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Be Paranoid: People are Talking about You

Karen made a very interesting point on my post about the drop in commentsShe writes:

Before blogs, we read newspapers, and we did not write a letter to the editor for every item we read, but we talked about interesting stories at work, school, the dinner table or over the back fence. The conversations were no less rich and even more dispersed than in the digital realm. The advantage of digital conversations is that we have not only the means of gathering those scattered conversations but dropping in and participating in them.

Which raises a really important question: is it healthy to have our words and ideas widely critiqued by everyone and anyone?  Authors and poets know that having your work reviewed is part of the act of publishing; though it isn’t part of the act of writing.  You can write for the joy of writing and even allow people to read it, but never receive feedback on it, which isn’t the case with traditional publishing.  Books that are published by traditional publishers are reviewed, newspaper and magazine articles are discussed in letters to the editor, and the author has the potential to see these thoughts (though you can always avoid reading reviews).  It goes with the territory, much like how report cards are part of teaching, though they may not be the thing most teachers think about when they make the decision to go into education.

But those reviews, a long time ago, were written by professionals.  They had a job and understood the responsibility that came with that job in writing honest critiques of published works.  With the exception of letters to the editor written by people who are passionate enough about the subject to do the work of taking out a piece of paper and writing down their thoughts and slapping a stamp on an envelope — things that discourage those who are not passionate from voicing their opinion — most authors never heard anything about their writing except from reviewers and book sale figures.  Sure, there were letters that trickled in or comments made directly to the writer. (I’m assuming usually gushy since how many people have the ovaries to walk up to a writer and say to their face, “I think your work sucked.”)  But the feedback was slow-coming, usually thoughtful (which doesn’t always mean kind, but at least criticism that is usable), and small in quantity.

And now we have this non-traditional publishing medium — blogs — where people receive feedback on their writing almost instantaneously.  And it’s not from people who write reviews for a living, who are keeping in mind the code of ethics that govern their profession.  The comments are written by me and you, and we’re hardly following a code of ethics except in the most personal sense.  Some of the comments are fantastically helpful; so many moments in life were easier because your words were with me.  And some of the comments are hurtful; even without intending to be.

And it raises the question: is blogging really healthy?  Is it always a good thing to receive this much feedback about your words and thoughts?  Have we taken something that is good in small doses and brought it to an unhealthy level?  I don’t really have an answer: I’m asking you.

It goes further: is it healthy to have our lives critiqued?  To have people not responding to the words on the screen but writing about our beings in general?  It used to be that the people who entered the public’s opinion were mostly celebrities who knew — like teachers and report cards — that critique came as part of the job.  But now there are so many people offering up their opinion on celebrities (who they are as human beings; even though we don’t know them) and on a daily basis, regular people enter into the realm of virtual celebrity from computer shooter Tommy Jordan to breastfeeding cover mum Jamie Lynn Grumet.

Again, I don’t have an answer, but it does give food for thought: in taking the conversation that used to be held at the backyard fence and bringing it onto the Internet not only for other people to eavesdrop in on but for the subject to be privy to as well, have we done more emotional damage than good?  Or is the good enough to balance out the potential emotional damage?


1 Bea { 05.15.12 at 11:57 am }

I think bloggers should very much be aware of this tendency. I have always noticed this, the potential for blogging to do more harm than good. (The same can be true of many mediums, I think – face to face support groups can be the same, studies have shown, etc – you really have to be aware of how these things are affecting you.)

There are a lot of things I don’t blog about – sometimes before writing the draft, sometimes after – because I really have no interest in hearing other people criticise whatever it is I am writing about. To publish a post, there is an extent to which you have to be prepared to justify and explain your actions. Even kind commenters can simply misunderstand your basic point (and it’s easy to miss the nuances when you only know the people from the blog and you’re only reading 500-odd words about the scenario) and then there are the unkind commenters…

So yes, I think it can be unhealthy, and I think people need to really recognise when blogging is doing more harm than good and either change the way they blog or move on to a medium which suits them more. Just be aware (as I said above) of the way in which blogging is affecting them.


2 Bea { 05.15.12 at 11:59 am }

change how they blog or how they view blogging I should have said.

3 Anjali { 05.15.12 at 12:08 pm }

I think there is definitely the potential for great emotional damage. If you’re pissed off, and in a bad mood, and say something over your neighbor’s fence, it’s going to stay there. But if you say it on the internet, it goes viral.

It’s a shame, actually. We can’t have foot-in-mouth-moments anymore because they’ll never be forgiven.

