People who talk about themselves a lot are generally disliked. A likable person will instead subtly direct conversation to where others request the information they want to reveal. Revealing good news about yourself is a good sign, but wanting to reveal good news about yourself is a bad sign. Best to do it without wanting to.
This appears true of most human interaction, but apparently not of that on Facebook. On Facebook, when you are not posting photographs of yourself and updating people on your activities, you are writing notes listing twenty things nobody knows about you, linking people to analyses of your personality, or alerting them to your recent personal and group affiliations. Most of this is unasked for by others. I assume it is similar for other social networking sites.
If over lunch I decided, without your suggestion, to list to you twenty random facts about me, tell you the names of all my new acquintences, and show you my collection of photos of myself, our friendship would soon wane. Why is Facebook different? Here are some reasons I can think of:
- It is ok to talk about yourself when asked, and in a space where communication is very public to a group, nobody knows if you were asked by someone else. This seems the case for the self obsessed notes prefaced with ‘seeing as so many of you have nagged me to do this I guess I will reluctantly write a short essay on myself’ and such things, but I doubt it applies the rest of the time.
- Most writing on Facebook isn’t directed at anyone, and people are not forced to read it. It is the boredom and annoyance of being forced to hear about other people’s lives that puts people off those who discuss themselves too much, not signaling. This doesn’t explain why people spend so much time reading about one another on Facebook.
- Forcing a specific other person to listen to you go on about yourself is a dominance move. Describing yourself endlessly into cyberspace isn’t, as it’s not directed at anyone. This doesn’t explain why it would also look bad to decorate your house with posters of yourself or offer free newsletters about your exploits.
- The implicit rules on Facebook say that you must talk about yourself. Everyone is happy with this, as it lets them talk about themselves. So they don’t punish people who talk about themselves a lot there. And thus a new equilibrium was formed. But shouldn’t talking about yourself more still send the same signals? And why wouldn’t this have happened elsewhere?