When was the last time you took to Facebook to blow off some steam about your relationship problems? Most people seem to think this is an annoying trait – and in fact a recent survey reported by the Telegraph found that ‘oversharing’ (sharing too much personal information) is the ‘biggest turnoff’ for users of social networking websites.

Gossip Makes the World Go Round?

Let’s go back in time for a minute, back to when you looked like an ape. Most of your day was spent being hairy, hanging out with your ape buddies. You couldn’t speak yet – but that was ok: although you couldn’t create friendships through gossip, you bonded with your small, close – knit community by grooming and picking bugs off each other.

However, as your community grew, and your social network expanded, it became harder to find time for everyone. You can’t rush a good grooming session!

- And so your skills for language evolved – from a series of grunts and snuffly noises to a complex system of grammatical and lexical (content-ful) words. Language developed through our need to gossip and strengthen bonds with our social networks.

At least, this is one interesting theory posited by linguist and evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar. He backs this up with additional research that links the size of the ‘thinking’ part of the brains of different species, the neocortex, with the size of the communities in which they live.

Oversharing = Language Evolution

Back to the future. Our networks are still expanding at a rapid pace – just like those of our hirsute ancestors. Apparently the average number of Facebook friends is 150 – but for the average 20-something-year-old, I’d say it’s more like 300. ‘Friends’ is too literal – most of them are probably contacts, friends of friends or old classmates. Whatever. Of course they’re not all close friends! Coincidentally (or perhaps not), Dunbar also posits that the human cortex is designed to interact with a network of around 150 people – is social networking what our brains have been waiting for?!

You Scratch My (Furry) Back…

As we all know, it’s not about what you know; but whom you know. How do we nurture these contacts and build more meaningful relationships that could potentially lead to a rewarding friendship, job offer or a place to crash on a road trip? Further evidence that our brains are hard-wired to gossip and share their lives can be evidenced in a study by Harvard & Cambridge universities: “When you look at the neural regions generally associated with rewards like money or sex or food, those same regions seemed to respond more robustly when people were engaging in self disclosure than when they were not.”

Too Much Info: The Message or the Medium?

But this doesn’t solve the problem of punchable, smug status updaters, or Instagram photos of someone’s rash that nearly make your lunch reappear all over your keyboard. Who does this?

Well, chances are, the people who you think overshare on social media are just the same in real life. Some people are naturally more comfortable talking about themselves – however, without the intonation, gesticulation and facial expressions that accompany a face-to-face conversation, a written status update or tweet can seem unnatural – or attention seeking. And maybe, just maybe, the amount of Facebook stati that make your blood boil may say more about the company you keep than it says about social networking! (Or maybe you’re just jealous that their holiday is to somewhere further away than yours.)

If you’re not keen on revealing details about your life on Facebook, chances are this will also reflect your offline conversation topics. Maybe you accidentally blurt out your darkest secrets when drunk – in which case, you should probably avoid using the internet at certain times of the evening (or even the day if that’s how you roll.)

Nit – Pickery

Evolution is trial and error – and as the next generation grows up sharing on social media, perhaps the types of message will evolve too. The rise of openness and online honesty should be celebrated: it should be used as a force for good – bringing people together to protest, joke, debate, commentate and improve the world.

Whether we like it or not, it’s happening and it’s out there. We have to evolve – or get stuck as nit picking monkeys.

Are you an oversharer? Do you secretly enjoy rubbernecking at people’s arguments on the internet? Share your thoughts!

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