The burden of sharing

If our many social tools have one thing in common, it’s sharing. Sharing that is often overwhelming. Overwhelming, because it produces further sharing demands and expectations, and because it communicates itself, and often notifies about itself.

Any social media action is an act of sharing. This, simply, because social tools aggregate audiences — around and on the tool, as well as to each individual user. Each user has his/her own audience of friends, peers, fans, followers, and so on. And the tool, overall, has an audience (about which it can usually offer up metrics and meta social use data).  Actions on social tools are acts of sharing because they are perceived by audiences (some kind of attention economy governs who and what is seen most).

Sharing of shared actions is also a form of sharing. Retweeting, reblogging, liking, following, voting, favoriting — you get the picture. So, any social action solicits further social action. Why? Because in mediated social interaction, there is no indication of reception unless a further re-sharing action is taken. There are no view counts for tweets, tumblr blog posts, Facebook status updates. Only likes, reblogs, retweets, @replies, and so on confirm that the post has been seen. Re-sharing has thus a social function: to communicate back.

The trouble with sharing is that it generates noise. This is structural — it’s in the mechanics of sharing.

An initial post is a social act. It wants to be shared. Sharing the post solicits re-sharing. Structurally, it has an author, it has information content, and an undetermined audience (the audience is solicited, but not targeted).

But the act of re-sharing has multiple referents. First, the identity of the person re-sharing (I am sharing this post shared by a friend). Second, the information content of the post reshared (what it says). Third new or redundant information content of the action of resharing (I like this person’s posts, and so my act of resharing is not simply to repeat what they shared, but to indicate a relational interest). Fourth, the author of the original shared post (please notice that I paid attention to you!). Fifth, the audience of the person resharing (you might find this interesting).

Meaning, in other words, is ambiguated in the amplification that is sharing. Multiple signals are sent in the act of resharing, allowing for multiple interpretations, thus engendering even more possibilities for communication (be it successful or unsuccessful).

Sharing thus engenders noise more easily than it produces signal, because intended signal (I want to share this, I want to be seen sharing this, I want the author to take notice, I want my audience to see this, etc) is delivered within a medium of ambivalences.

This is just a property of the medium. A medium of excess and surplus communication whose preference for gestural actions (sharing) mitigates its ability to produce successful interactions and communication. There’s no fix for it. Just an ongoing demand on users to tolerate and abide ever-greater levels of noise and activity. A crack in the system, perhaps; or a reflection of the psychology of modern-day media.

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  • Lisa Padilla

    Distribution has never worked better, and we’re still pissed it takes so long and doesn’t get the right message to the right  people. We complain that we have to tag things, #hashtag them, select networks (you have 11 listed here on your page, Adrian), re-share, like, or reply to what are mostly rhetorical conversations, admit it. “Join the conversation!” is passé. Often no one is able to be there on the other side. Case in point? Call Robert Scoble’s phone or send Chris Brogan an email. ;-)

    Don’t get me wrong, we should demand the next phase. I feel like it’s the dawn of the industrial age and everyone in town is required to come down to the factory and make sense of the pieces. Women, back to your kitchens. Most companies aren’t ready for PR yet. Children, quit playing chat roulette, and find a learning app of some sort so you can support the next generation, your parents put all of their money into startups that haven’t worked yet. I don’t want to see another texting acronym go into the Oxford dictionary.

  • gravity7

    Nicely put Lisa! You’re right — it doesn’t have to be this way. But the industry makes it so. The same industry that furnishes the pieces. 

  • Nakeva Corothers

    @lisapadilla:disqus Superb analysis on the new media human behavior!All the content generated is often mean for “Join the conversation” but often becomes just content to share, unless you have the right circles. I know of people that can post the most mundane thing and generate a long list of conversation updates. Others put their work into a blog post, such as @gravity7:disqus and maybe get a few retweets, Facebook shares yet minimal conversation (preferably at the point of publish, the blog).

    I agree, demand the next phase.

  • Nakeva Corothers

    @gravity7:disqus I had a conversation with EA friends earlier in the evening similar to this very topic: sharing and the engagement. The psychology of sharing is simple, the way people use that sharing becomes noise when all that happens is re-sharing, no thoughtful feedback. Great post.