Blogging: Motivations & Responsibilities

In class on Tuesday, at one point the discussion turned to blogs and why people blog, the consequences of blogging (is it okay to mention other people in your stories?), and what a blog is (does it have to be personal to be a blog?).

As a writer, I find it hard to separate “why blog?” from “why write?” Telling one’s own stories and writing about issues from one’s personal viewpoint are nothing new to writers. The same material you find in personal blogs is also found in memoirs, autobiographies, columns, editorials, personal essays, etc.

What’s different about personal blogging is not the content, but the fact that anyone can do it, that bloggers don’t generally have editors, and the accessibility of it (anyone can read it).

So I suppose in any discussion of personal blogging, you have to start from the premise that there are two kinds of bloggers: writers and non-writers. For the writers, writing is the essence of blogging—it’s another format to try, a way to hone their craft, etc. They blog because blogging is writing. They wrote before blogs existed and if blogs vanished tomorrow, they’d still write.

But for non-writers blogging (writing) is a means to an end. It might, for example, be a way to keep in touch with family or meet friends or promote a product/service. For non-writers, blogging is just a vehicle that might get them to whatever their goal is. Their motivations are entirely different from those of writers.

A couple other things: I found the comment about thinking a blog had to be personal interesting because it’s such a reversal of traditional thinking (if anything to do with blogs can be “traditional” haha). My research into blogs indicates that a lot of early bloggers think that personal blogs (online diaries) aren’t really blogs at all; to their minds, blogs are only blogs if they have traditional “links plus commentary” posts. Also, most mainstream media attention has focused on issues-oriented, alternative media-type blogs written by male bloggers, not personal blogs (even though the majority of bloggers are teenage girls keeping online diaries).

Of course, even if you’re just posting links, you’re personalizing. The links you choose and what you say about them say something about you, even if you never say anything about your personal life per se. On a related note, sometimes bloggers will make explicit what they will/won’t write about on their blogs. One common off-limits subject is politics. I always thought this was strange because everything is political. (You know: “The personal is political.”) You don’t have to explicitly state who you vote for to involve politics. I don’t know how you’d write about anything substantive without involving what you agree with/believe in—and that’s politics.

One more thing: in The Subject of Semiotics, Kaja Silverman discusses Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” and she says this:

Laura Mulvey argues that the classic film text distinguishes sharply between the male and the female subjects, and that it does so on the basis of vision. The former of these is defined in terms of his capacity to look (i.e. as a voyeur) and the latter in terms of her capacity to attract the male gaze (i.e. as an exhibitionist). This opposition is entirely in keeping with the dominant cultural roles assigned to men and women, since voyeurism is the active or “masculine” form of the scopophilic drive, while exhibitionism is the passive or “feminine” form of the same drive. (222-223)

Okay, so why is this interesting. Well, first, one of the comments made in class with respect to motivations for blogging was that if a blogger wouldn’t write if s/he wasn’t blogging, then s/he was motivated by exhibitionism. Second: this is entirely circumstantial, but it does seem to me that women are far more likely to blog about highly personal subjects than men are. So you could go the direct route and say women are acting in keeping with their culturally-defined role and acting as exhibitionists in keeping personal blogs. But, I think that would be missing an important point. It’s not men who are reading these uber-personal blogs; it’s other women. And the uber-personal information shared is not designed to attract the male gaze; rather, much of the content would probably have the opposite effect. So… it’s more like using the voyeur/exhibitionist dichotomy as a means of resistance against the cultural norm.

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Some posts I had clipped on the motivations and responsibilities of writers/bloggers (emphasis added):

Writers write for their ideal reader, for their loved ones, for themselves or for no one. All this is true. But it is also true that today’s literary writers also write for those who read them.

It is because all writers have a deep desire to be authentic that even after all these years I still love to be asked for whom I write. But while a writer’s authenticity does depend on his ability to open his heart to the world in which he lives, it depends just as much on his ability to understand his own changing position in that world.

There is no such thing as an ideal reader, free of narrow-mindedness and unencumbered by social prohibitions or national myths, just as there is no such thing as an ideal novelist. But a novelist’s search for the ideal reader – be he national or international – begins with the novelist’s imagining him into being, and then by writing books with him in mind. —Orhan Pamuk via MoorishGirl

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I find that I don’t care as much about story or plot or action as I do about getting inside someone’s head. Usually the author’s head. In this case, inside the subject’s head. But that’s what’s interesting to me. The chance to get a glimpse of an inner monologue, to see how someone else’s wheels turn.

In effect, this is what blogs let you do, or at least I’d like to think so. I started blogging almost exactly 4 years ago, right before I started law school. I just wanted a place to store thoughts, and a way to force myself to write every day. But I found that once I started, it’s hard to stop. I got addicted to the instant connection with people out there in the world, the immediate feedback, the feeling like someone out there cares about what you’re thinking. And as I started reading other people’s blogs, I found that sometimes, even if you can’t articulate why you’re reading, you start to get hooked. A blog — a good blog — lets you inside someone’s head, and if you like being there, it can become awfully compelling. —Jeremy Blachman

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I think it’s the first book that uses a blog as a narrative vehicle, and in doing so Jeremy explores a question I find pretty compelling — how do we know who to trust? What makes someone authentic, believeable, truthful? … In the book, there’s an active tension between the blog persona and the “real” persona (as evidenced by emails).


Blogs are private, and public. As a vehicle for an unreliable narrator the blog is very interesting, and I am not sure the cultural conversation about blogs has really started to embrace the complexity of the way people are exploring, sharing, and creating their identities online. I think the book begins that conversation in an interesting way. —Sherry Fowler

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I am interested in the question of what the implied promises are between blogger and blog reader. … I agree that there is a pact of sorts, in almost any writing, between writer and reader. I aspire to be a good blogger, and I have some ideas about what that means. I’ve never put them down explicitly, though. Let’s see if I can unpack them.

The Blog Author promises to:

* write truthfully
* write as un-self-consciously as possible — avoid contrivances
* write about subjects that move her
* write about things about which she has personal knowledge, direct experience, some investment
* tell her own story, not other people’s stories
* avoid complaining
* not use the blog as a prop or a crutch or a shield
* not use the blog to avoid having direct conversations with specific people
* post thoughts, and leave them up. Disclose edits, and if I change my mind, annotate and link rather than delete or modify the original posts. —Sherry Fowler

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Does it really matter whether or not this video was truly created by a teenager or not? And if it does matter, what does it say about our own obligations to remain honest on our personal sites? …

Personally, I’m of the belief that the theory of caveat emptor applies to anything available on the internet — let the reader beware, everything may not be as it seems. That said, I do see an argument which says that for those of us who have loyal readers who visit our sites daily, common decency mandates that we not betray their trust by being dishonest about who we are. But does that mean I have to be forthcoming about everything?

What say you — do we, as authors/artists/citizen journalists/whatever, have an obligation to (a) reveal all and/or (b) reveal honestly? —Karen Walrond

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