Grinding Noises

Online Diaries

From a MetaTalk thread on the psychological impact of keeping an online diary.

Diary-keeping can be therapeutic—I kept one myself for ten years or so—but does it have to be public to fill that therapeutic role? Is keeping an online diary a cry for help, in the hope that your family or others close to you will find it? Will the feedback from strangers be therapeutic? Will the very act of exposing your innermost thoughts and fears in public, whether or not anyone actually reads them, be good for you?

We can all be brutally honest about ourselves if we figure we're effectively anonymous; it's much harder when we aren't. It gave me pause a couple of months back to learn that my parents were reading my weblog, even though I always wrote consciously for the (or a) public when I was doing it. I'm not sure why it mattered; maybe it was just that sense that something you say could come back to haunt you in a relationship that matters.

There must be more and more cases of people being bitten by the downside of blogging, of building up a fairly comprehensive picture of themselves online (although it's nothing new to blogging; these are old net-related questions). I wonder how many teen-angst journallers have thought through the potential pitfalls. Things were safer in the days when it was all dumped into a notebook, and I'm not sure that writing on paper was any less therapeutic.

Support and understanding used to be available on Usenet at places like alt.angst and the like, without having to reveal all about yourself in a highly personal individual site. Some of the readers of a personal blog will get to know you better than they would if you were part of a newsgroup crowd—though maybe not, since you'll be part of a blog crowd anyway.

The potential for critical comments is one concern. A lot of people feel uncertain of themselves in their mid-teens, and can't just shrug off criticism as easily as they'll be able to as an adult; I know I used to take things a lot harder then than I would now.

Now that I'm in my 30s I have no desire to keep a "safe" paper diary, and when I'm in one of my blogging phases I really don't care who reads it (comments about my parents finding it notwithstanding; that was just a surprise, as it always is when people from one part of your life cross into another). I don't care who reads it because it's intended to be public, and is written accordingly.

Compare that, though, to writing "my brother comes home now he's not doing ecstacy but he's fucking selling it!!!" in a livejournal intended to be "private" or at most "semi-public"; there are all sorts of ways posting this could turn around and bite the author. Yes, it's honest, yes, it makes compelling reading—because it's not "safe"—but writing that in public isn't necessarily in her best interests.

There is an alternative: writing fiction. But as we saw earlier this year, that carries its own risks in the weblogging world.

First posted to MetaTalk, 27 November 2001.

19 August 2003
©2001-03 Rory Ewins