Sunlit Water

January 17, 2007

Authors & Writers

Filed under: Culture — by teofilo @ 12:34 am

It seems not everyone has had the same experience of meeting blog people that I have.  On her own blog, ac goes into more detail about why this might be so.  She writes:

I have an impression that blogging can be a bit bad for the character, if it makes you more self-involved and grandiose, and for that reason you should try to be more separate from your online self. I may notice this particularly because I seem to have the opposite problem, where my writing tends to tap into an older, more insecure strain of character. Either way, I think the distinction between the writing self and the everyday self should be maintained, or at least recognized.

I don’t disagree, exactly, but I do find this a difficult point of view to understand.  On the one hand, sure.  To the extent that blogging leads to delusions of grandeur or whatever, keeping clear the distinction between one’s everyday self and one’s online persona is probably a good thing.  But I just have a hard time seeing that as a serious risk, at least for the kind of blogging I’m familiar with.  It’s certainly true that my blog persona is different from the persona I present to the world most of the time (for one thing, I’m very quiet and shy in person and I don’t think that comes across as much online); in a lot of ways I think it’s closer to the way I perceive myself.  I can see how that could be problematic if taken to extremes, but I don’t really see how the blog medium would bear responsibility if that happened.  Surely the same thing could happen from, say, moving to a new place with a different social structure.

In an update, ac continues:

Someone else once pointed out to me that the internet creates a false and somewhat frustrating sense of intimacy, because revelation is usually earned in real life, and there is more mutual exchange and influence, whereas the mechanisms of social relation are speeded up, and potentially more one-sided, online. I have made some great friends through the medium, but I remain wary of it.

Now this I can understand, and indeed I’ve felt this way myself from time to time.  I’ve revealed a lot about myself online that I’ve kept from most people I know in real life, which makes for some rather odd relationships with people whom I’ve never met in person but who know a lot of personal things about me.  And when I do meet those people in person, the dynamics can be significantly different from the way I interact with most people I know.  That said, I’m not as wary of the medium as ac is.  I can’t even express what an enormous force for good in my life blogging has been.  I’ve always been a shy, solitary person, tending to loneliness, and discovering a community that, for all its limitations, is always there and willing to accept me has been such a help to me that I don’t know what I would have done without it.

But enough of the misty-eye treatment.  What interests me here is the really quite different attitudes toward blogging that ac and I have.  From the way she’s phrased her post, and other things she’s written, it’s clear that she considers her blogging persona closely connected to her identity as a writer, to the extent that it taps into issues and vulnerabilities that aren’t necessarily important in her everyday life.  In fact, she seems to consider blogging primarily as a medium within which she is an author, much like fiction (which she also writes).  From that perspective, I can see how the differences between author-function and actual person become very important; all authors have personae distinct from their personalities, and neglecting to maintain the distinction can cause serious problems in an author’s life.  It’s a very literary approach to the medium, which makes perfect sense for someone who moves in very literary circles both online and off.

I’m not like that at all, however.  I came to the blogosphere via political and academic blogs, and although I no longer frequent many of those, my attitude toward the medium has largely been shaped by a different approach to writing, one in which the blogger is not an author, conveying their thoughts through carefully-rendered, aesthetically-pleasing arrangements of words, but merely a writer, doing the drudgework necessary to communicate their ideas and observations.  These aren’t hard-and-fast categories, of course; the thoughts of an author are just as important as the words used to express them, and even a mere writer is concerned with sounding nice.  It’s not the results or even the process that differs between the two but rather the overall abstract understanding of the enterprise.

Basically, I don’t like writing.  I find it difficult and unpleasant.  I do it because I think some of the things I have to say are worth the effort.  I do it for school because that’s what you have to do in school, and I’ll do it for my job (whatever that ends up being) because it will almost certainly be a big part of what I have to do, but I don’t enjoy it.  I don’t aspire to the life of staying at home and writing all day, because I know I would hate it.  I don’t know for sure that others feel differently, but I think they probably do, and there sure are a lot of people out there writing novels; presumably they don’t all hate the process of doing that.  My thesis in this post, such as it is, is that people who like to write are more likely to think of themselves as authors and approach blogging from a literary perspective, while those of us who don’t are more likely to think of ourselves as writers and approach the medium differently (though certainly not all in the same way).

I apologize if I’ve misinterpreted ac at all, which is a distinct possibility.  Please correct me if I have, ac.  Any other comments about this theory, which I haven’t really thought out very carefully, are welcome as well.



