We love talking about ourselves. In fact, research shows that talking about ourselves triggers the same parts of our brains as when we’re eating or having sex. The need toshare aspects of ourselves in’t so surprising. All you have to do is attend a cocktail party. In almost every corner you will hear conversations about a person’s life, their family, their jobs, how many networking contacts they have, the parties they attended, and how crazy they got last Friday night. People get excited when given the opportunity to share their story. And along comes the Facebook “gathering” to fulfill this need we all have.
Every minute on Facebook walls, we see people post about their latest experiences. We read about their cat’s new outfit, their gym workout, their all-star parking spot, their second gym workout, their hot new girlfriend, their kid’s accomplishments, and the last gym workout of the evening. For many of us, our experiences don’t seem as “real” until we share them, and sharing them requires an audience.
We seek out audiences because we tend to understand other people’s situations, and even our own behavior through conversations. This is the main reason why people come to therapy: Please listen to my story and tell me what you think. If someone agrees with us, we’re happy, knowing that we made a “correct” decision. When they disagree, we experience uneasiness.
In a sense, Facebook can be viewed as a collective “witness” to our experiences and in some respects has a therapeutic element to it: I will share what I’m going through, and please share with me your praise or criticism. In psychological terms, Facebook has become what Freud referred to as our Superego—or the subconscious image of our parents who witness and evaluate everything we do. This is way more than asking someone for their opinion. We want a broader audience to weigh in on our world. Our need to self-disclose through social-media is very much like the empty forest riddle: If you tweet in an empty forest and no one is there for read it, does your message have meaning?
I believe that we are broadcasting our thoughts and beliefs over a larger spectrum of people in the hope that someone (or many someones) will respond to us directly. After all, the holy grail of Twitter is the direct response message or the public shout out using @ in our own tweets. Will you respond to me on a group level, or will I make enough of an impact that you’ll want to make direct contact? How much influence can I have over your life? And in return, how much will you share with me?
As we have advanced in technology, we’ve grown more accustomed to more of everything: more speed, more information and even more access into someone’s personal life. We like having easy access to just about everything we can think of so we’ve certainly gained a lot in terms of speed and instant gratification, but how much have we lost? We’ve moved from critically examining how to express ourselves to impulsively wanting our thoughts acknowledged. We’ve gone from respecting others’ privacy to expecting more exposure. And this communication shift undoubtedly causes us to interact in a public forum more often than we did before, and to less frequently maintain some private aspects of our lives.
Dr. Suzana E. Flores is a clinical psychologist, contributing blogger to Prose & Cons, and author of Facehooked: How Facebook Affects our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives due out September, 2014 through Reputation Books.
Over the past three years, Dr. Flores has interviewed Facebook users, from across the globe, to explore the positive and negative features of social-media and evaluate the effect it has on our lives. Dr. Flores frequently presents at universities and organizations, and was recently quoted in Esquire.com, Mashable.com, Everyday Health Magazine, Dame Magazine, The Nation, SheKnows.com, New Parent Magazine, Newlyweds, Upwayve.com and Moms.me. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through her literary agent, Liz Kracht at email@example.com.