Our Emotional Lives in Social Media

In the “old” days, if something wasn’t going well for us, we’d share our difficulties with our friends and family. Then along came the Internet and email, and suddenly we could share news more rapidly. Today, with the advent of blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social tools, we can broadcast our lives to the world. And the world talks back.

Ebb in better days

I returned from ten days at SXSW to find that our family dog is dying. In the past, I might have shared this news with my family and my friends. This week, I blogged about it, then shared the news with my Twitter friends. The outpouring of advice, sympathy and love I received within minutes of my tweet was staggering.

This kind of sharing isn’t new. When I learned that my Dad was about to have open-heart surgery back in the 90s, I mentioned my fears in a forum on a service called Women’s Wire. The messages of love and support blew me away. I read every single one of them to him when he was recovering, and we were both overcome with emotion. How could these total strangers really care that much? But they did. I can’t even imagine how much bigger that support would be if I announced the same thing on my blog and on Twitter today. Dozens of messages could become hundreds.

stock.xchng image by leovdworp

Social-Powered Personal Support

My experience of the last 24 hours demonstrates the kind of intense and turbo-powered support that people around the world can tap into every day, thanks to the tools at our fingertips.

I marvel at the way we humans can truly “be there” for each other. Don’t know what I mean? Look at the blogosphere and Twittersphere buzz around Annisa Means Mayhew or Friends of Maddie or MckMama. There are very personal life experiences being shared online.

Too Much Information?

What are the downsides of sharing your grief online? Are there potential repercussions of this kind social sharing? Here are some of the things I’ve been thinking about and I welcome your thoughts:

  1. Your reputation could be affected. While in our moments of life’s difficulties, we aren’t thinking about much other than our emotions and our loved ones. When we share the ultra-personal sides of ourselves in social spaces online, it inevitably affects our image and reputation. If you use social media to build a certain professional image, revealing your private life could change that image. Personally, I don’t think that is a bad thing — I am more drawn to the businesspeople who don’t shy away from “getting real,” but not everyone is comfortable with this kind of sharing.
  2. You could get distracted. Many of the people who have shared intensely personal struggles get caught up in a movement; a cause. Take Drew Olanoff, for example. His work has shifted dramatically from being “just another guy working hard in social media” to someone who lives and breathes his fight against cancer publicly with Blame Drew’s Cancer. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion.
  3. You will always be reminded. Whatever we publish into the social mediasphere is not only near-permanent, but often scattered throughout the web, so that even if we were to pull down our emotional blog post, the retweets and reblogs and the rest of the amplification of our woes will still be there, and could continue to multiply. There may be things we don’t want to remember or relive. There may be some of us who want to move on, but get reminded of our personal pain when we least expect it.

What do you think? Are there potential repercussions of this kind emotional social sharing?
Photo by stock.xchng user leovdworp