Rebel Without a Status Update

I am fascinated by the psychology of Facebook status updates. There are many reasons to make a status update. One reason, of course, is obvious – let others know what you’re up to or share something that’s cool. For example, if I did frequent status updates, I might decide to post “Buying a fantastic ½ pound of Australian feta at Bedford Cheese Shop on Irving Place – should I up it to a pound?!” (and seriously, it is incredible). This may be an interesting snapshot of a day in my life, but these types of status updates are exactly the ones that tend to annoy me for some reason. Even the most benign version of this feels like TMI.

Why? Status updates are for many an instinctive way to reach out.  A recent study even showed that increasing the number of status updates you do every week makes you feel more connected to others and less lonely. Seems like a good thing! Moreover, it’s consistent with what seems to be our new cultural comfort zone – being virtually seen and heard by a loosely connected group of people we know (or sort of know) as our “social network.” This virtual network is the social status quo for many of us, and certainly for many children growing up today.

I believe one consequence of this is that no one wants to be James Dean anymore. Putting it another way, maintaining privacy and being a strong silent type, like Dean, are no longer alluring ideas to us.  And when I thought of this, I realized why I don’t feel fully comfortable with the status update culture – I am a proponent of the James Dean School of Sharing Personal Information in Public: motto, the less the better. I like understatement, privacy, the choice to share with a few and retain privacy with most.

 Image

It’s no coincidence that as a culture, we don’t fetishize James Dean any more. Many of today’s icons (some of them “anti-icons” because we love to feel superior) are people who humiliate themselves, who will tweet that they’re on the toilet and what they’re doing there, who end up in compromised positions, and happen to have pictures and videos of those positions, which then promptly go viral (funny how that happens). James Dean would have disapproved.

James Dean himself would have been very bad at social media…..or perhaps very, very good. Very bad, because he would have had little to say, and would have hated the constant spotlight and social media culture of ubiquitous commentary and chit chat. On the other hand, he might have been very good at it because he would have been the Zen master of the status update, expounding with haiku-like pithiness. An imaginary James Dean status update:

James Dean…….

Old factory town

Full moon, snow shines on asphalt

#Porsche alive with speed

But seriously, while he probably wouldn’t have written haiku, perhaps he somehow would have figured out how to use sharing to create a sense of privacy, because a sense of mystery would have remained intact.

Yes, the status update is a beautiful thing. We have an efficient and fun tool which allows us to reach out to others, curate our self-image, and think out loud to a community. But I wonder if we’re starting to lose the simple pleasures of privacy, of knowing less and wondering more.

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22 Comments

  1. You aren’t the only one. Not everyone elevates self-disclosure to celebrity.

    Reply
  2. Indeed, with the craze to expose, what else is left to imagination?

    Reply
  3. I too, tend to react with fascination and slight annoyance with a constant stream of benign status updates–I have no desire to chronicle minutiae. If people take the time to read my blog posts, they’ll know A LOT about me–my general philosophy regarding education, digital technology, food, etc., but very little about what I’ve done on a given day.
    The notion of privacy in 2013 is complex, and folks who maintain a severely limited presence–or none at all–on facebook, Twitter and the like are fewer and farther between!

    Reply
    • I agree, it’s the difference between knowing a lot about someone’s beliefs/ philosophies and knowing a lot about the minutiae. Why does knowing the minutiae seem like more of privacy issue I wonder….

      Reply
  4. I find myself teetering back and forth between whether or not I should post status updates. On one hand, I do appreciate the connection it can inspire in certain situations. On the other hand, I worry about how my status updates will affect the privacy of others. For example, some close family members recently lost a child; would posting status updates about my feelings and actions regarding this situation be an infringement on their privacy?

    Great article!

    Reply
    • Great point! These are the new rules of social etiquette that we need to figure out. Our privacy isn’t just our own any more when we are part of a digital social network.

      Reply
  5. Nice article, Psyche! Many, even of an older generation that remembers what it was once like to take a walk in the woods or a drive to the grocery store or a jaunt to the library TOTALLY alone (without interruption of electronic gadgets of any sort) have become REBELS WITHOUT A PAUSE.

    They constantly post pics of the exotic places they visit, their motorcycle trips, their triathalon events, their political extremes, the last funny e-card quote, nasty comments about unnamed but certainly known by all who know him/her from work, lusts of the moment… No, FB has become the new soap/reality show, revealing normally courteous friends, acquaintances and totally unknowns in all their nakedness…

    One post = An after-dinner drink with friends, Two posts = Hey, this bourbon tastes good, Three posts = feelin’ a little tipsy and let’s get drunk! and then post after post after post in unending…

    Sorry. Guess I am a little drunk myself this morning… If I were a Japanese James Dean, I would conclude thus:

    words of Psyche’s post
    drip, drip, drip down laptop’s face
    in tears of laughter…
    :-D Eric

    Reply
    • Nice haiku! :)
      Thanks for your comment. I do remember the feeling of being totally alone. That feels like a distant memory now. Sometimes the constant access to connection feels nice, sometimes unnerving and burdensome.

      Reply
  6. Very thought provoking.
    I enjoyed it very much.
    Now excuse me while I pee.

    Reply
  7. Honestly?! We totally lost the last one. No privacy anymore. I don’t use facebook, because of the reasons said above, however I still don’t have my privacy because of my friends. They upload pictures with me, they check in with my name at restaurants, clubs, cafes… I don’t mind of course, I am not hiding. However everybody lost his privacy, whether he has a facebook, he writes a status or another way of internet socialising. And just for the record I love James Dean! :D

    Reply
  8. I agree, some of the stattus updates are TMI!

    Reply
  9. thejoshbjones

     /  March 14, 2013

    So true. Jim Gaffigan talks about that comparing with a decade ago. When sitting down to a meal, we never said “Gee, I wish I had a low resolution camera to take a picture of my food and send it to a bunch of people who don’t care.” No, we’d just say, well I geuss i’d better eat my food. It seems like the shower is the only place you can escape form it at this point, and that may not even be true for some people.

    Reply
  10. Elvira

     /  March 15, 2013

    Great post. I´m thinking about writing a post about the visibility in internet and social media. It´s related to yours.
    I´m following your blog since yesterday. Thanks a lot.

    Reply
  11. Preference for privacy–but a blogger, publicly sharing your ideas. I get it. Now to share this on Facebook!

    Reply
  12. Reblogged this on philosophicalmatt's Blog and commented:
    Very interesting read!

    Reply
  13. I just happened upon your blog and find it fascinating and relevant!

    Facebook is such an interesting and often annoying phenomenon. I have intentionally left out my maiden name because I don’t want high school friends looking me up. I hated high school and I keep in touch with my two best friends from the old days.

    I am always so concerned and saddened when teenagers and young adults post messages about breaking up, feeling socially rejected, and worst of all, poetry about their angst. Research about people who use Facebook found that 1/3 users felt worse about spending time on the site. Jealousy, envy, loneliness, and the sense that others’ lives are better than their own (especially if they looked at vacation photos!) were the emotional reactions of the people who literally brought on their own misery through use of this social media.

    Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2013/01/24/why-facebook-makes-you-feel-bad-about-yourself/#ixzz2RF6IAOrS

    Reply
  1. Rebel Without a Status Update | Θωμάς Γεωργιάδης, M.D.

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