To share, or over share?

I realize that it seems a little late to consider the question of over sharing. I’ve spent the last month hoping people would read this blog despite the vomit stories. I get a little surge of pleasure to watch as I get more views on my stats page, and I’m thrilled when I get comments and likes.  But I’ve been going through something lately that I very much want to write about, if only to work out how I feel, but I can’t share here. If you were all faceless readers, perhaps… But I know, in real life, several of my readers, and that gives me pause.

That’s the thing with social media today… In the interest of openness, we sometimes often manage to over share. I follow lots of my students on Twitter, and all the time I see stuff there that I would never, EVER want or need to know. One of my former students posted a picture of her fake ID. Another posted a picture of a friend pooping. A friend that was also a former student. I’ve seen pictures of fights, of illicit drinking, of entirely too much skin.  Facebook isn’t any better: I see (and, let’s face it, post) endless status updates about family and work drama, pictures of meals, comments about politicians or athletes.  But do those status updates, pictures, or comments replace real talk, real relationships?  We comment on our friends’s Facebook posts or like their pictures, but we so rarely speak to people. It’s like we only want to communicate with people in our own time, under circumstances that make sense to us, without thinking about the needs of the people we seek to communicate with.

As a result, we don’t know HOW to communicate. I think about the world of Pride and Prejudice sometimes, where people were forced to build relationships, in all their awkwardness, through conversation. And they couldn’t even share for real… They had to talk about the weather or state of the roads. They couldn’t hide behind their cell phones, and yet relationships flourished.  And those characters valued conversation.  Elizabeth Bennet “perfectly remembered everything that had passed in conversation between Wickham and herself, in their first evening at Mr. Phillips’s. Many of his expressions were still fresh in her memory.”  I’ve often wondered at Elizabeth’s perfect memory, but she can’t help it.  She doesn’t have nearly as much to remember.  Any interaction was a significant one.

Instead of relishing in the significance of conversation, we would rather do just about ANYTHING than speak with people that we don’t already know.  My students are notoriously guilty: I made the mistake of NOT changing seats in my AP Literature class for nearly a quarter, so today, when I wanted them to work with DIFFERENT people, there was nearly a mutiny.  The activity was needlessly challenging because they didn’t know how to express their own ideas without feeling insecure, and didn’t know how to express when they didn’t like how another person expressed a common idea.  I’ve had students come to me to address a problem with another student so minor I couldn’t believe they couldn’t handle it by themselves.  They are juniors and seniors in high school, and I have to ask them if they’re tattling.  So often a simple conversation will resolve all of the drama these students are experiencing, but my students would rather be mistrustful, skeptical, and wary.  I can be better at this communication than my students are, but I get awkward and nervous sometimes in speaking to people who are unfamiliar, or in handling conflict.  I struggle with building relationships beyond the early “Hey, how’s it going?” or “What do you do for a living?” questions.  As a result, I do most of my serious talking with a very few people, and find myself asking “Does that make sense?” because I don’t trust myself to communicate effectively.

I’ve been struggling with this since before college, but one of the best things that ever happened to me was going to Mary Washington College and rooming with two of the best girls in the world.  Chrissi, Casey, and I, along with Kim (who lived down the hall) forged relationships through chats that kept us up nearly all night.  We talked about silly things, about serious things, about hurts and high school, about boys and love and religion and school and favorite foods and everything.  I still value those relationships over almost all of the relationships I have made since, even though we don’t talk near enough and it’s been years since I’ve seen them and they have babies that I haven’t met yet.  Those are real relationships, but even those can suffer for lack of conversation.

This current embargo on talking has led me to feel a little alone and so hungry for real relationships, not the (sometimes) superficial relationships cultivated by Facebook and Twitter.