Wednesday, January 15, 2014

TMI and "the natural look"

I read two wonderful articles today, shared them on Facebook and/or Twitter (I'm forgetting), but neglected to bring them to you, the tremendous WWPD readership. If that means everyone's now seeing this for the second or third time, hey, no one's forcing you to read this, which brings us to...

Maureen O'Connor's piece about how "TMI" doesn't apply to social-media sharing:

Assuming the information in question is yours to share — your life, your ideas, your stories, your pictures, your theories about elf genealogy in Lord of the Rings — you cannot share too much of it. There are no captive audiences on the Internet.
O'Connor doesn't do as much with the "yours to share" angle as I might have, but her point is spot-on. Why are people so offended by internet sharing that bores them? There is, as O'Connor notes, an unfollow option on Facebook, so you can avoid minute-by-minute updates from people you like offline/don't want to insult without unfriending them. And with this blog, I assume nobody's reading it against their will.

The annoyance at excessive/boring updates (and excessive/boring updaters are often among the annoyed!) seems like a holdover from the days when simply having an online presence made you a loser. It still seems a little suspect when someone's sharing on social media what they really should be sharing with offline friends. Even if, at this point, it should not.

The second article-highlight of the day: Sali Hughes's response to those who comment on her beauty articles in the Guardian just to say how stupid they think makeup is. The best part:
And I certainly don't care if you're a man who prefers 'the natural look'. The personal preferences of men I don't know, who lack even basic manners in their dealings with others, are of absolutely no consequence to me and my face.
Indeed. Who are these men? Why do a small but vocal minority of men flock to posts about makeup, only to announce that they don't care, or don't like the stuff?

14 comments:

Miss Self-Important said...

I don't know about being offended, but why can't I judge people for their online annoying-ness? If one of your friends was a raving street-corner preacher in his free time, you wouldn't have to go listen to his, err, sermons, but just knowing that this about him would change your judgment of him, wouldn't it? People engage in all kinds of activities that you don't have to personally witness or participate in to condemn - dog-fighting, constant video gaming, football fan-dom. Posting endless boring stuff about yourself on the internet (or, as is also common and bad, you endless political outrage) just reflects poorly on you, whether or not I'm coerced into reading it. It's probably a relatively minor sin on the scale of possible wrongdoing, and there will be some people who don't find this behavior annoying at all (b/c they also engage in it) and so wouldn't arrive at this conclusion, but I don't see why I'm barred from doing so simply b/c I'm not being forced to watch it unfold.

Phoebe said...

You can be annoyed, and you can judge. But what you can't do is take the same stance you would if they were accosting you with this information at a small dinner party where you'd been seated next to them, or, say, on a flight. You can't judge them for cornering you with all their content.

caryatis said...

I'm kind of with MSI here. Yes, I could stop following everyone on Facebook, but I'd rather not, because Facebook is fun. And maybe 95% of a person's posts are interesting or at least inoffensive, so I want to continue following that person...but the other 5% continues to be annoying. It's as if you were talking to someone in real life whose company you enjoy, but god you wish he'd stop going on about...whatever. You're not a captive audience, but you have to take the bad with the good.

Imagine, you know, one of your friends gave you a gift that was spectacularly wrong for you. You'd be a little annoyed, right? You'd think, gah, he thought I'd enjoy *that*? That's kind of where annoyance at boring or stupid Facebook posts come from.

Phoebe said...

I'm not sure I follow. Of course it's not possible to shield yourself from all boring or annoying posts... or from boring passages in otherwise good books, etc. But if it's just 5%, you're probably not that bothered about it. Your net feeling about Facebook, including this person's posts, is "fun." If the 5% is honest-to-goodness offending you, such that it feels like far more than 5% you may want to unfollow.

What O'Connor was arguing against, I think, was the annoyance people keep expressing at the mere fact of online sharing. The annoyance at people thinking their mundane everyday lives are of interest. When it's like, if that's something you find objectionable, if you find it crude and pathetic that people share at all, Facebook and Twitter are not for you, at least not before some serious list-curating.