  1. On grandiosity: take memes, for instance, in which you are lovingly doting on small, potentially quite boring details of your life; I remember dagger joking about the “me me” aspect of them. There are lots of devices and norms in blogging that exaggerate contemplation of the self. Which is fine, up to a point; I’m certainly introspective, so I can’t really fault anyone else for that. But self-criticism usually operates too. I’m continually surprised that there seem to be whole corners of the blogosphere in which extended self-congratulation is expected, or even praised, and unrelieved by any reality checks. Honestly, lots of blogs read to me like rap songs, in which people are constantly talking about how hot or rich they are. It can be amusing, of course, but is enormously distancing as well.

    I wonder how much is people joking, how much is losing all sight of social reality. It’s not that people I meet are so much like this, just that I find it odd that they either don’t notice or don’t care about the whorls of egomania around us. IME, it’s the first thing people new to blogs comment on. So I guess that’s troubling, that there’s a process of desensitization. I have some sensation of being surrounded by false mirrors, which makes me a little queasy.

    I probably did have a somewhat different perspective, going in, because of fiction. Which no doubt adds to the sense of disconnect. I’d have more to say, but I have to go to sleep. ‘Night, teo.

    Comment by ac — January 17, 2007 @ 1:45 am |Reply

  2. I’m not sure I buy that. Blogging is a medium; it can be used for any kind of content at all. Given the low barriers to entry, it tends more to self-expression than most other media, but I’m not so sure that says anything about the activity as a whole. How many memes does Josh Marshall do? Or Kos?

    Obviously those guys do a very different kind of blogging than, say, I do, and the kind I do is more prone to the kind of self-congratulation you’re talking about. I’m still not convinced that your average blogger, even your average personal blogger, is at great risk of losing touch with “social reality” (whatever that means). Sure, there are plenty of egomaniacs in the blogosphere, but there are plenty of egomaniacs in real life as well and it doesn’t seem to do much harm except to those in their immediate vicinity. Blogs are no different, I’d say.

    Comment by teofilo — January 17, 2007 @ 2:28 am |Reply

  3. By social reality, I mean how people normally talk and present themselves. The standards of the blogosphere are different, wouldn’t you agree?—that’s part of why some people find it so liberating.

    Comment by ac — January 17, 2007 @ 10:04 am |Reply

  4. This is very interesting. I came to blog by using LiveJournal as a real, private journal, hoping/fearing other people would find it without my prompting. (Which a friend of mine eventually did. It took much longer for me to start commenting and such.) Perhaps because I started out diary-style, the social part of blogging is sort of fraught with peril, middle-school style.

    To get my Freud on for a sec, for me the social aspect of blogging is tied up in reenacting my basic social childhood crucible: trying to keep up with my older, cooler brothers. I tend to view everyone else as slightly too cool and smart for me to keep up with. And possibly select worlds, ie Unfogged, that make that a self-fulfilling prophecy. At least the smart part.

    Comment by heebie-geebie — January 17, 2007 @ 11:18 am |Reply

  5. Of course blogging could be bad for the character, that is, could make bad characters worse, less rather than more truly introspective, and self-examining. To ac’s notion of blogs as self-congratulatory fantasy, I thought right away of the horrible world of the killer’s aggrandized sense of himself, revealed in his “fiction,” in Naipaul’s The Killings in Trinidad: didn’t need the Internet to fulfill that function.

    Now, do those blogs ac has in mind have worthwhile comments? Does some sort of conversation, admittedly starting with the blogger’s personal preoccupations but only satisfying to the degree someone responds, with a contribution of their own, seem to be what the blogger wants? It’s what I want.

    The observation of ac’s that reverberates most with me is that blogging’s introspective mode seems to remind her, as it does me, of a particular earlier phase of feeling, in her case high school, in mine just about Teo’s. I think in my case, beyond the very acute point about when in our lives this mode of thinking is most characteristic, and don’t we, shouldn’t we, move on?, is that most of our co-bloggers, being younger, often much younger, bring that out in me: it’s how I connect. The other thing is the act of writing itself, introspectively and about the things I’m actually thinking about, takes me back to the last time in my life I did it. I’ve written a lot professionally, but not freely in a long time. It’s exactly as if I’d started a journal in that respect—the tendency is to pick up where you left off. But this much is very different: I wrote long, discursive letters back in the day, which any online reader of mine today would instantly recognize. The whole point was to get a reply, to start a conversation, having some of the qualities I associated with talking with that person, or I wouldn’t have bothered. And almost always, the response, often not written at all, was something like, “Wow, that was really something. Hmm. Thanks a lot.

