Millennials, Girls and John Stuart Mill

Today my journalism professor showed the class several stats on how millennials consume media. And he compared those stats with my class’s own media diets that we each recorded for 48 hours of last week.

Most were not surprising. Graphs showed the 18-24 age group getting news digitally more than through television (and of course newspapers). The slideshow bulleted how we’d rather trust a search engine to bring us the most relevant news than go to one preferred news site.

But one thing did stand out to me, even through my post-lunch afternoon haze. It was that nine in 10 millennials think that people overshare online.

Naturally, I immediately thought of the most recent episode of Girls (season 4, episode 2). As Hannah tries to connect with her classmates at grad school, there’s a scene in a bar where she expresses why I was surprised with the oversharing statistic and summarizes what I have to say about it.

After mentioning a time when she “took a couple Quaaludes and asked (her) boyfriend to punch (her) in the chest,” her classmate quickly answers with, “TMI.” In her endearingly whiny voice I have come to love, Hannah says matter-of-factly, “By the way, TMI is such an outdated concept. There’s no such thing as too much information. This is the information age! We’re all just here to express ourselves, so it’s like, to censor each other? We’re no better than… George W. Bush.”

Although she is a fictional HBO character, I lift up Hannah’s sentiment. As my class discussed this statistic, most of my peers were not surprised with the 90% TMI-ers (makes sense, I suppose). They said how annoying old high school friends could be with Facebook posts complaining about “baby-daddy” drama and how unsafe posting one’s location can be.

I understand these arguments. But, in response, I bring to you, courtesy of my dusty media law mental textbook: the marketplace of ideas.

This theory was first developed by John Stuart Mill in his book On Liberty in 1859, and says that a free public discourse will eventually, through the competition of ALL ideas, lead to the truth. But this means actually free. That includes — and even argues for the presence of — the good, bad and ugly. And I think the details of our lives are part of those bits that make the Internet the open market of ideas that it is. The “baby-daddy” drama and the Kardashian tweets and the New York Times articles and even the Instagram picture of what we had for lunch all have their place and purpose.

And through the constant — and what can feel numbing — flow of information, we can sort out the “truth,” the valuable pieces that help us regain our senses. And to that, I say, in true Hannah style:

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