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Thank you for sharing!

Sharing. Now there’s a basic social concept that has somehow got all out of whack. The idea behind sharing is simple. Let’s say I’m a caveman.

india Updated: Jan 31, 2012 22:40 IST
Charlie Brooker
Charlie Brooker

Sharing. Now there’s a basic social concept that has somehow got all out of whack. The idea behind sharing is simple. Let’s say I’m a caveman. I hunt and slaughter a bison, but I can’t eat it all myself, so I share the carcass with others, many of whom appreciate it. But it’s not all bison meat. The other thing I share is information: the thoughts inside my head or stirring tales of the things I have done. I grunt a hilarious anecdote about the time I dropped a huge rock on a duck and an egg popped out.

All this sharing served a purpose. It kept the community fed, as well as entertained and informed. Now zip forward to the present day. A small percentage of the population hoards more bison meat than it could eat in 2,000 lifetimes, awarding itself huge bison meat bonuses on top of its base-rate bison meat ‘salary’. If you didn’t notice, I’m using bison meat as a clever metaphor for money.

The huge salaries and bonuses are essential if we are to prevent this tiny percentage of selfish arseholes from moving overseas. Imagine if they flew to Singapore and started hoarding things over there instead. Drained of their expertise and reassuring presence, how would Britain cope? Within days we’d be walking on all fours and devouring our offspring for food. Sharing is for the rest of us. Not sharing money or bison meat, but personal information. Where we are. What we’re doing. Share it! Make it public! Go on!

Increasingly, I stumble across apps and services that expect me to automatically share my every waking action on Facebook and Twitter. Take Spotify, the streaming music service. It recently reinvented itself as a kind of adjunct to Facebook and has subsequently adopted some hideous ‘social features’. For instance: it will tell people what you’re listening to, live. And it does it by default.

When Sony launched the Walkman back in the late 70s, its appeal was that for the first time you could stroll down the high street listening to Neil Diamond belting out ‘Sweet Caroline’ and no one could judge you for it. It made you the master of a private world of music. If the Walkman had, by default, contacted your friends and told them what you were listening to, not only would no one have bought a Walkman, its designers would have been viewed with suspicion.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for sharing thoughts, no matter how banal. Humans will always babble. But when sharing becomes automated, I get the heebie-jeebies. Online, you play at being yourself. Apply that pressure of public performance to private, inconsequential actions, such as listening to songs in the comfort of your own room, and what happens, exactly? It’ll only get worse. Here’s what I am listening to on Spotify. This is the page of the book I am reading. And I’m not telling you this stuff. The software is.

You know how annoying it is when you’re sitting on the train with a magazine and the person sitting beside you starts reading over your shoulder? Welcome to every single moment of your future. Might as well get used to it. It’s an experience we’ll all be sharing.

Yes, sharing. A basic social concept that’s somehow got all out of whack.

The Guardian

First Published: Jan 31, 2012 22:39 IST