Worth posting? Who decides?

Since I’ve been hanging out on Google+ I’ve been hearing a huge amount of discussion about what people should or shouldn’t post there. (Dontcha just love the way we humans keep trying to legislate our fellow humans’ behaviour based on our own personal preferences? But that’s for another post or two…) There’s tons of debate about how often you should post, is it or isn’t it ok to post cute cat pictures (you’d be amazed how hot under the collar people can get about this), and whether or not it is acceptable to post Facebook-style brief updates along the lines of “I’m having pizza” or “my dog chewed my son’s toy llama”. Me, I take a very simple view: let each person post whatever they want to post, and if you don’t like the stuff Joe Bloggs posts then, guess what, you don’t have to read it. On G+ you can choose whose posts show in your stream, just as on Twitter you choose who you want to follow, just as with blogs you choose which ones you want to subscribe to. Don’t like? Don’t follow. If only it was so easy to sift things out offline as it is online…

One of the people I’ve heard pontificate about these issues on G+ said people should think before they share stuff publicly, and limit it to only stuff that is worthy of the public interest.

To which I say: fiddlesticks.

Or: you do it that way if you like, but I won’t. Because, first of all, I actually know there are people who enjoy my off-the-top-of-my-head posts, and some of my best writing happens like that. And I personally enjoy reading other people’s bits of silliness, I love having the odd “100 reasons I love Nutella” post in the middle of a stream full of seriousness. And I love having little glimpses into the everyday lives of other people, people who do not censor themselves and do allow themselves to say: I’ve got so much laundry to do today and it’s raining. There are some things I’d post on G+ and not on a blog – things like “I’ve got so much laundry to do and it’s raining” – because I regard G+ as a social networking platform, and talking about the mundane details of daily life is part of the process of getting to know people. Of course your laundry is not of public interest, nor is what you had for breakfast or whether or not you like chocolate. But it gets conversations going, and it helps in building friendships. I live in England and the Brits are capable of spending many happy minutes talking to a stranger at the bus stop about the weather – not because the weather is that important, but because it gives them a safe topic to talk about and it’s a way of being sociable. You wouldn’t make many friends by walking up to strangers at bus stops and telling them what you think of the Occupy movement or asking if they’d like to discuss the merits of Android vs. iPhone. Small talk – much as in real life I’m not good at it – is a pretty necessary part of social interaction. And unless you’re going to stick to interacting only with people you already know on G+ (which I think would be a huge waste of the potential of that place) then I would seriously encourage you to share stuff without too much self-censoring. Whatever you share, some people will like it and some people won’t. Be yourself, share what you want to share, and when people throw rotten tomatoes at you, just make some ketchup.

I think the reason I react so strongly to that suggestion (that we should think before we post and only share publicly stuff that’s worthy of public interest) is because I know how much encouragement I needed before I got to the point of being able to show my writing to other people at all – and I suspect it’s the same for many creative people. We grow up with a gift, a fire inside us that drives us to create (in my case it’s been writing), but because what we create is so precious to us, it’s an expression of our innermost selves, showing it to someone else is really scary. All it takes is one or two insensitive responses and we are likely to retreat back into our shells – that’s where I stayed for a very long time.

Not that I’m saying everyone on G+ is a budding writer or a potentially great blogger or whatever – just that I’d hate to see people being discouraged from expressing themselves, I’d hate to see those who are a bit shy and unsure of themselves being shut up by those who loudly proclaim their shoulds and shouldn’ts as though they are law. I’d hate to see people who are making their first tentative steps in the world of online social networking being pressurised to post only stuff that they think is worthy of public interest – there may be some people who need this sort of advice, but there are lots of people out there who are already shy and timid and insecure enough as it is, and the advice they need is quite the opposite: go for it, don’t be shy!

It’s a bit like when I was learning to drive. In the early stages, I was very timid on the road and likely to drive quite slowly. I remember driving through a wiggly road where the speed limit is 60mph, there was a “slow” sign as I was approaching one of the bends, my driving instructor saw my foot heading for the brake pedal and he said: no no no, that “slow” sign is meant for people doing 60, you’re doing 40, you don’t need to slow down.

That was a lesson for me not just about driving but about life: sometimes you come across advice that may be meant well and may be relevant to other people but it’s not relevant to your situation.

If you’re a timid and shy person – as I am offline, it’s only online that I’ve found my voice – then don’t listen to those people who talk about “oversharing”, that sign is not for you!

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