Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wag of the Finger: Ms. Manners' Guide to Blogging

I’m interrupting food writing yet again for a minor blogging rant. Pardon me while I perch myself atop a soapbox, but I have to get this off my chest.

Blogs are so predominant these days. Yesterday during a presentation here at work, a co-worker who has a blog I love said the estimate is at something like 8 million blogs and counting. Professionally, we use them for book publicity, to keep up with competitors, and to see instantly what our customers are into. Personally, they’re where I get much of my information, including recipes, political updates, knitting patterns, and parenting thoughts.

They’re so prevalent and simple to use and free, it’s easy to forget that they’re public. So I’ll state the obvious: A blog is a public journal that anyone with an internet connection can easily find through a quick Google search. As cathartic as writing might be, this isn’t a leather-bound journal kept by your bed that only you, and maybe a peeping spouse, can access. It’s out there for everyone. That means that prospective employers, divorce lawyers, family members, and future clients can all take a stroll through your life. I know people who have told me they felt violated when someone was reading their blog and didn’t make their presence known. Get over it. You’re posting in a public setting. You can’t run through Central Park naked and not expect people to whip out their cell phones and snap some pictures.

One of the most notable blogging-gone-bad stories happened to Heather Armstrong of Dooce who was famously fired for the venom she blogged about her boss. In fact, getting fired for what is written in a blog is now called getting “Dooced.” In Heather’s case, all turned out well; she now supports herself, her husband, and her daughter through blog earnings. But she’s rare. She’s an exceptional and innately funny writer. Most bloggers, even if they can turn a decent phrase, are only adequate writers and don’t have the magnetism to pull in a substantial fan base. This is why I invite you into my kitchen, but keep the other rooms in my home and office private. I’m okay if my current employer or any future employers know I like to cook; other details that might sway their opinion one way or another aren’t for sharing.

Which leads me to my other point... even if you’re comfortable baring your soul online, don’t bare the souls of others. If your best friend wants to let everyone with a good search engine know about her affair, it’s hers to tell, not yours. Don’t break the circle of trust. Some blogs I’ve stumbled upon remind me of Truman Capote’s Answered Prayers. If you don’t know the story, this was to be his opus; his Remembrance of Things Past. What it ended up being was three chapters of thinly veiled secrets that his society friends had shared with him over the years. They confided, he took notes and spilled to all of America. Amazingly, he died somewhat friendless. Go figure. Friendships have been destroyed and families strained based on what someone thoughtlessly spewed in a blog. So remember to be thoughtful.

If you’re thinking of starting a blog, or if you’re currently writing one, imagine that your employer, mother, and estranged husband are all reading it. Because even if they don’t tell you, they will be reading it. And don’t feel that you can journal about others online the way you can when tucked into bed holding a fountain pen. You can’t.

I’m stepping down from my soapbox now. On a less finger-wagging note, this past weekend was my annual knitter’s retreat, or DKW. When I can get my arms around all the goodness those three days gave me, I’ll write about it. As always, it was a magical time, even if I was drinking Fre wine and avoiding unpasteurized cheese.


Blogger amyzeats said...

Isn't it funny, though? Because one sits and types alone in front of a computer, the writer assumes he or she is speaking person, or even his or herself in self-reflection. It's an odd false sense of solitude, as if you are, actually, only writing in a journal. But, as you wisely point out, C: You're not. You're writing in the most public of forums.

There's a big part of me that's really on the fence about blogs in general. I read yours because a) you are my friend and b) I sincerely like you're writing and topics covered (and, also, I get updates on your life!); I read very few others. I can count them on one hand. It's utterly overwhelming to me. And while blogs are definitely a good cultural thermometer, they worry me that they are the demise of good conversation. I spend so much time with my computer these days, I actually find myself at a loss for talk at times. Are the unburdening of blogs also part and parcel to the undoing of human contact and conversation?

A dear, old friend of mine visited us this weekend from Nashville. We've known each other since we were 15 and much of that friendship was formed in letters, written in pencils and spotty pens and phone conversations over more than 20 years. We stopped writing ages ago, when email became easier. Phone calls are still in the mix. The day he left, I dug out the pile of old letters and sat reading them in total self-indulgent deep, wonderful nostalgia. While those letters are a little paper foundation for a friendship, they're also a pile of dinosaur bones. Who talks like that anymore? It sort of made me sad.

2:25 PM  

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