I’ve had it with blog users and their double standard of personal privacy. The reasoning goes like this: Bloggers are free to choke the Internet with drivel and pepper their tedious memoirs with keywords that ensnare innocent Google users. But if a stranger should stumble upon their blogs and actually read what they have published, this “trespasser” stands accused of invading their privacy.
This happens more than you might think. On one blog I used to read, the author proudly declared that an abundance of law school fee waivers had allowed her to buy a $500 pair of shoes. When some uninvited reader commented that such behavior perverted the intent of fee waivers, she freaked out, squealed about shattered privacy and deleted her entire blog.
Granted, such drastic response is rare. Most bloggers won’t obliterate their whole corpus of writing at the first negative comment. But they will vigorously protest any intrusion into their digital fiefdom. As though publishing the minute-by-minute trivia of their lives to the Internet is not arrogance enough, the rest of us must now face condemnation if we so much as stumble upon their pages.
I think the problem stems from a false impression of online privacy. In the beginning, the nascent blog is blissfully sheltered. Visitors are always friends or family; search engine lag, luck and the small amount of searchable text ensure that newbie bloggers are well-insulated from random traffic. At ease, they begin to take this veneer of privacy for granted — until one day, they awake to find the facade toppled, the door ajar and some Google-fed interloper rummaging through their holiday snaps. The ambushed blogger then circles the wagons, expels the defiler with an IP ban and bewails the rape of their fictitious solitude. Alas, such is life on the Internet. Swim at your own risk.
Among writers, bloggers are unique in feeling violated when a stranger reads what they publish. As a columnist, I accept that my work may be read by friends, strangers, enemies or no one at all; I can’t imagine a writer who, when his work is mentioned, shrieks that you shouldn’t have read it in the first place. We columnists may be self-important know-it-alls, but at least we don’t sully our rhetorical exhibitionism with retroactive invocations of ersatz privacy. Columnists 1, Bloggers 0.
I’ve heard blogging dismissed as mere online journalizing, with the concomitant suggestion that we should treat random blogs as private diaries and resist the urge to peek. This is pure confusion. A journal is a private written record of personal affairs and thoughts. It doesn’t matter whether you scribble nightly confessions in a leather-bound tome or bang them out in Microsoft Word; a diary is a diary. The line is crossed when you publish this material, and the attention of others is sought. A journal is a favor to oneself; a blog is foisted upon an undeserving public, also as a favor to oneself.
Of course, if blogs were truly a clearinghouse for diary-grade secrets, they would be more riveting. Sadly, most people are too shy or decorous to divulge sensitive emotional matter online. Their blogs suffer, emerging piecemeal as an unfortunate, declawed half-breed, devoid of anything juicy and freighted instead with petulant whining, self-important proselytizing and some of the most mundane confessions ever recorded. “My latte burned my tongue!” Someone call CNN.
True, not all blogging is so insipid. Just yesterday I enjoyed a firsthand account of a woman’s struggle to return lip gloss to an uncooperative cashier. The gee-whiz tale soon deteriorated into a seething condemnation of union labor that would make a Walton blush. I’m sure sliding a soapbox under every cranky citizen was a fabulous idea in principle. In reality, pairing belligerent grannies with split-second publishing and a complete lack of accountability doesn’t inspire civil discourse. Just think, acrimonious narcissists can now throw tantrums for the entire world. Bully for us.
And let’s not forget the derivative punditry and TrackBack orgies of political bloggers. After all, where else can you watch a closed system of fame-seeking, blazer-sporting youth bicker incessantly, shamelessly quote themselves and steal visitors from each other’s blogs? The result is like some nightmarish book-signing gala, where everyone in attendance thinks he’s the star author.
All told, I’m not too impressed by the so-called blog revolution. The experts promised remarkable things, like the infusion of fresh blood into grass-roots democratic action or the emergence of some grand literary-political salon. The end result, to me, looks more like a million cynical monkeys typing out complaint letters and cramming them in our collective suggestion box — then hissing furiously when we deign to read them.
Bloggers, it’s time to accept that publishing online means inviting a world of window-shoppers to your personal bazaar of bad grammar and unchecked neuroses. You can’t have it both ways. If you can’t stand the thought of strangers perusing your writing, maybe it doesn’t belong on something named the “World Wide Web.”
That’s one yellow card for the bloggers. Play on.
Michael Seringhaus is a fifth-year graduate student in molecular biophysics and biochemistry. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.