    Comment by idontpay — January 17, 2007 @ 12:21 pm |Reply

  6. 3: The standards are certainly different; there’s a lot less inhibiting self-expression than there is in real life. For people who have a hard time talking about themselves, this is liberating. For people who have no problem talking about themselves, it’s comfortable. Those people are the ones whose blogs are all bragging about themselves.

    Comment by teofilo — January 17, 2007 @ 4:05 pm |Reply

  7. Right. I just wish there was more a golden mean about these things. But that’s me. (It’s related to the idea some of us were discussing about how people who play it safe should think about the regrets they’ll have about things they didn’t do, whereas the naturally adventurous should think a bit more about the regrets they’ll have about the things they did.)

    Comment by ac — January 17, 2007 @ 5:15 pm |Reply

  8. I’ve been trying to come up with something to say – aside from the tangentially related quotations I’ve posted elsewhere – but I’m not sure what I think. On the one hand, not surprisingly, I’m more with teo and I don’t pay to the extent that I think it’s good to be able to talk about things that wouldn’t ordinarily come up in conversation with people I don’t know all that well (or even with people I do know better). On the other hand, I don’t actually feel liberated on those neither common nor uncommon occasions when I step a bit past my boundaries and talk about that kind of stuff, whatever it may be. And I’m still quite wary about things.

    But what dangers, with respect to real-life meeting people, set blogging apart from, say, an in depth email correspondence that creates a sense of closeness that in-person life never matches until the friendship falls apart and drifts away in misunderstandings? I don’t know, perhaps because, of course, I don’t have any experience in such matters. None at all.

    Comment by eb — January 17, 2007 @ 6:41 pm |Reply

  9. Off-topic, I watched The Notorious Bettie Page last night. I loved the camera work and the period-ness of it, but they really made her seem like a boring personality. Which may be accurate.

    I was reminded of two friends I’ve had, who were both incredibly childlike in their wide-eyed naivete, and both spoke in high-pitched little girl voices, and would go have the most outrageous sexual adventures. For example, my freshman-year roommate, dabbled in prostitution that year. She had a pimp that she’d met online.

    Comment by heebie-geebie — January 18, 2007 @ 9:17 am |Reply

  10. I’m dimly recalling: did teo mention seeing that with his family?

    Comment by ac — January 18, 2007 @ 12:34 pm |Reply

  11. No, Teo just reminds me of Bettie.

    Comment by heebie-geebie — January 18, 2007 @ 12:52 pm |Reply

  12. I’m sure he’s about to acquire a pimp at any moment.

    Comment by ac — January 18, 2007 @ 1:03 pm |Reply

  13. Heh-heh, what do you think my role is in all of this?

    Comment by heebie-geebie — January 18, 2007 @ 1:44 pm |Reply

  14. Yeah, well, you’d better step it up. I’m getting no business at all.

    I thought the boringness of her personality was an interesting contrast to her persona (to bring this back somewhat to the post topic). The film was very intent on showing that she herself wasn’t kinky or into S&M at all but was just doing it for the money.

    Comment by teofilo — January 18, 2007 @ 4:32 pm |Reply

  15. lots of blogs read to me like rap songs

    Kitty doggie, we like to bloggy
    We used to make cock jokes down at Unfoggy
    We’re just some folks that’s on the net
    And when we permalink it’s hard to forget
    For all of y’all reading our RSS
    Just to catch our updates and blow off some stress
    Cause it’s cool when you comment on a long thread
    It’s nice to know you reacted to what we thread
    I woke up this morning, booted up my Mac
    Tried to recover from a spam attack
    Archived some comments ’cause the site loads slow
    Posted a brand new YouTube video
    I said, um, meter meter on the site
    Who got the most hits all through the night
    There was a server error, five minutes it lasted
    The meter said “You did, you conceited bastard!”


    Comment by Matt Weiner — January 21, 2007 @ 7:39 pm |Reply

  16. “to what we thread” s/b “to what we said”

    Comment by Matt Weiner — January 21, 2007 @ 7:41 pm |Reply

  17. I killed the site.

    Comment by Matt Weiner — January 22, 2007 @ 7:04 pm |Reply

  18. I was wondering who to blame for that.

    Comment by teofilo — January 22, 2007 @ 7:09 pm |Reply

  19. Matt Weiner’s comment 15 is a brash mix of verve and supple control.

    Comment by standpipe b — February 5, 2007 @ 7:49 am |Reply

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