Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Duff: Avoid the pain, drama of TMI online

Duff: Avoid the pain, drama of TMI online

Call them the TMI Generation. TMI stands for Too Much Information – a slang term people use when friends or co-workers start revealing too much of their personal lives in public.

The declaration of “TMI!” is usually accompanied by backing away and frantic hand gestures, as if trying to physically ward off details about your uncle’s operation or elaborate descriptions of a co-worker’s nightclub exploits.

Bad enough in real life, but the Internet has taken TMI to a whole new level. We’ve seen an explosion of personal blogs since 2000 – public journals and online diaries, Facebook and Myspace and an alphabet soup of dating sites that urge you to reveal your deepest desires to the Net.

Internet veterans call it “Open Source Life” – an ethic of online exhibitionism that encourages people to record audio, stream video and post intimate photos of themselves at all hours of the day. Tools like Twitter and Facebook encourage people to post snippits of text throughout the day, sharing details about what they eat, what they buy and who they snuggle up to in real time.

My favorite example of an Open Source Life comes from jakobandjulia.com – a joint venture run by an entertainment reporter named Julia Allison and a New Media tech developer named Jakob Lodwick. A lot of people like to tell their friends when they start a new relationship; Jakob and Julia issued a news release.

Julia and Jakob already had personal blogs, so when they got together, they decided to take the romance public. They decided to make jakobandjulia.com a public celebration of their love – the good times and the bad, chronicled in painstaking detail.

The couple — wildly exhibitionist and impossibly photogenic – made for good reading most of the time. Then, at the end of November, Jakob lost his job. He was asked to leave the company he founded and everything seemed to go downhill. Jakob and Julia had a big fight on Dec. 3 and by Dec. 5, the relationship was over.

The Web site they started as an expression of love quickly became a forum for hurt feelings, as Julia cursed Jakob and railed at him for being an insensitive jerk. At one point Jakob says, “I don’t think a public Web site is the appropriate forum for this type of discussion” and Julia retorts, “This was your idea in the first place.”

And so we see the downside of an Open Source Life. Julia ran back to her personal blog and started talking about how great her previous boyfriend was. Ouch. One of the peanut gallery said Julia would eventually regret posting her 20-something ramblings in public, and I am forced to agree.

I know how embarrassing this kind of public disclosure can be because I did it for 10 years. Around 1996 or so, I was obsessed with Web-cams and online diaries. I posted long screeds about my personal life, systematically creeping out friends, family and total strangers with my most intimate thoughts.

I’ve deleted most of it, but it still surfaces from time to time. Trust me, no matter how smart you think you are at 25, by the time you hit 30 you will regret everything you used to think. Eventually there will be a service for people like me, an organization you can pay to remove every trace of yourself from the Net.

This is particularly dangerous with teenagers who like to post intimate details on Myspace. And no, this isn’t the usual journalistic fearmongering about child molesters on the Net. I’m talking about the dangers of emotional revelation. You run a lot of risks when you open your life to the public. Most people reading won’t understand the full context of your life. Most commenters won’t even read beyond the first paragraph.

The Net is full of people who like to insult strangers and judge people based on incomplete snippits of text. You think you’re sharing your life with an intimate circle of online friends; then the party crashers show up and you end up defending your choices to people who’ve never even met you.

High school is already a crucible of insecurity and peer pressure. Now, with search engine archives and 24/7 access to the Internet, the drama of your high school years can be captured for eternity, ready to be dug up by jilted lovers and prospective employers long after you’ve outgrown yourself.

I understand the appeal of an Open Source Life. Something deep inside us longs for openness and honesty. We all want to share ourselves and be loved for who we really are. But words are tricky things and not everyone who views your Internet face will understand what they see.

Most people with Internet journals would be better served with an email list. Keep in touch with family and friends, but be selective, and keep your secrets out of Google. Your future self will appreciate the discretion, even if you don’t quite understand it now.

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Written by Michael B. Duff

November 28, 2007 at 13:47

Posted in Columns

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