Monday, October 09, 2006

Chronic(le) Voyeurism

This is a relatively new blog. I started it in July, unsure of what I wanted it to be. I told no one of its existence, and merely used it to write the second post, which I feared too inflammatory for my usual space. I didn't want it to be completely anonymous, but I didn't want it to be as personal as my usual blog, either. In short: I was all blogged up with nowhere to go. Having finally made the decision to focus on writing, my path was clear, and I announced the existence of Red Stapler on my personal blog. The purpose of Red Stapler, I said, was to have a public writing space that I could use to professionally promote both myself, and my writing.

"I've had this [blog] since Sophomore year of college," I said, in reference to my personal blog. "The editor of a publication doesn't need to see that shit."

A discussion ensued, the winning points being that a blog site like Livejournal fosters a sense of community, but also cliqueishness. With a Livejournal, you’re writing to a specific audience. Namely, you write for your friends, and everyone can see who your friends are. With a "public" blog on a person's own site, or on Blogspot, barring any blogs one might link, the audience is anonymous.

An important question, though, is why do we blog? Were we all such unrepentant Doogie Howser fans? Were we just waiting for our chance to end our days in front of a screen, summing up our adventures with a witty platitude? Interestingly, Doogie never published the things he wrote. (Although what a pop culture cash-cow THAT collection would be!) He was writing for himself. Further interestingly, Steven Bochco, the show’s creator, has been quoted as saying his long-term vision for the Young Doc, was for him to abandon medicine and become a writer. Surely, had the series survived to the late-90s, such a disillusioned Doogie would have blogged before writing professionally! The show was cancelled before Bochco could produce that outcome, so we are left with our memories of Doogie and his verbally-efficient text files. But as to the way he wrote, we didn’t exist to him—in that through-the-looking-glass way that he doesn’t really exist either. In that vein, what of the strangers’ blogs we read, and the strangers who read ours? Not only are we driven to blog, but we are driven to read the blogs of others.

The very first blog I read was written by a friend of mine. The thing I loved most about it was that I knew he would never tell me the stories in the same way as he wrote them. When a story is told verbally, or a situation described, objectivity goes out the window. One element of a story that might be glossed over to you may be highlighted in a less specific or more public retelling.

When I write in my personal blog, I have a fairly good idea of who my readers are, and I write my posts accordingly. When I ask questions of my audience, I have a good idea who will answer, but occasionally I get surprised. Sometimes pleasantly, sometimes not.

I started blogging when I was sixteen. It was hosted on my AOL space, hand-coded in a Notepad file, and listed under another screen name. This was so that my classmates couldn’t find it. I kept it up for a year and a half, at which point I moved to Diaryland, a blogging site many of my friends used. That lasted about two years, at which point, I moved over to Livejournal. This was immediately following a breakup, so I decided it was time for things like locked posts and filters. I also quickly fell in love with the "friends list" feature. On that blog, one can bear witness to two and a half years of college, the rise and fall of several relationships and dalliances, and the ebb and flow of my friendships of the last five years. That's a lot of data.

Which brings us back to writing for an audience.

Even in my high school blogging days, I noticed a difference in my writing. I was writing to an audience, however small it was at the time, rather than simply setting down my thoughts and feelings. These days, I have almost two hundred people listed on my friends list. Twenty-six people whose journals I don't read have me friended. How many more read without my knowing?

This all came to an enlightening intersection recently, while out with a friend I hadn't seen in about two years. He informed me that my ex's wife not only reads my blog, but had or has an unhealthy obsession with it. He showed me her blog, and it was terrifying.

I felt exposed and vulnerable.

My discomfort wasn't with the fact a stranger was reading my words. Actually, I look forward to that possibility. My discomfort was with the fact a woman was torturing herself with my existence and my words. Unwittingly, and to be honest, unwillingly, I remained an elephant in the room to a couple who live hundreds of miles away.

Just as she read my blog, I rushed to read hers. Like Hilary climbing Everest, I read it because it was there. We, as a generation, have become stalkers. We know, without a doubt, that data on anyone we encounter will be there for the finding. Meet some new? Google them when you get home. Discover the blog of a high school acquaintance? Read every entry and know what they ate for breakfast every day for the last year. We have become total informational masochists, while at the same time, offering up the same overload of information. Worse, to this day, I love reading the blogs of "adversaries" so I can get a sense of their end of things. We are disappointed and frustrated if we actually can’t find anything about someone.

This, ultimately, is probably what my ex's wife was trying to do—get a sense of The Ex of Her Husband. I, being completely oblivious to this, wrote on. I never slandered my ex. I never spoke ill of him, and only wished him well, even, and especially upon hearing of his wife and their since-born child. She even remarked, disparagingly, "I thought to myself as I…scoured her website for references to my soon-to-be husband how little she refered[sic] to him when they were together." I have a sneaking suspicion the sort of information she sought was behind filters—and therefore invisible to her. (That, and despite living together, we were rarely available at the same times. It’s difficult to blog about dates that never happened!)

I understand the impulse for information, even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts. As I said: We are a generation of informational masochists. If there is something to read, the more it fuels our paranoia and fear, the more likely we are to read it. Several years ago, a friend of mine dated—and blogged about—a coworker of my boyfriend. When my boyfriend and I first got together, I found myself addicted to my friend’s long-ago posts. In her words, I found the same questions I was asking about age differences, the nature of the company they work for, etc. Her gnawing insecurities were the same as my gnawing insecurities, and suddenly, mine got louder and louder. I eventually tore myself away from said posts, but its effects were shocking.

As a society, we are completely inundated, and saturated with information. No longer is it just the news and the weather, but the intimate details of someone’s date the night before can be found, just a few clicks away. As of this writing, 11,261,500 journals exist on Livejournal alone. I’m sure the statistics of sites like Blogger, GreatestJournal, and Xanga are similarly staggering. We are a world completely consumed with our own chronicle voyeurism.


Teh d00b said...

wasn't sure where to comment. But I found your article insightful and thought-provoking.

I guess we are all guilty of being somewhat threatened by our Significant Other's past. But when it gets to the point of obsession it's time to call a professional.

I got a lot out of your article, thanks for sharing it.

airportbartender said...

You're right about the audience informing our content in a thorough way-- lately I have found myself having to justify, at least to myself, posting things that I know none of my friends are interested in. But it's a journal. I should be writing it for me. The fact that I have no memory to speak of makes it all that much more important that, if I feel I want to know in three years' time what I had for dinner, or when I had my period, I shouldn't feel constrained against blogging that. But I do often feel that way.

I also go through periodic phases when I get creeped out by people reading my blog. Mostly I don't friends-lock things, even relatively sensitive things, because it seems pretentious to try so hard to keep things private that are relatively trivial. If someone reads this, then whatever! Right?

But last night as I was managing friends on my LJ (in response to a friend who had privately emailed me to announce a new pseudonym), I found not only her new name but also two other names I didn't recognize who had almost no posts and had only me listed as a friend. I have no idea who one of them was, but her friends page: Entirely me. Nothing else.

It was creepy. She's never commented, that I can remember. I think the other one had at least commented once or twice. But it's not like she's doing anything illegal. I just wonder... why would anyone but me even be interested in that stuff, let alone several people??

But of course they are. Blogs are fascinating. I've read hundreds upon hundreds of posts of other people's mundane lives. And I keep making them myself.

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