The private made public

By Adora Tan

GRAPHIC: DIANE LIM & REYNARD ADRIANTO

A snap of your morning run. An Instagram story of your lunch date. A Facebook post of your late night out.

Rings a bell, doesn’t it?

From a young age, we’ve been told to not disclose too much personal information online. But now, sharing our private lives on social media is becoming a ritual for most of us.

Just how did openly sharing our private lives become a social norm?

A safe haven for many, social media is where many of us seek to express ourselves freely.

Even as we rely more on social media to connect, it doesn’t mean that we are turning away from meaningful face-to-face interactions. After all, we are innately social creatures. Sharing our daily lives in an intimate manner on social media is merely our new way of communicating with one another.

I am aware, though, that I should limit the amount of private information I publicise online. Still, I find myself being carried away on social media, where I may unwittingly reveal more private information than I intend to.

As a user of Snapchat, I was drawn to using its location-specific filters, especially when I am in a new location. It then dawned on me that even though the filters did make my snaps more aesthetically pleasing, my personal safety was also at risk. Snapchat is publicly accessible, which meant that anyone could track down my location.

Before the advent of social media, people sent text messages as a convenient alternative to face-to-face communication. They offered the luxury of asynchronous communication, where people could craft messages at their own pace.

But text messaging did not allow me to instantly and widely broadcast my thoughts or experiences. Whereas with social media today, I can do a live broadcast or post, and receive immediate reactions from my friends.

Sharing my private life with more people, and receiving positive feedback, has granted me a feel-good factor that text messaging had failed to provide.

Nonetheless, we still need to be wary about how much information we share online.

While our social media posts may seem transient – a Facebook post can be deleted immediately, while Instagram stories disappear in 24 hours – the (sometimes careless) thoughts that we share in the public sphere may come back to haunt us when we least expect it.

Just this June, Harvard rescinded at least 10 acceptance offers as the students posted racially and sexually offensive remarks on a closed Facebook group Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens. Even though the post was shared within a smaller circle of about 100 users, the information did not stay private for long.

That said, as long as we exercise caution when we interact on social media, it can definitely be a useful tool for communication.

Social media offers an immediately accessible pool of information, making it easier to stay connected, even with the most distant friends. Seeing how my mother was able to reconnect with her classmates from 25 years ago – simply because they had indicated their secondary school on their Facebook profile, reassured me that it will not be hard to keep in touch with a friend through social media.

As we become surrounded by more digital technologies, mastering the use of social media is a necessity today. Nonetheless, the act of managing how much information to share in a public setting can be a confusing one. This is a phase that we, the digitally connected generation, will have to confront together.