggrandizers. But what Jarvis rightly points out is that there is something profoundly selfish in not sharing....

There is no doubt that five years from now, when my children are teenagers, they will be comfortable living in public in ways that will astound and alarm their parents. I can already imagine how powerful the instinct to worry about predators and compromising photos will be. But it will be our responsibility to keep that instinct in check and to recognize that their increasingly public existence brings more promise than peril. We have to learn how to break with that most elemental of parental commandments: Don't talk to strangers. It turns out that strangers have a lot to give us that's worthwhile, and we to them.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.