I used to have a friend guilty of chronic overshares on Facebook. Hers were of the more hysterical type, each status update strained against the 5000 character limit, detailing minor inconveniences in operatic terms. Another contact committed overshares of the more incessant variety. Her network was kept informed of her geographical location, TV preferences, indecision over dinner options, lunchbreaks, successes and frustrations with TFL, levels of fatigue… For me, the updates bemused and intrigued. I’m a rather reticent Facebook user myself, and couldn’t understand how others would think material so tedious or so flagrantly melodramatic was worth airing.
It took some time for me to realize that these small (but constant) newsbites signalled that something was wrong. What I initially attributed to lack of restraint, actually proceeded from something darker. I gradually learnt more about the two characters from friends of friends and discovered that each were dealing with depression and were, for different reasons, dealing with high levels of isolation. I felt guilty about my initial snobbishness and understood that Facebook had become a last ditch attempt to reach out; the manic updates were attempts at forging contact.
Obviously, not all bizarre Facebook material indicates psychological turmoil. Lots of it, the self-taken photos, the bragging, the low-res images of meals captioned with time, date and location, is simply the result of poor editorial decisions. But I think a good deal of the seemingly trivial material passing down our screen has a revealing nature, showing, if nothing else, a need to be recognised and understood.
The thought of using Facebook as a last resource for this need is logical. If you’re feeling isolated here is a forum where you can achieve immediate contact, where you cannot be silenced and not be inhibited by the expectations of others. You are not pressured by their immediate presence or by conventional social norms. It is a forum where one is expected to talk about themselves and not be judged for it. Bearing this in mind, you realise that there are actually very few spaces in the real world that allow room for this kind of expression.
Alain De Botton wrote an article claiming that every high street should be equipped with a psychotherapy office; people should be able to pop in for sessions between shopping. He argued that in secular society, we are no longer encouraged to visit priests or ministers to discuss our souls; as a result many are starved of self-reflection and intimacy. Facebook will never replace oratory or an analyst’s couch, yet there is something confessional in the way it’s sometimes utilised. I wonder if these overshares demonstrate the hunger De Botton alludes to. A need to confess the minutia of our day, reveal shaming details of our nights, to rant or rejoice, and know that somebody has listened.