Sharing is caring (too much)

by ninashiel

I am currently unwell with a respiratory infection and have managed to assure myself that my research project will probably not fall down and die even if I don’t work on it today. As, these days, we are thankfully no longer dependent on daytime tv for our sick leave entertainment, I poked at Netflix to see whether I’d continue watching Life on Mars or whether something else would pique my interest. As I scrolled down, the greyed out section of films my Facebook friends are watching came up, together with the cheerful prompt to encourage me to link my Facebook account to my Netflix one, in order to see what films and tv my friends are enjoying at the moment. 

I’ve historically been reluctant to link anything that owns my credit card details to my Facebook account. I am a much bigger fan of Facebook than many other people I know, who consider it too common in comparison with Google Plus, but quite frankly I don’t particular trust the former’s security. Having had my previous account hacked once probably didn’t help. I do use sensible passwords, thanks for asking – my long term housemate and one of my best friends is a network engineer with Opinions on internet security. 

This time, though, the concern that popped into my mind was not security, but quite another question. 

Why would I want to?

This question seemed particularly relevant especially considering that a few days ago I did link my Spotify account to my Facebook account, with no little trepidation, for the reason outlined above. And yet. I was an avid user of last.fm, my first encounter with streamed music and custom ‘radio’ some years ago (We never got Pandora in Ireland and Napster’s modus operandi was, uh, different). I did, in fact, enjoy seeing what my friends were listening to. I got to know many artists whom I wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. Sometimes the taste of music gave me a idea of the individual’s personality, especially if I didn’t otherwise know them very well. Is that approaching stalking too close for comfort? I don’t know. Is it different from reading their blog posts? But what if they have chosen not to blog, or tweet? Are they okay with me, even unconsciously, profiling them based on the music they listen to?

 I am probably just overthinking this.

 But. 

Somehow the prospect of sharing my moving image preferences seems even more personal. Maybe it is this whole notion of the power of the visual. Music is something that you just have on the background while you’re working or doing something else, right? A film or a tv show is something that most people would tend to focus most of their attention on. Sure, people knit or do housework while they have a tv programme on, I used to be able to read at the same time as well, before I stopped watching tv regularly. But if something’s on that you’re actually very interested in, you will be, for want of a better word, immersed in the programme. The visual of a film or a tv show is, then, potentially a more intimate experience than music. Yes, I can hear all the objections already, fine. Music will let you form your own images in your head, it has all sorts of wacky ekphrastic functions that I’m not going to go into right now because I don’t have time to write another PhD and, besides, other people have already looked into it.

People share their own photographs, you cry. Surely that is far more personal than sharing the fact that you just watched Lost for fourteen hours straight. (Fictional example. In my case it would more likely be the original Danish Killing.) People share news articles, cat pictures, naive exhortations to hugely significant political action by sharing and liking this emotionally manipulative image. (See? Here’s the visual again.) 

All the insecurities about what people might think about me if they see I watch ’80s action films aside, what is the benefit of seeing, for instance, on Facebook, what your friends watched, or letting them see what you watched? I would argue that people’s taste for visual entertainment is more narrow than their taste in music. They already tend to know what they like and what they don’t like. So I doubt the ‘new ideas’ function would much enter the play. Is it meant to be a conversation starter? ‘Hey, I see you just watched Lesbian Vampire Killers, how did it make you feel?’ Of course people want to talk about the things they like to do in their freetime, but, usually, in their own terms. They volunteer it. 

That, I think, may be the issue with ‘sharing’ your leisure activities in your social media. Beyond volunteering the amount of information about yourself that you’re comfortable with to have out there, by ‘sharing’ you are putting much more of yourself available, indiscriminately. You’re creating, not so much a digital copy of your personality, a motif beloved by sci-fi, as a bundle of yourself to be handed out and poked at, to be profiled and to be made conclusions from. Does everything you do, or like, need to be out there? If you want to have a quiet evening in, in your PJs, with a glass of wine and some ice cream, with maybe some candles lit, watching a favourite show or film, is not the illusion of that privacy and peace broken, in a way, if your internet communities have access to those hours of privacy? Quality time to yourself – but is it?

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