Apr 14 2008

What am I doing here?

I somewhat like the idea of having post titles that are both vague and meaningful. I could imagine using this post title several different times in different circumstances and having it be appropriate each time.

This time it’s about this blog.

I was having a conversation with my friend Caryn last week about what exactly my intent was with my blog. She had been talking to other friends about online journals and maybe thinking about the prospect for herself. Our discussion quickly resolved to the public/private issue that must face everyone when they first start thinking about publishing their thoughts online. What is the purpose exactly of making a journal that everyone (or an anonymous indefinite number of someones) can read? Clearly it’s not to divulge your most private thoughts and emotions.

As we were talking I started thinking a lot about my beef with places like myspace and facebook and all the other social networking spaces that are prevalent amongst my generation. I guess I worry that the more and more we think of a “friend” as something that happens when you click a link on myspace, the less we will engage in the difficult and constant enterprise that I like to think of as friendship. Maybe I’m a little less worried about my generation, but moreso people of the next generation. I worry that social bonds will be things that form over these social networks and that the traditional, face-to-face form of friendship (and the human bonds that it entails) will become less important.

I should clarify that in theory I don’t have anything against non-traditional relationships. I think that communication over the phone, or over the internet has a lot of benefits; the ability to break down national borders is amazing, and I think even more important is the stripping away of superficiality, in it’s ideal the internet can become a true forum for ideas. I think these facets are great, and when put together in the right mix, I believe that they can lead to great friendships. Unfortunately, I don’t think that these are the types of interactions that are encouraged or facilitated by the current crop of social networking and online self-publishing sites. These sites seem more geared to me at maintaining acquaintances. People you knew in high school, but who weren’t important enough to keep in touch with, people you’ve met a few times, or friends of friends, etc. Of course many people’s real life friends are also their friends in these online arenas, but in my observational experience, it’s rare that the real friendships arise from these online correspondences.

I think it has to do with the way online communication works as opposed to in person communication. When I talk to Caryn I pick up on all kinds of cues she gives off about her relative interest in the subject and about how it impacts her emotionally. Also, there’s a shared goal in the conversation to move it forward and to deal with issues that are interesting to both parties. Immediate feedback is huge. It lets me personalize the content of my thoughts to her, and allows me to learn about her thoughts and interests even when I’m the one talking. When I’ve finished an idea Caryn has incentive to respond or to move the conversation in a new direction (both of which tell me more about her thoughts). With online communication it’s very one sided. You post, maybe people read, in many settings you aren’t sure if people have read what you’ve written because you receive a list of ips, or maybe if you’re lucky someone posts a comment. In some software, you do know which people have brought up your post (but not necessarily read it), even so, you have no idea of how it impacted them if at all.

There’s a false sense of closeness that’s gained from reading what someone else has written. When you’re reading something someone else has written you feel like you’re seeing into their life, as if it was an experience you shared, but from their perspective it’s something that was thrown out into the void, and they’ve no idea where it stuck. Their experiences are something they reflected on after the fact and contemplated into some edited online form. It’s something about them, and not about you and them.

As far as this blog, the conversation made me realize that I’ve kind of lost sight here of what I want to be doing. My intention with this blog is to force myself to think through my ideas and organize them in ways that hopefully make sense to others and invite their input or at least enrich their opinions of the chosen subject. Having said that, I think the posts about my life- the things I’m doing both at work and at home aren’t really what belongs here. I don’t want to foster the sense that people know what’s going on in my life simply from reading this webpage. I don’t want to encourage relationships that are one sided like that. I’m perfectly friendly (although that word does carry a lot of weight with me), and am willing to keep up with you, but for info about the events of my life, I think I’ll just have to encourage people to be my real friends. You know, send me an email, call me sometime, whatever it is, but dialogue and not monologue-monologue.