When we are toddlers, our parents instill the importance of selflessness and kindness. In this on-going life lesson, we’re taught that sharing what we’re blessed with will reap rewards for others and ourselves.
Whether we express our talents, donate to a cause or spend time with others, we learn that life is dependent on sharing. But when did this lesson turn into exposing our small, individual worlds to the entire planet via the internet?
By definition, sharing is the division of something with an individual or a group of people. It’s fellowship, teaching, helping, and providing. However, sharing has taken on another shape and form. Thanks to social networks, we’re encouraged to virtually broadcast our lives with the world.
However, our parents never taught us how to share virtually; once introduced to it, we’ve had to figure it out on our own. Some people object to uploading their conscious on to the internet and giving away their personal data. But the majority of people in our society have voracious appetites for sharing, and feast on many accounts.
NBC’s Dateline featured four female roommates, in their early 20s, in a news special entitled, “New Year, New You.” They submitted themselves to the challenge of living for a week without communicative technology. Their addiction to social media and handheld technology reared its head in the form of social anxiety, boredom and irritability. While acclimating themselves to their new lifestyle, they realized that verbal communication eased and exposed the discomfort they were experiencing. As a creative project, they posted pictures and notes on a centralized bulletin board in their home. Once they physically wrote down what they would normally post on Twitter and Facebook, all four women realized how frivolous their actions on the internet have become.
We upload pictures daily and regurgitate moments in life we wish others to see. Some even go as far as reenacting these instances so a moment can be retold to all who care to notice. We stumble across these images and PR-prepped quotations on the freeway, on the toilet, at our work desk—anywhere and everywhere. Our palm is the portal into the millions of lives that compound our own. We treasure the interfaces of profiles and integrate the maintenance of social networking into our daily lives.
Perhaps our need to participate in this form of communication derived from a personal desire within us to be heard on a larger stage. Figurative sharing has inspired us to creatively market our identities. We highlight our achievements and we wallow in our sorrow by masterfully turning ourselves into billboards that bluntly portray our feelings, angst and desires. We break mostly-irrelevant news and subject others to our most inner thoughts on the matter. Some say they just do it for fun, to stay in touch with people from their past. But like a director of a movie, everything that is in the frame, serves a critical purpose.
Every day, we pass milestones while venturing to create new ones. We post pictures and create statuses with our thoughts, trying awfully hard to mirror the diligence the Egyptians had when building pyramids. Do we engage in this perplexing, possibly useless cycle to reassure us tomorrow that yes, we existed yesterday? We are so dedicated to manipulating our images that some are self-professed addicts. When in the present, how many of us fight the urge to make a record of what just happened so we can jump into the future and touch the magical button that will transmit our recent past into eternal existence? We spend so many hours wondering and speculating about alternate realities that our own lives bleed into the imagined lives of others.
Humans are comprised of egos and identities, so it is natural that we share in the competitive nature of social platforms. It’s strange that we divulge enough information online that we no longer appear to be strangers. Naturally, we are hunter-gatherers, which stimulates our desire to participate and integrate ourselves within the different feeds of cyber communities. We hunt for the perfect moment and snap pictures for the simple joy and satisfaction of sharing our reality with other living and breathing creatures. We receive instant gratification like a Polaroid falling into our hands.
Validation of others and the record of it all make us feel immortal when we review our individual histories. Perhaps the stars are what we are reaching for—or is it TMZ? Virtual sharing makes us feel like winners with a grandiose cyber footprint measured in pictures posted, places checked into, likes received, and comments made. Our profound contributions to the community come in the form of effortless actions and intriguing highlights, which we wear like gold medals around our necks.
It’s possible to marginalize virtual sharing that takes place on the internet with the type of sharing that is meant to strengthen interactions in the real world. One of the young ladies in the NBC special resorted to writing her thoughts down on a napkin because she didn’t have access to Twitter while waiting for a friend at a restaurant. She derived no pleasure from this. No ecstasy-like adrenaline from receiving a “like” or a response.
Once she started socializing, she was amazed by how successful small talk with her neighbors was; the bartender even asked her out. She admitted that none of this would have happened if she was preoccupied with her phone, “I could keep myself busy,” she said. The absence of the social network crutch proved to her that communication could take place devoid of a mobile platform. It also proves that real, in person communication is still much stronger than its digital counterpart.
It is important that we don’t lose our social charm or forget the lessons of sharing that our parents instilled in us. We must appeal to the emotions of others. We must self-disclose as needed and ask if we are taking advantage of the present. Tyra Banks taught us how to “smize” for all of our competitors when in front of the camera, but the art of greeting complete strangers on the street with a smile and an open heart is losing its charm. Face-to-face social interaction is said to improve the quality of life for human beings. Hands heal, the spoken word soothes, and sharing ideas and beliefs in a group provides clarity for all. You don’t need a virtual apparatus to impart your thoughts and visions to the world. Meaningful interactions amongst individuals create memories that are everlasting. Placing emphasis on what is happening under your nose might inspire more appreciation for humanity while exposing the disadvantages of social networks. After all, the gratification from giving is better than receiving, physically and virtually.