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Seán Moncrieff: We all need some degree of privacy so we can quietly define ourselves

The danger with this – whether you’re Taylor Swift or you have a dozen followers on Instagram – is that it can quickly become performative

There are a few pockets of resistance here and there, but eventually those people will give in. Eventually, everyone, everywhere, will have their own podcast.

Herself is the latest person to surrender, though reluctantly. She and another woman are in the early planning stages of a series where they talk about various womanly things. I’ve no doubt that it will be interesting and entertaining, though Herself is, understandably, a little apprehensive about speaking into a microphone. And about over-sharing. She thinks she has a tendency to do this. I think she’s honest, and that’s no bad thing.

How much information is too much is, of course, a highly subjective judgment; and the “too much” line seems to be moving upwards all the time. Herself doesn’t want to reveal information about anyone else that they’d rather keep private, or blurt out something the family might find embarrassing. She doesn’t want to do any harm. There’s little chance of that, but there’s also no harm to be mindful of it.

Yet in the many forms of media now available to us, sharing is what the culture demands: opinions, enthusiasms, heartbreaks, illnesses, both physical and mental. Many people find comfort in doing this. It can foster a sense of community with others that they’ve never met in the real world, while also projecting an image of authenticity on their part. Exposing your vulnerabilities, it seems, makes you more “real” to other people. And being real is highly valued.


This template now seems to inform all sorts of expression. Taylor Swift is the biggest pop star on the planet. Her tours rake in billions. The nod from her could tip the next US presidential election. Yet when her latest album, The Tortured Poets Department was released a few weeks ago, the reviews and discussion focused not just on the music, but on which songs were a pop at ex-boyfriends, or a part of her celebrity feuds, or about her relationship with her fans. Unlike most other musical artists, the “I” in a Taylor Swift song is always literal: it’s about Taylor Swift. It’s part-album, part social media post, creating a dynamic with the Swifties that’s about far more than the tunes: it’s about her life, an ongoing soap opera that may, or may not, be complete artifice.

The danger with this – whether you’re Swift or you have a dozen followers on Instagram – is that it can quickly become performative. Various studies of social media users who share a lot found a correlation between that sharing and a compulsive need to share more. You tell your followers about your anxiety, and receive sympathy and validation in return. But then you’re chasing that dragon for more validation: which increases your anxiety.

We all need some degree of privacy: so we can quietly define ourselves, rather than having others do it for us

And, like most things, this isn’t new. Back in the analogue days, many newspapers, both here and in other countries, would have a big-name columnist, tasked with sharing their tell-it-like-it-is opinions. Before the term “clickbait” was invented, there would be an unspoken pressure on them to attract eyeballs, to come up with new and often explosive opinions on a weekly basis. In some cases, I suspect, that pressure was so intense that it brought them to manufacture views that they didn’t hold at all; and in turn to perform mental backflips so they could defend them. A few went off the rails.

Yes, irony alert: here’s me with my newspaper column; where I routinely write about myself and members of my family. Again, it’s a subjective matter, but I don’t think I over-share. In my mind, there’s a definite line, past which all the information is private and none of your business. There are all sorts of things I would never write about. Especially if it made me look bad. Because we all need some degree of privacy: so we can quietly define ourselves, rather than having others do it for us.