4 Angie { 05.15.12 at 12:10 pm }

I was just writing about this today. I think a few people in my daily life read my blog, but haven’t told me they read there. One of them mentioned my blog a few years ago after my daughter died. And I responded, “Well, it is really to process my grief. I don’t understand why that would be interesting to anyone who hasn’t lost a child.” And I realize that maybe I would find it interesting too, if I could have a window into my neighbor’s soul. I don’t know. My dear friend always writes to me when she poked into the blog to see how I am doing. I appreciate it so much, because my blog starts a conversation. It is not THE conversation. I know what I have written about has broken down more than one friendship. More than two. More than three perhaps. Because I used to write like no one was reading. It was this need for community that caused me to write, a need for friends who understood loss and grief, but it alienated me from the others who didn’t understand, who I gave no latitude for not understanding. I don’t know if I am making sense. But sometimes I think blogging saved my life, and other times I feel it was the most emotionally damaging thing I could have done. Thank you for this today.

5 k { 05.15.12 at 12:42 pm }

I wrote something in my most recent post about how sometimes writing about the hard stuff gives it more power. And sometimes I think getting comments and feedback on the hard stuff does the same. But I know for me, at least right now, I NEED those comments, however few they are, to let me know I’m not alone.

I can see how it can be damaging, and that people’s words can be taken out of context or we can project something that isn’t there because there’s no “tone” in the printed word unless you’re a really good writer. The other part is that, even when we post comments where you can trackback to our blogs, if our blogs are relatively anonymous, there is freedom in the anonymity and we don’t have to necessarily truly “own” the things we say to each other and this can be incredibly damaging. For me it points to be more conscious of the things I say both on my blog and in my comments. Something that I don’t think is a bad thing for everyone to practice.

That said, I’ve only encountered really one incredibly judgmental exchange on my blog, and that’s probably because I don’t have a big, wide readership. And it hurt. But because it was just the one, it was easy to write off.

Blogging for me has sort of always been journaling with readers. And in some ways it’s stifled me, because I have readers I know IRL and I edit, whereas if it was simply a private space I wouldn’t need to edit. I really think it goes both ways – because I know I have met my closest friends because of blogging, but I’ve also experienced some pretty decent lows because of blogging. I’m no help. 🙂

6 Alexicographer { 05.15.12 at 1:08 pm }

WRT @Angie’s point, I definitely read some blogs because their authors come from different backgrounds or have different experiences and/or perspectives from my own (though usually I also relate with them on various dimensions). No one I know IRL, though. But yes, it’s interesting (to me) to have a way to see into what it’s like to have experience XYZ.

I started reading the blog of someone whose experience was posted on LFCA when/because her DH died unexpectedly. And honestly I went over to offer support and stayed partly for that reason, partly because I liked her writing, and partly I think because I could imagine being in her shoes and wonder how I would cope if I were. But there came a point where that started to feel more vicarious than polite/supportive to me (though I continued to feel concern about her and to want to support her), and she seemed to have lots of support from people IRL and who’d known her online far longer than I had, so I stopped going back. Perhaps I should have said farewell before I left, though it wasn’t entirely a conscious/distinct decision I made NEVER to go back, more a drifting away.

7 geochick { 05.15.12 at 2:33 pm }

Interesting…I recently had a situation with another bloggwr who used my comment as an example. I couldn’t figure out if the comment piqued a thought process or if I was being given the internet version of the finger. But….since I don’t know this person IRL, I let it go and didn’t respond. I’m more careful with comments now. Words on the screen are often misunderstood.

8 Lollipopgoldstein { 05.15.12 at 2:36 pm }

Oh no, Geochick — (1) I’m sorry that happened to you, but (2) I want to make it clear to Karen that I singled out your comment because it was so thought-provoking. You made me see the whole blog comment section in a new light.

9 Mina { 05.15.12 at 3:02 pm }

People usually say that we live crueler, more vicious times nowadays, if we consider the number of crimes around us. I think people are just like they always were, only now we know more about everything happening everywhere, and this makes us believe there are more crimes than before, when the papers and the news were not filled with them.

It is both good and bad. It is good because we connect more and easier. It is bad because not only good ideas are disseminated.

On a personal level, I consider blogging a good thing. We open ourselves easier when it is just us pouring our souls on the blank electronic paper. It is therapeutic and it helps us. Like anything else, it might bring some criticism along. I suspect people who blog for connecting with a community fall in the category of good outweighs bad (words). People who make a living out of blogging and who get hundreds of comments open up a bit less than the former. I wonder if they read all those hundreds of comments… When do they have the time? But I digress.

