Column
May 3, 2017

Living out loud

By Dom Cioffi

The moment is burned into my mind: It occurred around 2007 on a weekend when my niece was home from college.

I had read several recent news stories about a young tech company called Facebook. The organization had developed a social networking platform a few years earlier that was gaining new users exponentially, starting first with college students and then moving into the general public.

Out of curiosity, I asked my niece to show me her account. She pulled it up and briefly described the inner workings of the site, which at that time was comprised of a rudimentary bio section, photo area, and the early incarnation of the newsfeed.

Quite honestly, I wasn’t impressed and fully convinced it was something I didn’t need to bother with.

Over time, however, more and more news stories started surfacing in mainstream publications. The net worth of the company was beginning to take on monolithic proportions while the social buzz was becoming undeniable.

At that point, I joined—early if you were over 40, not so early if you were a Millennial.

Soon after opening my account, the friend requests started rolling in. Admittedly, this was an interesting period. I received friend requests from actual friends, from acquaintances, from strangers, and from people I was convinced never knew I existed.

I performed the standard perusal of the profiles of my new “friends,” getting up to speed on where they were with their families, careers and hobbies.

I would call this the glory days of Facebook, when everyone was enjoying sharing their lives (in whatever capacity they were comfortable). People were generally fun, happy and positive.

Throughout this period, I rarely posted on my own page and almost never reacted to someone else’s post. I was a Facebook voyeur and very happy in that capacity.

Eventually the friend requests slowed down. After a couple years, I had reconnected with everyone I cared about or was curious about. It was around this time when I noticed a change. This is when the oversharing started and my blocking rituals began.

I, admittedly, get annoyed when someone starts to overshare in my newsfeed. I don’t need to know what you had for breakfast and I’m not impressed that you and your girlfriends stayed out until 3 a.m. in Montreal (although sometimes these photos can be hilarious).

When I see too much of this, I generally resort to the “unfollow” function so I don’t have to cloud my newsfeed with unwanted or uninteresting data.

While annoying, the oversharing of life-stuff was fine to deal with, but eventually this lead to the oversharing of opinions, which seem to take on epic proportions over the last couple of years. It reached its climax as the presidential election rolled in last November.

During this period, I would peruse my newsfeed only to find scathing opinions about contemporary issues being thrust at me ad nauseam. This also included the sharing of news stories that often had no basis in fact.

The roar of these posts became deafening. I found myself unfollowing more and more people and using the service less and less. Instead of retreating to Facebook for a little lighthearted distraction, the service started to become a depressant.

I wasn’t seeing people coming together and sharing community (which seemed to be the original goal), but rather individuals trying to bring other individuals down because of their beliefs.

Ultimately, I backed away from Facebook. I still jump on now and then, but my engagement factor has been reduced substantially.

This week’s feature, “The Circle,” is a cautionary tale about a Facebook-like company that gets a little too personal, not only with opinions, but also with every other aspect of your life.

Starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, “The Circle” imagines a world where a Facebook-type platform becomes a personal privacy enemy, suggesting that members become more and more open about their lives and habits. The creepy mantra at the Circle headquarters states, “Sharing is caring.”

I was really anticipating seeing this film and convinced it was going to be a big hit, first because Tom Hanks was involved and secondly because the subject matter was so timely. Unfortunately, “The Circle” had gigantic holes in its storyline and failed to satisfactorily develop its main characters.

Check this one out if you’re a social media addict. Just be prepared that the subject matter will entertain you more than the story.

A square-ish “C-” for “The Circle.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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