Column: Fear of sharing

“Social anxiety is the fear of interacting with other people, which can bring on intense feelings of self-consciousness. Put another way, social anxiety is the fear of being judged negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, humiliation and depression.”

Let’s just face it. Sharing is a little scary. We all know the feeling when the teacher singles you out for talking in class. You do not even realize that she is staring at you. Once you do realize it, and look up, the teacher looks you in the eye and says: “If it is such a great story, would you like to share it with the rest of the class?”

Of course not.

Two straws.

People generally want to share their ideas, thoughts ­and feelings, but only when they get to choose what to share and where to share it. In Medieval Europe, sharing food was normal practice, but when the aristocrats wanted to differentiate themselves from the masses, they stopped sharing and started using silverware. The masses followed their lead, because they, too, wanted to be cool. It is the old dream of social upward mobility.

Interestingly, though, while we have more things in our lives than ever before – and therefore more to share – we share less than before. The ideal of sharing has gotten lost in the shuffle. The idea of having a roommate is going the way of the dodo bird, and it is only a last ditch effort if you can not find your own home. We like to think that car-pooling is a good idea, but not today, not for me, maybe later.

According to a recent UK study, 75% would like to share more. Seven out of ten people say that sharing makes them feel better about themselves, and eight out of ten say that sharing makes them happy, proving correct the wisdom of the old Nordic proverb, “Shared joy is double the joy and shared sorrow is half the sorrow.”

In the information age, we are sharing stories – and little pieces of ourselves. We share our location, our state of mind, our jokes, and our photos. We do not mind when Facebook reminds the world of our birthday.

When we open ourselves like that, we also open ourselves to criticism. What we share of our world leaves us vulnerable for open evaluation. They may ridicule, bully and humiliate us. It is not easy to let it all hang out.

That kind of social phobia can be summed up as a “fear of being judged.” Some people try to deal with it with a preemptive strike, blasting “I do not care what you think of me” and doing it with the help of a megaphone.

Beyond, a UK-based digital agency, recently conducted a survey of 1,500 people in the United Kingdom. Their most frequently cited reason to share was the desire to be helpful (39.6%), while the second highest was to selectively share relevant content to a specific friend (26.1%). Beyond called the first group Altruists, and the second group Selectives.

Passionates (16.7%) share because they share a passion with someone else. Connectors share to inspire socializing with friends (7.9%). Trendspotters share because it shows others they are on top of what is new (5.6%). Provocateurs share because they want a reaction (2.6%). Finally, Careerists share because it helps them in business (2.5%).

So, while it is easy to be cynical, modern sharing is not all image building.

Sharing is caring.

(Published in Aalto EE’s Profile 1/12)

How does that make you feel?