The web is seriously creeping me out today.
Or, more accurately, I should say that the people on the web are creeping me out. For the first time in the more-than-a-decade that I have been blogging, I suddenly feel quite uncomfortable with the idea that people, for no good reason other than to express themselves, share the minutiae of their lives online for the entertainment of strangers.
Perhaps it’s because I spent far too long today trawling the forums of the Internet’s bitchiest hate site, Get Off My Internets!, taking screen shots of conversations that I will reference in my thesis… and then doing some very internet-stalkerish back-trawling of the blog posts that were the subject of those conversations, relying upon the fact that many of the blogs they referred to were blogs I knew so well that all I had to do was look in the archives at a particular month, and (generally) locate the post in question without too much trouble. All in all, I feel a little bit dirty.
GOMI isn’t a particularly nice site, but it’s a free Internet, right? We’re all entitled to our opinions. Perhaps why I feel so strange about it is because the users express many of the opinions I’ve had, but kept to myself. An unfortunate side effect of researching blogging for the past four years is that there are blogs and bloggers that I am sick to death of, but keep reading because I have to for my research.
I still feel like bloggers are real people, and should therefore be exempt from the dissection and character assassination that celebrities are subject to. At the same time, the moment that you choose to put your life online, you essentially have to accept the fact that you will be criticised, for everything from your poor grammar, to the fact that one of your eyes crinkles a bit when you smile, to the fact that your baby is a bit too chubby to be cute – and he has a weird name, anyway. And that’s not to mention picking apart the financial situation of those bloggers who are able to work from home, or (good heavens!) not work at all. (These are all examples of real posts that I read today, and are far from the most vitriolic.)
I’ve been blogging in some form since before I even knew it was called blogging. I blogged at LiveJournal (remember that??) from 1999-2002 before starting my previous blog, and this is what i think: (atiwit:), in 2004. I stopped posting to atiwit: at the start of this year during another crisis of confidence in which I suddenly began to feel a bit too exposed.
Neither of my blogs ever drew particularly big audiences. At best, atiwit: had up to around 500 visitors per day, and the only thing I ever saw written about it on a site (other than blogs written by friends) was when someone referred to my smoke detector battery removal method on a forum. Perhaps there were other things, but I never saw them, so as far as I am concerned, they don’t exist. (Yes, I vanity Google, but the forum post was actually discovered via link trackback.)
I’ve never felt entirely comfortable with the idea of online celebrity. Being Big on the Internet always seemed a bit too… invasive, I guess, and after reading GOMI today I’m pretty sure that I’ll never be striving to do anything exceptional with my blogging (not that I need to work on that – now that I’ve converted to research blogger, I’m getting 1/10th the visitors that I used to).
Get Off My Internets is such a peculiar site, and more than a little disturbing – but then again I’ve always subscribed to the policy of ‘Don’t like it? Turn it off!’. I will turn off the radio in my car if I don’t like a song. I will skip an episode of a TV show that I don’t like if I’m re-watching the series for the fiftieth time. I won’t read blogs that shit me to tears unless I absolutely have to – and I certainly won’t post about how much I hate it on the Internet.
I’m writing a chapter at the moment about identities and audiences, and I’ve included a case study of one particular blogger (who I won’t name here, as I don’t particularly enjoy her blog anymore, but I don’t think she needs extra negative attention) who received an immense amount of backlash from her readers when she changed the genre of her blog. She’s a perfect case study in how identity and authorship are really discordant concepts online. The audience of a blog has much more of a say in identity and authorship than they ever would “in real life”, and yet they’re only privy to part of the story – the identity that the blogger chooses to display. Bloggers essentially separate that part of themselves that is the blog-subject when they publish online, particularly when they become ‘successful’ bloggers. Audiences (or, in the case of face-to-face interactions, those that we engage with) always have a say in the person that we feel ourselves to be, but it’s never more visible than it is online.
I can’t help but feel that the reason so many people on GOMI are determining that bloggers are complete ‘flakes’ and nutjobs is because we, the audience, are causing them to be so.
Proceed with caution.