My personal belief is that blogging is a good thing. I am a better person for knowing and reading the blogs I do. Not to mention the loads of stuff I learn from you all. Even the things I do not approve of, they are good for me to know and I store them in my mind as useful.

We all judge and are judged in return. In real or virtual life. If we want to or not. We cannot prevent it. Some things we can predict. Others not. Blogging is healthy as long as it helps, and it helps most of the times.

10 Chickenpig { 05.15.12 at 4:29 pm }

Hmmmm… I just don’t think about blogging. I write because I need to get stuff out there. I admit that I don’t think about how it is received very much. I also don’t think much about the comments I get, or the audience I have. If I was trying to sell my blog posts, maybe I would? But probably not, because I don’t think about my audience when I paint either, just what I’m trying to portray. I suppose if I was a serial killer blogging about it would be a bad idea, but blogging about parenting and infertility? I just don’t see how it could be harmful.

11 KeAnne { 05.15.12 at 4:46 pm }

I think blogging is overall a good thing – ideally, it helps us to lead a more examined life. The blogs I enjoy make me think, laugh, cry and gasp, and that can only be positive, right? I do think it can be harmful in that sometimes we forget we don’t know the blogger we read and are only seeing what the blogger wants us to see. I also think that some bloggers don’t reflect enough on what they are doing and putting out there; it’s more about building a brand than revealing a genuine person. I think blogs are powerful and have the potential to change minds and hearts, but sometimes the blogosphere feels so shallow, and that’s where I think harm can occur.

12 Esperanza { 05.15.12 at 5:54 pm }

I think for me so far the greatest amount of damage has never been done by a response received but responses not received. The most painful aspect of blogging for me is when I put myself out there, as raw and honestly as I can and no one says anything back. And that can be especially difficult when I see other people getting the support on their blogs that I was hoping for when I posted something myself. I know we shouldn’t look to our blogs, or more specifically the comments on our blogs to bring us validation but sometimes you don’t even realize you’re doing it until you post something and get no, or little, response.

13 a { 05.15.12 at 6:31 pm }

Interesting – I saw that comment and it struck me too.

It’s definitely easier to give feedback these days. I think that’s a good thing, because as society increases, people feel less connected. We have fewer/different neighborhoods than when I was growing up. People work more which means fewer people out on the street chatting with the neighbors.

I guess it’s easier to inflict emotional damage, but I also think that is not the aim of most people. And I think you can experience that in real life just as much – just check your local high school for the latest rumor in the mill.

14 loribeth { 05.15.12 at 7:35 pm }

There are things I write about on my blog that I don’t/wouldn’t say to people I know IRL, stuff I’m sure they would be surprised to read about. And there is a lot of stuff that happens to me in IRL that I don’t blog about, for various reasons. The point being that my blog & what I write there is just one part of my life — albeit one that I value highly. If you’re going to criticize me because of something I said on my blog, it may be deserved, perhaps I didn’t choose my words carefully enough — but please recognize that you may not know the entire story.

On the flip side, I haven’t received that many critical comments I(knocking wood!). And I try not to let the ones I do get bother me that much — recognizing that most people reading my blog really don’t know me or know the full story behind my words. I do think there are some cruel people out there who get their jollies out of leaving scathing comments & stirring up trouble. Fortunately, they are not very common in this community.

Am I making sense?

15 Lori Lavender Luz { 05.15.12 at 8:04 pm }

The thought of anyone — neighbors over the fence or bloggers via email — talking about my words while I’m not there makes me feel ooky. Because I’m not there to clarify, if that’s what is needed. I like to believe it just doesn’t happen, thankyouverymuch.

BUT. At this point the positives of writing a blog still outweigh that somewhat nebulous negative.

Writing my blog and commenting on others are activities that I enjoy. I would not give it up to avoid the chance that someone (whom I may not hold in high esteem) would gossip about me.

16 Trisha { 05.15.12 at 8:32 pm }

For me, I truly believe that blogging is the healthiest thing I’ve done for myself during this journey. I am an introverted person and I have trouble really expressing myself and what I am going through to even the people I am closest to. I’m always afraid that they will judge me or think negatively about me for my dark thoughts and while online people may be doing the same thing it does not bother me.

I don’t care if some nameless person that I will most likely never meet feels less the highly about me but I do care if my friends and family feel that way. Through my blog I am able to release all those negative thoughts out of my body, more than that I finally have people who understand those thoughts. No one I’ve known closely has ever been through what I have and I need someone to understand.

Every comment makes me feel less alone and I try to return that feeling to others when I comment. My life may be open and exposed online, but I have never felt so in control about that. People can critique me all they want, at the end of the day I do this for me.

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