Miss Self-Important said...

But when I am actually cornered in person, I can't take any stance unless I want to have some kind of confrontation with this person about how annoying he is in the middle of a 5-hr flight, or stomp out of someone's dinner party for this minor offense. Which I usually don't. So my judgment in the end is pretty much the same for forced and non-forced exposure: this person is annoying.

I will venture the O'Connor piece is more problematic for your view of what should be shared on the internet than you admit. Her standard for determining what should be shared online is not what you want to share, but what others want to consume. The justification for sharing is the audience demanding it, not the "sharer." (She even has a weird claim about how even if you're the only consumer of your own dreck, there is still a consumer.) I've generally taken you not to be saying that what is or should be publicized should be determined by audience demand for it, so what do you make of this emphasis? It seems by that standard, we should both be focusing our blogs on photos of our boobs, b/c while there are small audiences for our current niche interests, we both know that the internet audience for boobs is a lot bigger.

Now, O'Connor clearly doesn't intend to say that you're obligated to share whatever other people want to read/see about you, but then I wonder why the emphasis on audience desire and not on the desires of the content creators? There is something of the early 20th C. tabloid journalism excuse that scandal-mongering is "giving the readers what they want," as though writers and papers are the passive slaves to any demand that consumers might make rather than active shapers of that demand. Many difficulties follow from this emphasis - it becomes more difficult to justify writing that audiences don't appear to want, or don't immediately flock to, and it becomes more difficult to argue that something is good by any standard other than its popularity. The existence of your blog may be justified by attracting at least one reader since the question of production costs is moot, but it's clearly not better than a porn site than attracts thousands of viewers. And I imagine there are white supremacist sites that also attract more readers than this blog, so they're also better. And so on. Audience demand is something, but it's not a sufficient standard of quality.

Miss Self-Important said...

The other thing in this article that's problematic is the conflation of what is legally permitted with what ought to be done, as though anyone were seriously claiming "there oughtta be a law" about how indiscreet you can be on Twitter. In generally, you've been making moral arguments about why people should be more discreet on the internet about what they say about other people. The baseline assumption is that it's legal to be indiscreet, and no one is challenging that, but that it might be distasteful or immoral. I'd go farther to say that it's quite difficult to be completely frank about the intimate details of one's life without implicating the identifiable other people at some point. Even if you share personal things limited exclusively about yourself online that your family expects you to keep private (again, boobs are a good example), then the ensuing conflict seems to go beyond simply "you can just unfollow my Twitter if you don't want to see this b/c there are other people who do" b/c what's at stake is not that they don't want to see it, but that they don't want it shared in the first place. Your obligations to your family and friends are more complicated than "if you don't like it, unfollow!" can really resolve. Same goes for the way that individual public expression reflects on your employer. That may be less true of your obligations to the Kellers or other strangers who disapprove of your public utterances, though I would probably go farther than you would and say that you have an obligation to be discreet all the time. Either way though, almost no one is so isolated that his self-exposure doesn't affect or reflect on anyone else at all.

Miss Self-Important said...

I think there were several editing fails above. Sorry.

fourtinefork said...

To the other point of your post: Sali Hughes rocks. I love her column in the Guardian, and she really changed my skin (my life, I daresay) for the better. Hot cloth cleansing for the win!

The comments that provoked her post were particularly ridiculous, even for the standard of cranky Guardian commenters, as she had written something about skincare for when your skin is angry or damaged. There were ridiculous comments about if only women just didn't wear paint, they'd have skin like a baby's bottom. Of course, not all baby's bottoms are lovely and some of us need coddling moisturizers in order to not have our faces fall off in dehydrated strips.

Anyway, thanks for linking to her site, as I generally only read her Guardian column.

Phoebe said...

MSI,

WWPD is a series of editing fails. No worries.

