Got secrets?

As a culture, I see us presently deprived of subtleties. The music is loud, the anger is elevated, and sex seems lacking in sweetness and privacy.” — Shelley Berman

Last week I told 325 friends on Facebook that our bedroom in this old house is torn apart for remodeling and looks like a mess. Later that same day, I announced that I was making pea soup for dinner. (Earlier in the month, as part of a dubious “campaign” for breast cancer awareness, I also posted the color of my bra in my status update.)

I haven’t even met some of these Facebook buddies — so I’m asking myself why I’m compelled to do this.

Touching on a Facebook issue in Newsweek earlier this month, a journalist confessed that she tries to avoid “over-sharing” on social networks. Likewise, a friend of mine recently asked: “Is there such a thing as ‘personal’ anymore? Is any topic sacred?”

My friend was referring to her co-worker’s latest blog post — a post in which the co-worker over-shared intimate details of her love life.  As my friend put it, “Blogs and social media are sucking the mystery, romance, and privacy out of everything. Everyone’s a publicity whore.” I had to smile at her use of the words mystery, romance, and privacy — words that seem to have gone the way of the manual typewriter. But she has a point.

As a writing coach who specializes in memoir and personal essays, I’ll be the first to defend the importance of sharing our stories. Sharing stories is how we connect with our fellow humans — and crafting those stories beautifully makes us artists. We glean invaluable lessons when we read memoirs, autobiographies, blogs, and essays by gifted writers. When handled with care, the personal can be universal.

But I wonder if we (as a culture) need to rethink what’s fair game for public consumption? How far “out there” do we need to be? How much do other people need to know about us — and why?  If we wouldn’t dare include a personal detail or episode in an essay or a memoir, is it really appropriate for a blog? For Twitter or Facebook? Exactly what are the dangers of over-sharing?

Writing a weekly newspaper column early on, I learned the hard way when I’d crossed the line and violated the tender privacy of loved ones. My son, who was often mentioned in my columns when he was much younger, taught me to think carefully before exploiting a person — or a topic — for the sake of entertaining or amusing my readers.

I’m quick to add here that I seriously enjoy connecting (and reconnecting) with friends on Facebook. And keeping a blog is almost as much fun as writing a weekly newspaper column. Still, I’m intrigued that so many of us today are driven to share our deepest yearnings and secrets with virtual strangers.  At the same time, we complain that it’s hard to forge true emotional intimacy with others — in person. As a writer who covers lifestyle issues for magazines and newspapers, I can’t overlook the paradox. Women’s magazines thrive on this very topic.

So what is it that compels so many to unload information that was — in the past — considered rude (or just plain foolish) to parade in public? I open this topic for discussion here. Please share your thoughts in the “Comments” section below. — Cindy La Ferle

— Photo above: Detail of “Box of Secrets,” altered art piece by Cindy La Ferle —