As a blogger, I have begun to notice that one of life’s little lessons keeps popping up in the books I am reading, a lesson that seems relevant to the way I perceive my current internet activities. It is an incredibly obvious lesson, and it seems odd to me that I have never fully comprehended this bit of wisdom before; but I suppose we never really notice anything until we are ready for the message it has to impart. The lesson is this: Revealing personal things about ourselves to others is risky because it gives power to those who now enjoy our intimacy. Not everyone in this world is well intentioned, and those who are benign in intent are very often utterly misguided in their interpretations, beliefs, and actions. The benign are thus just as likely to do us in as the malignant types!
My most vivid earlier encounter with this insight occurred some years ago while reading A. J. Cronin’s novel The Spanish Gardener. (There is also a film.) Harrington Brande, the story’s principle character, confides his most intimate thoughts and fears to his psychiatrist friend Eugene Halevy, only to have the latter take advantage of these intimacies to hold Brande in his sway. The more Brande reveals of himself, the greater becomes Halevy’s power over him. My own situation at the time, a crashed manic-depressive in extremely revealing cognitive behaviour therapy made the book’s message intensely personal. Yet, I soon forgot all about Mr. Brande. My desperate plight made any risk seem well worth taking.
(Just to show how bad things can get in intimate situations of this kind, consider the American writer May Sarton’s troubles with a psychiatrist who became obsessed with her, and then accused her of attempted murder!)
Where the internet is concerned, we have all heard the warnings on the news and elsewhere about protecting our personal data. In theory, at least, we are aware of the risks. All of this raises the obvious question: Why do so many people post regularly to intimately personal blogs? Are they all a bunch of fools?
Bloggers are usually aware that by engaging in self-revelation and frequent discussion we are like Harrington Brandt in the psychiatrist’s office. We are willingly sacrificing our privacy. It is true that a mere exchange of ideas does not necessarily imply intimacy, but our opinions and how we present and defend them do reveal a great deal about us to those who are skilled (and interested) in filling in the blanks and drawing conclusions. Blogging is not like the occasional brief letter to the editor. Even when not directly personal, it is an ongoing deliberate act of incremental self-exposure.
There is no way to avoid the latter form of self-revelation and nearly all bloggers knowingly take on the risk. They believe, as I did when in therapy, that the benefits outweigh any drawbacks. Many go farther revealing personal details of their lives in an attempt to share their experience with others. Moreover, they openly invite comment and discussion that is likely to be even more revealing.
What are the benefits that bloggers find so rewarding that they spurn the advice to keep their personal lives private?
Foremost in the minds of many bloggers is the desire to benefit their readers. This is partly altruistic (they do pay a price, after all), but ego gets a big boost from presenting something the blogger feels is special, significant, or simply interesting. We like to replicate our prized memes in the minds of others. It is exciting to think that we might have made a difference in the life of the odd person here and there.
Then there are the therapeutic effects of becoming more visible in what may otherwise be a life of humble anonymity. Attention can be flattering and most blogs garner visitors from around the world. It all boils down to the ancient Norse ideals of heroism, glory, and renown. Like those shaggy sword wielding warriors of old, today’s bloggers are willing to risk life and limb to achieve immortality through high honour and fame.