IVP - Strangely Dim - If It's Too Personal, You're Too Old

March 9, 2007

If It's Too Personal, You're Too Old

A friend of mine sent me an interesting article from New York magazine ("The magazine that never rests") that offers a surprisingly sympathetic take on personal blogging. While many hoity-toity, high-brow, big-shot wordsmiths deride bloggers as "fame whores" "farting [their] way into the spotlight," and while social psychologists are worried about the longterm effects of putting body and soul on public display, some others are seeing a cultural sea change comparable only to the early days of rock and roll, when accordion players were scandalizing the popular music industry.

Clay Shirky, who teaches new media at New York University, puts the naysayers in their place:

Whenever young people are allowed to indulge in something old people are not allowed to, it makes us bitter. What did we have? The mall and the parking lot of the 7-Eleven? It sucked to grow up when we did! And we're mad about it now.

Of course there are the extremes of online behavior, where virtual exhibitionists imagine a world in which they're Paris Hilton and the rest of us are paparazzi. And there's the opposite impulse: to change your password with each new online registration, to limit your Flickr or Facebook account to approved audiences only. But the new conventional wisdom about the Internet is that it's a kind of external hard drive for your personal memories.

The residual fear of people who grew up before the Internet is the invasion of privacy--that we will be known and judged by what we leave unguarded. I'm reminded of a lyric by Dar Williams:

If I wrote you, you would know me, . . . and you would not write me again.

The new, prevailing perspective may be dismissed as naive by those folks, but it has its own internal logic, even its own internal ethic. As one particularly self-disclosing blogger put it:
You've got to be careful what you say--but once you say it, you've got to stand by it. And the only way to repair it is to continue to talk, to explain myself, to see it through.

So, let's continue to talk, to see it through. Post a comment: What scares you about Internet exposure? What appeals to you about the prospects of it? Maybe ten years from now millions of people will be living with great regret. But then again, maybe if it's too personal, you're just too old.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at March 9, 2007 9:58 AM Bookmark and Share


Regret? What, like looking through old yearbooks or photo albums?

Comment by: Craver-VII at March 9, 2007 5:12 PM

Great article.

What scares me about internet exposure? The permanence of it. You cannot take it back and it never goes out of print. I cringe to think what I would have written and posted at 16, 17, 21...yikes. Even now, I am guarded in what I write. My own blog represents a slice of my life, and is both more of who I am, and less.

Comment by: llamamomma at March 12, 2007 10:46 AM

At times, I feel a little squeamish about hitting the post button on my latest reflections - I don't want people thinking that this one dimensional processing completely defines my personality. But then, I ultimately believe that a little less censored authenticity may just bring hope and healing for isolated or denied spiritual confusion.

Comment by: Stacey at March 12, 2007 8:45 PM

On the one hand, it's scary that stuff we post might live online forever. On the other hand, if a blog post is more than a week old, it might as well be centuries old in terms of the chances of folks finding it and accessing it. There's always so much new content coming out constantly that realistically, it's not worth sweating too much over an odd post here or there. Unless you're running for president and the opposition research teams dig out everything you ever said.

Comment by: Al Hsu at March 13, 2007 5:36 PM

As someone who works on the web, I have gone through the emotions on this. Here's my conclusion:

Privacy is an illusion. Dignity is not.

You will be traceable. That's how it is. You can't get around it, and anonymity is simply not real.

But here's where it gets interesting--where humanity returns: you have a real control over the content of your e-droppings. Comport yourself in a dignified fashion, and you become dignified, in a sense.

Comment by: Paul Grant at March 19, 2007 4:33 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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