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Thursday, May 22, 2008
Examing this thing we do
The New York Times Magazine offers a preview of Emily Gould's article on blogging that will run this Sunday. In the article, she talks about blogging, being a "professional" blogger and a whole lot of other interesting aspects to the on-line community that is blogging. (Could I use the word blog any more in a post?!?) It's a fascinating article and one I recommend reading, though it will take a good investment of time to do so.

I'm sure I won't be the first to post about her article nor the last. Here are a few samples of things I found interesting. (Emphasis is mine in some case)

But is that really what’s making people blog? After all, online, you’re not
even competing for 10 grand and a Kia. I think most people who maintain blogs
are doing it for some of the same reasons I do: they like the idea that there’s
a place where a record of their existence is kept — a house with an always-open
door where people who are looking for you can check on you, compare notes with
you and tell you what they think of you. Sometimes that house is messy,
sometimes horrifyingly so. In real life, we wouldn’t invite any passing stranger
into these situations, but the remove of the Internet makes it seem O.K.

Of course, some people have always been more naturally inclined toward oversharing than others. Technology just enables us to overshare on a different scale. Long before I had a blog, I found ways to broadcast my thoughts — to gossip about myself, tell my own secrets, tell myself and others the ongoing story of my life. As soon as I could write notes, I passed them incorrigibly. In high school, I encouraged my friends to circulate a notebook in which we shared our candid thoughts about teachers, and when we got caught, I was the one who wanted to argue about the First Amendment rather than gracefully accept punishment. I walked down the hall of my high school passing out copies of a comic-book zine I drew, featuring a mock superhero called SuperEmily, who battled thinly veiled versions of my grade’s reigning mean girls. In college, I sent out an all-student e-mail message revealing that an ex-boyfriend shaved his chest hair. The big difference between these youthful indiscretions and my more recent ones is that you can Google my more recent ones.

It's that last line that really catches my attention and emphasizes the warning I think more people should heed--be careful what and how much of yourself you share on-line because you never know what or how someone might find you via Google. Or whatever search engine comes along in the next decade that replaces Google. We've seen story after story here in Tennessee about teachers who come under fire for their MySpace or Facebook profiles (and I'm sure it's the same in other states. I just happen to see a lot more coverage in my homestate). And we've all heard that horror story about the person who lost his or her dream job or a job at all because a potential employer looked you up on Google and found that MySpace or Facebook entry or page.

And that's just the professional world. Heaven only knows how might look you up on the personal leve. It could be your parents, grandparents, friends, potential dates, spouse, etc. I've seen a lot of blogs that reveal a whole lot of personal detail about people's lives and I wonder--really?!? Do you really want to share THAT much of yourself on-line? To people who may be complete strangers?

Gould then goes on to detail another potential problem with blogging.

Like most people, I tend to use the language of addiction casually, as in, “I
can’t wait for the new season of ‘America’s Next Top Model’ to start — I’m
totally going through withdrawal.” And when talking about how immersed I became
in my online life, I’m tempted to use this language because it provides such
handy metaphors. It’s easy to compare the initial thrill of evoking an immediate
response to a blog post to the rush of getting high, and the diminishing thrills
to the process of becoming inured to a drug’s effects. The metaphor is so exact,
in fact, that maybe it isn’t a metaphor at all.

When Henry and I fought about my job, we fought on two fronts: whether what I was doing was essentially unethical, and whether I was too consumed by doing it. I would usually end up agreeing with him on the first count — my posts could be petty or cruel — but that only made him more frustrated. It must have been hard for him to understand how someone could keep committing small-scale atrocities with such enthusiasm and single-minded devotion.

The thing with blogging and other forms of social interaction on-line is that it can build a false sense of community. Don't get me wrong here--I love blogging and its ability to keep up with friends and family who are located throughout the world. But in the end, it can't and shouldn't take the place of real-world interactions.

I was listening to Rick and Bubba recently (big shock, I know) and Rick was taking Bubba to task for having a FaceBook page. "Why do you need it?" Rick kept asking. The conversation went onto talk about DonJuan DeMarco, a producer of the show who has a MySpace page with somethng like 2000 friends. But the funny part--DeMarco's car broke-down a few weeks ago and Rick said, "So, how many of those MySpace people were there to come pick you up and give you a ride?"

Which kind of makes me point, I think. It can be so easy to feel as if because we've read something about people's lives or left a comment or sent a message that we've got this great community of friends. And like I said, I think blogging is a great way to meet people of similar interests and to share thoughts, ideas and opinions. But I can see a real danger in letting it become the only way you interact with people. Again, the point was made on Rick and Bubba that there could come a generation of people who will have no idea how to interview for a job because their main form of social interaction is MySpace or Facebook. And if you add in listening to podcasts, where you can have an actual human voice there and feel like you've talked to someone, you can see the danger.

The thing with those whole blogging thing is that it's a wonderful thing. But like all wonderful things, it can be taken too far or abused.

It's why I find Gould's article so compelling and interesting. And why I recommend that all of you read it and maybe share it with the readers of your blog, if you have one.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 5/22/2008 01:00:00 PM | |
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