Internet emotion overload

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With fall semester right around the corner, many students will inevitably fall into the cycle of perusing Facebook instead of paying attention in class or studying.

Many people know what a time-waster Facebook can be and with researchers actually finding evidence for Facebook’s psychological disadvantages, I can’t help but worry just a little bit. Many people, especially college students, have gotten too comfortable with sharing their thoughts and putting their lives online.

A few years ago at a BYU forum, I heard something I think about almost daily. The speaker, whose name now escapes me, explained millennials’ fascination with the Internet and social media. He said, “It’s not the social media they are addicted to; it’s each other.

Think about it. Humans love connections of all sorts, and social media, especially Facebook, make it possible to share any type of media to express how we’re feeling. And not only that, but it’s possible to share these feelings and thoughts with nearly everyone we know. We have an inherent need of feeling understood. Between Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, we have the tools to do that incessantly. (And just because we make a connection online doesn’t make it any less real than a connection made IRL.)

In some ways I love it. My closest friend from high school went to college in Iowa and now lives in Missouri. Facebook and YouTube have been perfect for staying in touch with a large part of each other’s lives.

However, I think a lot of people have lost sight of the difference between moderate “life sharing” and “life casting.” Many of us know the people on Facebook and Twitter who post constantly. Everything they do and how they feel gets shared. In general, people are a lot more open than they used to be. Evan Selinger wrote about the arrival of the “mood graph” on the Internet. On the Web there’s now a digital mood ring, which is going to change even more of how we share our feelings.

“The mood graph will enable relevance, customization, targeting; search, discovery, structuring; advertising, purchasing behaviors, and more,” Selinger said.

With how much gets shared online, others are getting a pretty accurate look into the emotional side of decision making. The concept that really made me think in Selinger’s article was the idea of sites like Facebook taking what your friends share and feel about what they shared and using it to create a version of you, even if you don’t share things.

“Facebook could potentially reverse-engineer your emotional persona by filling in the blanks from your like-minded friends’ emotional states. In other words, the more your friends emote and translate their soulful moments into basic data points, the more Facebook can determine what makes you tick, too,” Selinger wrote.

It sounds a little bit ridiculous at first but in reality it’s quite brilliant. This is just one way the Internet is becoming more and more about emotion and feeling than any other information-sharing medium. The trick, of course, is to share properly because there’s little to no filtering when it comes to posting online.

I love social media as much as the next person, probably more so, but with a digital mood ring monitoring the clicks and key strokes we take online, we really need to evaluate what we share and how we share it. Whether people can’t stop posting photos and stories of their new baby, or refuse to let go of a tiny detail and turn the comments into their own personal battleground, it’s still over sharing. And as sites make it easier to share emotions within a strict set of rules, we’re going to get stuck, or boxed in, as Selinger put it.

Yes, it’s great to get instant feedback from friends on the movie that just came out or on the shoes we want to buy or in regard to the picture of our dinner that we posted, but we’ve got to remember it’s not just the friends responding who see all the happiness, anger, approval or disgust that comes with the territory of posting online.

So if I can leave you with one piece of advice in regard to sharing your thoughts and life online, it’s this: It’s okay to not like things but don’t be a jerk about it.

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