When social sharing goes too far

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| January 25, 2012

It's crazy to look back and see how the nature of social media has changed over the course of just a few short years. Back in my early high school years, you were a nobody if you weren't on Myspace. Now it's all about Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and all of the other networks. There are literally hundreds, and the way we access them and what we do with them is changing with every passing moment.

Looking back, I now realize that I rarely use any social networking site consistently in the same way. One month, I will tweet 200 times and upload four pictures a day. The next month, I might tweet 15 times or so per day and upload four pictures throughout the entire month. The same goes for Facebook, Path and any other service I use intermittently. Some I access strictly from my phone, others I won't bother using via mobile and will only use from a computer. But my usage is constantly changing. Evolving.

A recent trend that has picked up pace alongside smartphone growth has been the presence of location-based check-in services. Most popularly, Foursquare has given many of us the need to tell the world where we are.

Heading home after work? Not before stealing some poor soul's Mayorship at the local Starbucks first!

I used to love Foursquare. It was largely a long-term game based on routine and compulsions. Still, it was fun for the first couple months. Then people started over-sharing, checking into highways and bathrooms. Naturally, it has taken a turn for the worse for people who just want to check-in and earn points, deals and enjoy themselves. People inevitably take it over the top by having to have the most check-ins and points. For people who like to remain at rest for more than five minutes at a time, it eventually becomes futile.

Not to mention, there are possible dangers associated with location-based sharing. If someone sees you've just checked-in at a Wal-Mart that's at least a half-hour from your house, that's a nice window for them to take a trip to your house and make off with a few valuables.

Honestly and naively, this is as far and as pointless as I imagined social sharing would go. Of course, people are inevitably going to post some pretty mundane statuses to Facebook, or pointless tweets to Twitter (i.e.: "Just woke up" or "Fighting off a killer headache"). I'm notorious for that.

About a month ago, though, I joined the mobile-only network, Path, when it made its long-awaited introduction on Android. Called a "smart journal," it's much like Google+ or Facebook, where you share pictures and different snippets of your life. But the unique bit about Path is that you can share when you go to sleep or when you wake up, where you are, who you're with and what music you're listening to. (Facebook does all of this, too, but in a very different way. Path is more ... personal and creepy.)

As if that wasn't enough, some new, lesser-known networks have started to take check-ins and sharing services above and beyond the typical check-in. Foodzy allows you to check-in to specific foods, like tomato sauce, broccoli or turkey. They have also launched Eatzies, which will allow you to check-in to an entire dish instead of individual ingredients. And it seems as if every day I have people inviting me to the Foreca.st beta, a location-based check-in service for future check-ins (because checking in when you get there is just too much work).

Never did I imagine people would start checking-in to different food dishes or sharing with the world when they wake up or go to sleep. Granted, most of these check-in services actually serve a purpose. Highlight and Banjo, for instance, try to mesh social discovery with location-based services to tie online and real world meet-ups together. Foodzy can help you watch what you eat and entice you to eat healthier based on peer pressure. And Foreca.st can help you meet up with people who would not have otherwise known what you are doing.

I used to use Foursquare ... religiously. That is, until someone pointed out that they knew my schedule and routines, solely based on my Foursquare activity. I knew before they pointed it out to me that it wouldn't be hard for anyone to figure it out. But the fact that someone (that I didn't know terribly well) came to me and told me where I was going to be in the next hour or so was a bit startling.

Sure, a lot of the posting I do on Facebook or Twitter is pointless. Nobody cares what my Chipotle burrito looks like or how many lattes I drink in a week. But you will not see me posting on Path, telling everyone when I go to sleep and when I wake up, or scheduling meet-ups online with Foreca.st. I may take some pictures of food from time to time (really, I'm doing a lot better this year), but you will not see me check-in to a dish ... ever. Maybe it's a bit hypocritical for me to say it, but all of this is excessive and simply too much information.

We have to ask ourselves when enough is enough. Better yet, when too much is too much.

I could definitely stand to share less about my mundane, daily tasks. However, the worst part is that, thanks to the smartphones we always have strapped to our body, social sharing is becoming easier and more automated. Path tells my friends where I am without me physically pulling out my phone and updating my status. Foursquare and other location-based check-in services want you to be able to check-in without ever pulling your phone out of your pocket. If we're here now, checking-in to food and bed, where will we be in 5 or 10 years? What will our smartphones do for us? Will we have any privacy? Will we even care?