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Too Much Information

privacyMy hair colorist makes the monotonous process whiz by with nonstop commentary on her grown children.  During a recent touchup, I learned about her daughter’s new baby and plans to return to work with the colorist babysitting two days a week.  (Granny day care will be a future post.)  She also shared that that her son and his wife were expecting a second baby girl, that the wife has declared “two’s the limit” and that the son was getting a vasectomy.  The colorist shook her head, saying, “Sometimes I don’t need to know everything.  Too much information. Next it will be on Facebook.”

Welcome to your adult offspring’s Facebook, Mom and Dad.

Real-time revelations about hook-ups and break-ups.  Blow-by-blow details of last night’s bender.  Blasé talk of  tattoos in private places, Brazilian waxes, unpaid taxes. True confessions about neuroses, family histories, getting fired.

“Too much information” (TMI)  translates into another example of the generational divide. Yes, Baby Boomers disclose their daily soap operas too, but the preferred mode is the phone, email or that increasingly rare social practice, in person.

In contrast, Gen Y (late teens to early 30s) and many Gen X (mid30s to early 40s)  chronicle their personal lives and innermost thoughts online with a nonchalance their parents find puzzling – even alarming. Most log on and update their statuses at least once a day, dishing the details to an average of 120 “friends.”

So how does that impact the parents? Some of that TMI finds its way back to mom, thanks to six degrees of separation.  Recently a mom learned that her pregnant daughter was having a baby girl. She first heard the news from a friend whose daughter had seen it on the pregnant woman’s Facebook page.  Apparently the pregnant daughter had posted “Back from the doctor and everything is coming up pink” before calling her own mom. News gets around fast online.

Some moms, of course, go on the offensive and figure if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em and try to “friend” their grown children so they too can see updates in real time.  Whether or not a child confirms a parent’s  “friend” request seems to depends on their relationship, and the child’s age.  When it comes to college students, “no way!” is the response of most of my students, so much so that it prompted one to write an article, “You’ve Got One Friend Request, Your Mom.”

But what about children beyond college and the “emerging adult” stage?  The worry is no longer that parents will peruse photos of last night’s beer bash. Rather it’s that the daily life commentary routinely posted by Gen Y and Gen X  includes details that their parents consider personal and private, not to be shared with hundreds of friends, colleagues, and second- and third-“tier” acquaintances

A New York magazine article examined this generational difference in the “Say Everything” generation

More young people are putting more personal information out in public than any older person ever would and yet they seem mysteriously healthy and normal, save for an entirely different definition of privacy.

Most people, teens and adults, are cautious about limiting access to their FB pages According to the Pew Internet and American Life project, both teens and adults actively manage their information online, with 60 percent of adults and 66 percent of teens,  restricting  access to information in their profile.

The generational divide isn’t that adult children don’t keep online lives private but it’s what they chose to share.  Another generational difference is that that many in Gen Y have hundreds of “friends,” including six new ones acquired at a party last night.

Why anyone share the dirty—and boring details—with hundreds of friends?  New York magazine writer Emily Nussbaum offered these insights in the “Say Everything” article:

The benefits are obvious: The public life is fun. It’s creative. It’s where their friends are. It’s theater, but it’s also community: In this linked, logged world, you have a place to think out loud and be listened to, to meet strangers and go deeper with friends.

Of course many, many baby boomers have embraced FB too. The fastest-growing FB user group is women 55 and over, up more than 175 percent since last fall.

While Baby Boomers on FB are connecting with old friends, exploring new hobbies, sharing photos with relatives,  and discussing various issues, few are flinging the doors wide open to reveal the intimacies of their lives.

It may be inevitable that the more comfortable Boomers become with “living online,” the more their own inhibitions will be shed.  Then the question may become whether to accept or—horrors, ignore—an adult child’s “friend” request.  TMI can go both ways.

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