Thursday, November 26, 2009


Aldena McCain Rayl
January 24, 1924
November 18, 2009

Monday, November 09, 2009

How much is too much?

I'd really rather not, but for some reason, I've been thinking a lot about what it means that I write and post to this blog. It gets complicated by so many factors. Personal space, privacy, having a voice...

Since becoming a blogger, my digestion of other blogs has grown exponentially. I study the ones I enjoy, and I do sometimes revisit blogs I don't like, to study those too. I lurk, and read comments, and chew on someone's writing style... all the while fully realizing how absolutely subjective this interaction is. And then I ponder subjectivity.

Sounding-board style communication, validation, a chance to give your opinions and experiences a moment in the sun, blogs serve many purposes. After reading a particularly wince-worthy blog post some months ago, I began to wonder... When does my purpose, my need to have a voice become a privacy issue, maybe a personal ethics issue? Blogs are a fascinating adventure in principles and conscience, whether we're reading them or writing them.

For some reason, personal life issues presented lightly and salted with humor and sarcasm usually sit well with me. ("Really?" you say... "I would never have guessed that after reading this blog!") The moment squishy introspection and deeply personal emotion starts, I navigate away. Far away. Things like hostile family drama (who doesn't have that?),topics like unrequited love, and blatant cries for validation make me wary. Partially for personal reasons... but mostly because they're on the web. World wide internet. Googleable. If you post it, people will find it.

Oh sure, I pour my little heart out from time to time in a completely open, naive and selfish fashion. But I do it on paper. The internet not only gives us the ability to write about ourselves (or others), but to find out if other people are writing about us. And if they are? Well, I know how I feel about that.

With my own writing, I have this horror that someone will assume I was writing about them (either correctly or incorrectly). I think it's human nature (and my own personal tendency) to exaggerate from time to time for the sake of a good story, and I would want the earth to swallow me up if I ever wrote something that crossed that magic ethical line I've drawn for myself. My rule is, if it's someone's real life... tread carefully. I often remind myself that stories are by their very nature biased by the teller, and that there is always more to a story than a narrator is capable of representing. Even in the wildest work of fiction, you must choose angles to represent. In fiction, you're setting the scene as you'd like it - in real life, it can come across as judgmental and narrow.

This is my personal squeamishness, mind you. I'm picky about autobiography. There's a thin line for me between telling a personal story, and invading other people's privacy. An example - there is an author I just can not bring myself to read because her fiction smacks of badly disguised personal life. Additionally, her non-fiction spells out quite clearly her issues with the people in her life, and that rubs me the wrong way. Aren't I doing the same thing here? Perhaps. I can't quite tell you why it's different.

This has all been at the back of my mind since I started posting here. I stumbled across a blog recently that fanned the coals of these questions into flames, so I did some web research. It's a can of worms, for sure. In addition to the privacy issues I had in mind, the discussions about a Blogger's Code of Ethics adds journalistic values and advertising ethics to the mix.

These just skim the surface of a more academic discussion, but here are some interesting food-for-thought links on privacy issues:

Blog Survey: Expectations of Privacy and Accountability
This 2004 survey has some interesting stats on bloggers' disclosure about themselves and others.
Blogging Down Privacy Rights
A brief discussion of legal issues in regards to ethics and privacy in the blogosphere, and the "do unto others" school of thought.
A Tale of Two Bloggers
A great comparison of how two blogs with similar topics can impinge on people's privacy in very different ways.