Today I attended this panel talk:
I will write mainly from my own experience of maintaining a personal journal blog on the web for the past seven+ years, and being involved in a network of other personal bloggers for almost as long. All or part of this journal was public on the web until quite recently.
My personal journal is everything that many people look down their noses at about personal journals: photos of my cats, what I ate, what’s annoying me at any given moment, the details of my appendectomy, dreams I had, where I went and with whom and what we did, my opinions on the media I’ve consumed, rambling self-analysis, silly memes/surveys passed from friend to friend, and so forth and so on. The longer I’ve kept the journal, the more I’ve recorded there.
As of today, 213 other accounts list my journal account on their reading list. I have 147 accounts on my reading list. 136 of these are reciprocal reading list inclusions. Because I’m kind of obsessive and curious about things, I just analyzed these 136 reciprocal relationships a bit.
After removing second or third journal accounts held by the same person, I was left with 122 individual people with whom I’m in a reciprocal reading relationship.
I knew or met 45 (37%) of these people in meatspace before I started reading them. Of these 45, I would characterize 23 (51%) as people I knew before I started reading them. I added them to keep in touch with them when one of the other of us moved. The other 22 of these (49%) are people I added very soon after I met them, in the interest of getting to know them better.
I have had the chance to meet 28 (23%) of the overall 122 after getting to know them through reading their journals. (footnotebegin)People who have never met someone “from online” often have strange ideas about it, or say they can’t imagine it. In my experience the only odd thing about it (aside from usually a couple of awkward minutes upon first meeting in person) is how seamless the move from online to meatspace interaction is. We already know each other, we were usually just in touch a day or so before, and the only surprises are what their voice sounds like, or how they aren’t as tall as they seem on the Interweb.(footnoteend) Some of these have been brief meetings for coffee or a meal while we happened to be in the same geographic area. Some of these people have put me up in their homes while I was visiting their towns. One made a trip here last summer so that we could meet in person and hang out for a weekend. Another, I met online before I moved to NC. She helped me find an apartment here. We met for coffee soon after I arrived in town, and she is now one of the best friends I have ever had. Through her I met a lot of those people in the “met before I started reading them” category, and many of them are very close friends now. These are the people who took me to the emergency room when my appendix needed to come out, brought me what I needed in the hospital and when I was recovering at home, and so forth. Some of us even celebrate holidays together.
This leaves 49 (40%) of the reading list whom I’ve never met in person. One of these just happens to be the first person I ever talked to in a chat room, back in 1995. I can’t believe we’ve never met. I hope to meet him, and many of the others, at some point. I’ve exchanged art, ideas, and/or information with almost all of them.
Well, that was a long digression to get to the point of responding to the panel… but it’s context about where I’m replying from.
I suppose these people constitute my “audience.” (footnotebegin)Over the years I’ve become less and less comfortable with the wide-open, totally unknown audience, which is why I’ve gradually limited access to this personal blog. This may mean that my experience is not really of the core thing we are talking about here–the wide open public life on the Internet. But I have no illusions of “real” privacy, and several of my points aren’t relating just to my experience being the blogger. (footnoteend) I do keep the journal for myself (more on that in a bit), but of course the audience is always in my mind.
Terrell Russell wonders about the “perceptions of those broadcasting themselves about their own projection – their own sense of what the world sees in them.” Jeff Pomerantz skeptically asked several times, “Are you that interesting?” during the panel, and points out in his blog that most of what we do is boring and really has no place being captured or shared. This is more in the context of ubiquitous capture, but the overall opinion of many seems to be the same regarding personal blogging. Jeff also seemed to criticize blogging as a form of exhibitionism.
First I will just complain that I weary of terms like exhibitionism/voyeurism being used in ways that sound like value judgments. I would just like for everyone to just admit that we are all voyeurs to some extent (everyone has to look when there’s a car accident, at the very least) and that most people have an exhibitionist streak about something, even if they suppress it. These are not bad things, and there’s nothing wrong with it. We like to pretend otherwise, but it’s the way we are. We are nosy/curious about how other people live and what they do, and we want people to pay attention to us.
No, I don’t think I’m that interesting on a day-by-day, post-by-post basis. I often wonder why over 200 people still have me on their reading list. I avoid trying to imagine how different people must interpret/imagine the written “me.” It’s futile. But here’s the key point that I think is being missed in the overall discussion: (footnotebegin)though Paul Jones made it in a round-about way during the panel while talking about his PT Cruiser.(footnoteend) I don’t expect that ANYONE reads everything (or even most of what) I write, finds everything I write interesting, or pays attention to the arc of my personal blog as though it were entertainment or an information feed. In the process of changing security levels on my blog, I’ve gone back through years of posts, and yes, most of it is pretty boring, even to me, when read that way. I went to the grocery store. My stomach hurt. I couldn’t sleep. I ate avocado salad for lunch. Aren’t my cats adorable?
But these continuously captured things are not meant to be read/viewed that way. Instead, you monitor. You pop in on some people from time to time. You scan and skim others regularly. You skip over people’s food logs, their recounted dreams, and endless stories about their kids (or cats). You get the gist of what’s going on with everyone. She still hates her same old job. He’s going to Europe for the weekend. She’s gone vegan. He’s struggling with his PhD as well. Good to know.
You notice where you or people you know are mentioned. You stop and read more closely when topics are of interest to you, when you are specifically addressed, or when you might be able to add something to the discussion. An awful lot of informal information seeking and providing happens this way.
In particular situations, which are difficult to impossible to predict, the content becomes highly interesting, and very valuable. I search back through my blog history several times a week to retrieve dates of events that weren’t scheduled (so not in my calendar), the name of that restaurant I ate at in New York two years ago, and so forth and so on… I find keeping the record incredibly useful. I was able to reconstruct the pattern of 2 years of episodic stomach pain by searching my blog for “stomach attack” and “stomach hurts.” I was also able to look at what I’d been eating before each attack.
And now, the people who have been reading me semi-closely for a while will know that if they or someone they know is having unexplained episodic stomach pain, that it might be worth getting their appendix looked at, even though it isn’t following the classic acute appendicitis symptoms.
Before I had LASIK surgery, I found it very interesting to read total strangers’ minutely detailed blog accounts of exactly what it was like, though I’d find it boring now. Paul’s posts about his car troubles are now helping people he has never met save money and time repairing their cars.
In our conversation tonight, Josh said that this is the beauty of hypertext and search technology–you don’t have to pay attention to the continuous stream of a blog or other life-capturing media. You can go to just the part that is interesting to you at the time. “Transclusion!” he said.
I have more to say on some other topics, (footnotebegin)what about privacy & future implications & the cost of openness? the undervalueing of shared personal experience. memory creation or replacement? the usefulness (or lack thereof of even more detailed lifeblogging? etc?(footnoteend) but this is quite enough for now. In a nutshell: some of us who are putting more of our lives online than many people are comfortable with are not doing it because we think we are fascinating or important or entertaining. (footnotebegin)though sometimes we hope to be amusing to the people we know are paying attention (footnoteend) For some people, at least in my experience, it is about making and maintaining personal connections, record-keeping for oneself, and information sharing/seeking.
Finally-finally, I have always found it fascinating to notice the mundane, the everyday, the routine, the normally overlooked or hidden. These things are the infrastructure of our lives and are of greater value, and often more interest and beauty, than many people seem to think.