Maybe We Should All Learn to Share Less

Maybe We Should All Learn to Share Less. Photo | Photosearch

What you need to know:

Here’s the gantlet: as a society, we need to bring back shame. I know too much about too many people that I oft think there is camaraderie between us. Whatever happened to silence is golden?

If you look up the word ‘oversharer’ in the dictionary you will see a picture of a random Kenyan influencer. But if you look deeper at that picture, you will see the random influencer holding a picture of a kawaida Kenyan.

Here’s the gantlet: as a society, we need to bring back shame. I know too much about too many people that I oft think there is camaraderie between us. Whatever happened to silence is golden? Or would you rather, aware of an economy on its knees, trade your silvern speech? Is it even worth that much anymore?

We are living in the age of the oversharer and while it is OK to speak your heart, it is much better to leave some things out. Plenty of things. I should know. I once drank myself to a stupor and ended up confessing to the callipygian ladies at a certain club along Ngong Rd about things not even Yesu Wa Tongaren could forgive me for. Suffice it to say, if you find me at a club along Ngong Rd, then you are not on Ngong Rd.

Since I wear the tag ‘social scientist’ shamelessly, I have especially noted that my generation’s therapy is to spit it all out, play the sympathy card—you cannot trample a victim—and cap it up with the eyesore-inducing #MyTruth. But I’ve learned something about truth: It’s rarely black and white and more complicated than we paint it to be. It’s not just our truth—the other people in our story have their truths as well.

My people say ‘usimwage mtama kwenye kuku wengi’. Not anymore. Everyone’s fair game. Deep friendships are supposed to be the repository of secrets not the source of them. Especially in the dawn of social media which has encircled our personal boundaries like enemy territory, a loss of privacy, a cesspool of conformity, a mysterious mandala—just because you can say it doesn’t mean you should.

Some weeks ago, a certain itchy fingers lady attracted egg on her face when she let the cat out of the bag and confessed how politicians have been sleeping with her (or she with them)—going further to illustrate with examples how her vagina (can I say that?) is supposed to be eaten in the reverse-python-wheelbarrow move that requires one to brace themselves upside down. While I thoroughly enjoyed the lesson, cognizant of the fact that I fall short on account of not having a mwanya (gap) between my teeth, this was a serious case of shooting oneself in the foot, a pyrrhic victory that only ends up in casualties. No matter which side prevails, the true victor in any war is the person selling weapons to both sides. In this case, we, the audience were the true racketeers, playing the man, not the game. Does she not have any friends who could tell her that we get it, you have nice labia, now stop washing your dirty linen in public (I appreciate the irony). This is information they couldn’t waterboard out of me.

My friends, and my hapless neighbours especially, might counter that I am not one for keeping quiet. I am the silence-destroyer. Sometimes, I say outrageous things just to get tongues wagging. But increasingly with age, I realise why our elders just shook their heads and kept on keeping on. I understand now that words have consequences, and they last a really long time.

Social media buoys on the undercurrent that connecting people makes the world innately humane. But as the waves have proven, exposure to people often makes us dislike them. Never meet your heroes so the maxim goes. (When I have a few things to say, I get on my pseudo accounts. How often have you seen a tweet disparaging a friend and spilling their secrets under ‘usernamebunchofnumbers?’ Now everybody knows that in class 6 you saw your uncle pee in a sugarcane plantation and that is why you are lactose intolerant.)

For men, especially, it is emotional suttee. As our ‘victim’ can attest, I can only imagine how his standing in society is mired, his role as a father, brother, leader muddied. Even the best of social media is littered with selfishness, not-so-humble brags, plastic highlight reels, comparisons and self-congratulatory “I’ve worked bloody hard and I’m happy with my lot thankyouverymuch” statements. LinkedIn, a professional boon, is heading to the dogs, with many using the opportunity to brag about their babies, promotions, and empty self-nominated awards.

Lately, I have also become suspicious of anyone claiming the word ‘authentic’ especially when used in the phrase “authentic self”. I am a big believer that hiding things about yourself is preferable, if not commendable. However, society deems complete transparency as the most desirable thing, despite not all of us in accord. And how many times do we use ‘authenticity’ as a metric to judge things on, whether that be authentic Kenyan foods or ‘kienyeji’ people. So then what do we do? We perform authenticity. And then we don’t know what is authentic and what isn’t. We have become content creators, but not all of us want to be content.

“A mean tweet doesn’t kill anyone;” the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt published an essay in The Atlantic, “It is an attempt to shame or punish someone publicly while broadcasting one’s own virtue, brilliance, or tribal loyalties. It’s more a dart than a bullet, causing pain but no fatalities. Even so, from 2009 to 2012, Facebook and Twitter passed out roughly a billion dart guns globally. We’ve been shooting one another ever since.” 

Our desire to overshare has left us crumbling for authentic (oops) relationships. Social media as an echo chamber has dissolved the mortar of trust, leaving us particularly vulnerable to confirmation bias—if so and so said it, then it is ipso facto true. Or as we say back in the street’s newsroom: don’t let facts get in the way of a good story—where misinformation spreads like a house on fire, or like herpes in Nairobi.

But I get it. I grew up in a generation that overshares in order to be heard. I too have been bitten by the oversharing bug. In fact, I developed a bad habit where I cannot eat without taking a picture of the meal first, prompting the dreadful realisation that I have become a Pavlov dog for attention, that my brain can only process reality through an audience. Sharing is how my life becomes real; if a tree fell in a forest, and I didn’t Facebook it, did it even happen?

This in turn broods anxiety, my-life-is-better-than-yoursisms, spending more time ranting about things I don’t like than enjoying the things I do. As the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom,” but it’s also freedom’s price tag: which other animal on Earth gets worked up about perception like we do? Why do we feel compelled to perform our lives for other people? There is power in choosing what to share, if to share: Do I really need to say this? What value does it add? 

Maybe the truth is that it may be a too late to get this genie back into the bottle. Maybe no one really cares about your opinion on who is the greatest rapper on earth (it is J. Cole).  And I have learned something else about truth: Not every truth needs to be broadcasted. Not everything ought to be shared, a truth only silence can teach. 

Even as I write this from a staycation away in the hinterland of Nanyuki, only a mganga wa kioo would know that I am also sitting in the toilet taking a much-needed dump.