Robert (gurdonark) wrote,


We who journal often face the question "how much of our privacy should we maintain in this very open forum?". Some of us answer this question in part through liberal or total use of the "friends only" function. Some of us edit liberally as to details of our personal lives. In my own case, for example, I name my wife only as "my wife", say less about her than I would among off-line friends, and never talk about her career or my own clients' situations. When I first set up this weblog, I told her my thinking, to which she replied with a vigorous "good!". I also made a resolution when I set up this journal that I would try to post "all public" as often as possible (thus far, I have no 'friends only' posts and one private post, when I could not get an icon to upload correctly, but have not gone back and deleted it). I felt that my journal should be a form of musical comedy, in which I choreographed slices of my life and my thinking, without giving the illusion that the reader is "getting" all the aspects of my life. I've been intrigued from time to time at a slice or two I am willing to show, as I've learned that even things that deeply embarrass me really don't matter enough to worry about sometimes. Overall, I maintain my privacy on a number of things, all of which arguably add an artificial quality to the journal.
It's curious--I don't mind that people know that I am overweight, disorganized, and fairly eccentric. Negative traits are really so commonplace that they don't matter, really. But although my journal is pretty much "me", I wonder if it isn't a more vivid me. I think sometimes my journal is a much more interesting person than I personally am, though, and that suggests to me that subconsciously I keep from this journal just how boring I am.
Let me remedy that--I am quite boring in real life to most people, except for a limited subset of people who "get" me.

Every journal is an elaborate fiction in some ways. I know that some people say, correctly, that "every word in my journal is true" and "every word in my journal is me". I can say the same myself, and I can even go further--"those who know me in real life find me just the same in my journal as I am in real life". But the fiction comes in the omissions, not in commissions of dishonesty.

I see this in other journals. Some folks share things about their intimate lives with their lovers, about their tattered relationships with their families or children, or about their own health information. These things raise for the reader the "inference" that the reader is really getting an intensely open look into the person's life. But my own view is that in these very same journals I am often struck by what is not disclosed, the facts hidden in the shadows of the journals. In some ways, these journalists realize what I realize about, say, being overweight--all life's 'soap operas' are so commonplace they can be told. One has a functional relationship with one relative; one has a dysfunctional relationship with another. One is part of x percentage that experiences sex this way; one is part of y percentage that experience sex that way. One can journal everything. Miss Marple solved the mystery, but all the suspects had already fallen asleep.

This is not to say that my own journal will become a discussion of my various intimate foibles in my single days, or of the personal details of my marriage. My journal will evolve over time, but I can never see even friends list entries saying many "private" things about me. I can think of one thing right now that occupies a large part of my thoughts, involving a sibling, but will likely never be in my journal, or in my journal only in hindsight.

Aside from such personal details, I'm sure my journal's many small and non-private omissions tells the reader as much about me as do the things I write here. Of course, it's not only a journal kind of thing. In my real life, I am an attorney, who keeps secrets as a professional duty, even when they are really fascinating. Fortunately, it's not that hard, because most secrets, even of the most intimate or "deep dark" nature, are quite banal. But in real life or in my journal, what I show to the world tells something about me, just as the way I dress does.

Privacy is such a big issue now, as technology has essentially made it feasible to eliminate privacy altogether. In some matters, I have some sympathy with the Swedish, who for some years felt that the way to ensure taxes are handled fairly is to make publicly available everyone's income. But on other issues, and in particular when people act in a way "outside the mainstream", the death of privacy can be important. I believe that in the main, though, the sense of privacy will be replaced by a sense of anonymity. We are all so prone to oddities, that in the long run nobody will much care who we are. But it's a real issue in light of shortcomings (and, in the case of the Patriot Act eviscerations) in the law's protection.

Yet in this weblog world, we cut against the grain. We invite people into our reality, to learn what we wish to share. I think this is so appealing because of another problem we have today--we are all separated by seemingly vast differences. People are not so interconnected as they once were. We sit at our radio telescopes, galaxies away from those who really "get" us.

This holiday season I've felt particularly blessed by all the interconnections that livejournal, nervousness, nanowrimo, and a handful of other internet places I visited created for me in a single year. I have friends all over the world I would not have, but for the 'net.

But for all the wonder of "knowing" people through their weblogs, one is perpetually conscious of the things one does not learn. When I read a "puzzle mystery" writer, such as Christie or the wonderful Dorothy Sayers (note to self: post another post about how cool the Sayers character Harriet Vane was), I can usually "solve" the mystery from the clues in pretty short order. It's not a conscious process--it's just that when one has read dozens, one gets a facilty for the process. Modern mystery novels have even generated "anti-puzzle" mysteries, which are entirely based not on cleverly setting the puzzle, but on creating a false puzzle which is then thwarted when the wrongdoer is somebody not pointed out by the clues. I have spoken before about the "missing fact", which is what I call details about lives I can surmise from what is not in journals. But the sensation of "things not learned" goes beyond merely "missing facts". I think of some of my LJ friends whom I would like to meet in real life, and yet I know that any such meeting would be so odd. It's funny, because I have met in real life a limited number of times folks I met through the internet. All but one time, it was essentially a good thing to meet in real life, and in that one time, it was not really a bad thing. But the "privacy" thing seems as though it might intervene--I know so much about you, I know nothing about you at all.

But suddenly, I am less worried about this. I think back on what works about meeting people one knows through the internet in real life. I think that the answer is in common interests and just relaxing in being kindred spirits. I think that when it works, it's about not worrying about "will we have a deep connection?" and just enjoying the shared exchange of ideas. I think that people, including myself, put way too much judgment into relationships ("does he like me?", "am I as boring as I feel?"). It's so much easier, as with a weblog, to comment about what makes sense to say, and worry much less about all these sorts of things.
It's funny how it's my perception that with some LJ folks it would be much easier than with others. For instance, asphalteden and I, who knew each other slightly from forum prior to LJ but have never met, would almost certainly instantly feel at home with one another. It's curious I feel that way, but I do. I wonder why that is?

So it's odd, really, all these new territories which the new technology of weblogs involves. We used to hear the word "netiquette" a lot, in the earlier days of the internet. But now there are so many different 'netiquettes' in different on line contexts that the word has almost lost its meaning. In Livejournal, each person defines 'this is secret', 'this is friends only', 'this I'm dying to share'. I love that some people realize that too many things have for reasons of sexism or needless sense of material things been unshared too long, and remedy that in their journals. But we all deal with privacy every week in our journals, and although we are pioneers, I am still waiting to see what things will be like when the wagon train ends in California.

The internet, including weblogs, will be a less wild, less woolly place some day. Will it be more private? Will it be less?
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