There are a lot of reasons to be discreet that are not about morality. It can be an issue of taste, or of pragmatism (i.e. realizing that a full account of a recent trip to the dermatologist will cost you friends and professional opportunities). But oversharing about oneself isn't crossing an ethical line.

There's a difference between telling someone else's secrets and sharing about yourself in ways that those close to you would find embarrassing. To move from your "boobs" example back to parental overshare, it's parental overshare to share in certain ways about your kid. It's *not* parental overshare to write a personal essay about all your poor decisions pre-kid. There are things many of us don't share, not because they'd be any kind of professional liability, but because they'd cross some line (that may only exist in our minds) for our family. But if we were to reveal such things, we'd be disappointing our family by admitting we're not exactly who they'd wanted us to be, but wouldn't be sharing anything of theirs, if that makes sense. There's no right to have non-embarrassing relatives. The "right," such as it is, should be to have one's own secrets kept out of national publications and so forth.

And, re: audience... What I took O'Connor to mean was nothing as extreme as all that. I thought she meant that boring/annoying is subjective. Which... it is. Sometimes I'll see a status update that I can't imagine anyone would care about ("High School Acquaintance clipped his toenails," to paraphrase), and then notice "15 people like this." Just like the men who comment on random forums that they'd like it if women didn't wear makeup can have an opinion but shouldn't expect anyone to care, so too with opinions we have about social-media posts being pointless.

Phoebe said...

Fourtinefork,

Was it worse than usual? I looked, but saw that a lot had been removed by whenever that was...

Miss Self-Important said...

Yes, I understand that putting my boobs on the internet is not putting anyone else's boobs there, but O'Connor's argument is that if I did that, then anyone who objects, including my husband or my parents or my friends or my employer should just unfollow, no? And legally, yes, they have no recourse. But is it true that they have no moral claims on my public behavior? If someone posts nude photos on Twitter, or racist remarks, can an employer fire them? It seems not to be generally good life advice to tell people to share whatever any stranger is willing to consume, or to take that as the primary criterion for deciding what to share. Audience interest shouldn't be the first or even the main consideration in determining what you should post. The complicated element of other people's stake in your life, which I thought was part of your argument against parental overshare as well (that is, even if the kid is totally anonymous b/c you have a different surname or whatever, he will grow up to resent you for saying these things about him), is absent from an argument that claims that anything is acceptable to post so long as there is an opt-out for readers.

Miss Self-Important said...

Also, I'm not sure that "rights" figure into the question - rights are legal and define what you can do without being fined or imprisoned, but even the Keller thing was about what you should do to be a good or admirable person. That's subjective only when you frame the question in terms of what content hypothetical audiences of strangers find good or admirable (boobs, obviously), but less so when you frame it in terms of, how should I behave towards the people I know? The article only considers it from the first perspective.

Phoebe said...

Again, I took O'Connor to mean that content isn't boring/annoying just because any individual thinks so. Not that it's impossible to screw yourself over by putting sensitive information online. As she writes, "There is such a thing as information the speaker will later regret." Which would, I think, cover the boobs example, or the racism one.

Basically, O'Connor might have been a bit more precise. But the phenomenon she's getting at is when people find the very existence of information they don't care about to be offensive. This is a separate issue from learning, through social media, that an employee or spouse isn't who you thought they were.

And in terms of "rights"... If it were at all feasible, I would be fine with legal intervention regarding people publicly discussing friends or family member's medical records or academic records without consent or, in the case of their own kids, at all. As for whether a writer's primary obligation is to family or an audience... I tend to think it's the former. Which can be inhibiting in trying write fiction, I suppose. But better fiction than non-fiction in that context.

fourtinefork said...


Yes, the comments this time around reached new levels of crazy. I read her Guardian column first thing on Saturday morning (but here in the US, so it's been up there for a few hours with time for enough people to weigh in), and from the very first comment it was nastier than usual ("beauty journalists aren't dermatologists" springs to mind in one.)

I'm glad she fought back.