What it is and what it means
Friday afternoon. I was on the tube, travelling into the city to watch a comedy show. Tube journeys are supposed to be fun. At least, they are for me. I like the underground. Something was nibbling at my patience though.
Earlier in the day, I'd seen a message from the mother of a friend to her partner. It was about an island that they'd visited for a holiday a year ago. She told him that she wanted to go back there. It was a nice enough message but why was I reading it?
More recently that afternoon, I'd seen another message from a friend to someone else, who had left the country. She told her that she was missing her. Again, nice enough but what did it have to do with me? What did it have to do with anyone besides the recipient?
It was at that point that I began to realise just how carelessly some of my Facebook friends were using the news feed. The place had become polluted with what I saw as desperate cries for attention, masquerading as personal messages, or at least piggybacking them.
The authors were playing innocent, or so it seemed. Oblivious or grossly unsympathetic to the fact that the vast majority of their contacts couldn't actually give a damn that their boyfriend had cooked on Valentine's Day or that Timehop had reminded them of a night out from six years ago.
When a kid draws a picture, the parents normally tac it to the refrigerator. They don't tac it to the front of their house. It's a nice picture but generally speaking, nobody outside the house really cares or needs to know about it.
When these people are on the train, do they announce to the entire carriage that they haven't seen their cousin in six months and are due a catch up?
I decided it was time for some action and responded to one of the messages, suggesting that we come up with a word for when personal messages are deliberately written in a public forum. A flurry of responses ensued.
"Megalomaniac" replied my Dad. Next came Fi with "Passive aggressive sharing". Someone observed that the initial suggestions had been a bit harsh. "Twat?" suggested Natalie, affirming her own feelings on the matter. "Twat" agreed Rob. I couldn't help but wonder if he was just looking for an excuse to call people twats.
The sender of the second message that I'd seen didn't like the comparison that I'd made between the message that she'd sent and a real life situation. I said it was like two people, at a group dinner table, holding a discussion with each other, which didn't directly involve the other guests but was nonetheless deliberately within their earshot. She said Facebook wasn't like a dinner table. I asked her, regardless, if she had a word to suggest. She offered the word "Conversharing".
"Conversharing" had originally been suggested by another friend and I thought it was a good effort. I felt like we were getting closer but that we still hadn't captured the social intent, so I thought about whether there were any existing words that could help. Then it came to me.
I remembered that in business studies at school, I'd learned the term "conspicuous consumption" which described the acquisition of goods or services for the purpose of impressing others. It seemed like a good fit.
It was late by the time I'd come up with the term. I knew that I couldn't single-handedly stop the flood of misplaced messages. It was a step in the right direction though. I decided to follow it up by writing this short post as well. I doubt that many people will read it but that's ok. Not all of our thoughts are important enough to be seen by everyone.