Thursday, January 25, 2007

Shyness, privacy and blogging mindsets

It's often been asked of bloggers "why do you blog?"; similarly "why do you/don't you use a pseudonym?"

There can be all sorts of reasons people write online in blogs, fully represented in the range of writing styles and topics on which people write. Likewise, and this is sometimes related to what they write about, people will choose to use their own name; a closely related version of their name; a pseudonym but with so much biographical information on their blog that they are openly identified; or a full blown hidden identity. As we know, the latter can often implode quite substantially with all manner of on and off-blog fall-out.

In some respects, that last category has been widely discussed and debated both across the blogosphere and in other communication formats: broken relationships and lost jobs are just two of the many serious implications for a hidden identity being revealed.

But what of the other categories of (non-)anonymity? Why do we blog and what are the implications for us? How far behind the screen do we hide - even when we may put so much of ourselves on display in our blog writing?

It's almost as if there is (what others may perceive as) a contradiction: although we may not. We tell readers things about our innermost thoughts and our experiences - both bad and good, painful and joyful. Why would we do that? Where would we draw the line? I was looking back at my pen portrait this week in the wake of finally putting up the blogmeet post (sorry, I don't think the stripes ever did follow though there should be several pics scattered around this site with me wearing them). I take nothing of it back - it's all true. But it got me thinking about how far I would expect people 'out there' to break through the blog wall into my social world. I'm probably lucky, though I doubt unique, in that I have struck up some very fine off-blog connections with people. Some are still cyber-based, mostly through geography, but others have extended into actual meetings.

And in this instance I'm not counting blogmeets as the same thing as social meetings.

For there can be something curiously ambiguous about the blogmeet. It's almost as if it is a halfway house between real social interaction off-blog and the kind of communication that can be held at a seemingly intimate level either on-blog or even in emails. Of course, it can be absolutely delightful to meet people collectively and share experiences, anecdotes and ideas. It can be lovely to get perhaps a little more of the person in your mind's eye than even a very well photographically illustrated blog may suggest. And in some instances it takes the cyber-connection to another level, spurring further off-blog communications and even meetings.

But it may not.

It may be perfectly appropriate for the contact to go no further than the collective social gathering of various people interesting in blogging.

And similarly, inevitably, not everyone will want to do that. Just as some people never socialise with work colleagues - 'work is work and apart from work we have nothing in common and actually please do not confuse me with a friend' - so some will prefer to keep social interaction at a more individual or personal level. I can so understand that.

Regularly at conferences and large gatherings, I have found myself sat alone, grumpy, and increasingly self-critical about my circumstances just because the social group I wanted to be with wasn't around (you know, the accident of circumstance because they were doing something different in the previous time slot, or they have shifted off into a different social grouping into which you just cannot force yourself to push into). I get resentful. I begin to curl into myself, increasingly shy and frustrated with myself. Hating the possibility of making an effort to join in, even as I long to do so. I'm fine on my own when I have chosen to be, but make me be alone and I disintegrate. I will shrink away from conversation even as I long for it, because it may not be with who I want to be with. It will be with other people, alternatives, and I don't know them. It becomes a vicious cycle. It can even happen when I'm in a situation where I don't know anyone: if someone invites me into a conversation I can usually join in okay. But I can't join unprompted. And the longer I go without contact, the less likely it is I will speak to anyone; I become the mouse in the corner, nibbling at a biscuit, hating myself more and more, staying on only because it feels less obvious than going. Bleugh. Emotional black hole time.

Coming back to blogmeets then, there is this tension between what people may perceive as openness in writing and what we may actually be able to do in person-to-person interactions. Just as my wearing of stripes masks periods of crippling shyness, so the expectations of a hyper-extrovert personality can sometimes be too much. Am I really that person? Good lord, are they really looking at me? It can be why the sitemeter is both a blessing and a curse. And it can also be why blogmeets don't suit every blogger. And even when we do go, we may all bring very different expectations as to what we want next.

Happy socialising: on blog, in mail, and off-site. But above all, be happy with yourself.

Hope to see you in Nottingham or elsewhere.


Matt_c said...

I know what you mean; I remain unsure whether one is breaching etiquette if one strays from the normal blog content. Is the role of a blogmeet to simply become a talking RSS feeder.

"This is what I'd blog if I could..."

Then it all feels a little inbred and weird though. Much nicer to chat about real things and not prefix every sentence with, "That post you wrote the other day..."

(Not that you can avoid that at first, naturally. As you say, it's not an organic face-to-face relationship. You have to start somewhere.)

Anonymous said...

Hello Lisa. First time reader here.

I've only been to a couple of blogmeets. It's very exciting meeting people you've read in great depth.

Quid pro quo, as Dr Lecter would say, it's excruciating to be sat next to someone less than half your age, whom you've never read, and never will. For them too, doubtless.

Videocasts are a good halfway house to reality. We are a visual species. Writing is a medium of easy deception, should the writer wish it. I enjoyed your post. Maybe see you in Nottingham.

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Hello Peter! Belatedly at least...

I agree it can be exciting to meet people whose blogs I have enjoyed reading: meeting Clare and EineKleineRob for example at Manchester last February was just a joy as they were - and are - two of my most often visited blogs.

However, I have more problems with your second statement - and not least because of the age issue you invoke. Perhaps I can't quite see past that, but I probably read as many blogs of those younger (sometimes MUCH younger) than me; moreover, not having read a blog previously is no indicator of me not reading them in the future. That isn't to say that meeting bloggers who are outside your own taste and interests couldn't be excruciating, but just that age and a lack of prior readership does not preclude it being an interesting meeting.

Still I would hate come across as if I didn't appreciate your comment - I did, a great deal. And I too look forward to perhsps seeing you at our future blogmeet.