Dear Diary and Then Some:
By Blythe Summers
Blogs as the New Form of Self-Expression
When I was a kid I put a lock on my diary and hid the key on a string around my doll’s neck. These days I don’t bother with a lock, but my friends and family know better than to go snooping in my journals. Certainly there is still some desire to keep personal reflections private, but the web is revealing a new kind of journal. The kind that, theoretically, everyone in the world can read. It’s called a blog.
Blogs, like webpages and websites, span all possible subjects and are authored by everyone from the girl next door to well-known journalists, authors, and thinkers. What sets them apart is that they are structured by date-stamped entries (posts) that are listed with the most recently written post first. It is essentially a webpage organized in the form of a journal.
The technical ability to have a blog has been around since the beginning of the Internet. It wasn’t until 1999 when companies like Blogger, and later Moveable Type and LiveJournal came along with tools to make it more user-friendly, that the trend started to take off. Now there are blogs and groups of blogs ranging widely in topic including hobbies, politics, science, news, entertainment, culture, and technology. For example at Photoblogs you can find links to blogs about photography. Some of the blogs are online galleries while others are more like journals illustrated with photographs.
Author Neil Gaiman initially began his online journal as a way to document the process of being a writer for his fans while finishing up his book American Gods. American Gods has long since been published, but Gaiman still keeps the journal because, as he says in an August 2003 post, “Family and friends use the journal to keep track of my movements. It's the nearest thing I have to a diary…And enough e-mails and messages come in from people who just like having it here…that I feel like it would be missed if I stopped. And I enjoy it, which is its main reason for being.” Gaiman uses the journal to chronicle his days, post links to other interesting spots on the web, give his opinion on current events, and respond to fans’ questions and comments. Gaiman’s journal has become wildly popular reading material even for people who do not read his fiction.
Many blogs are much less personalized and focus on sharing news on a given subject. Librarians are among those who have discovered the usefulness of the blog. Greg Schwartz, the author of the blog Open Stacks, in an article, for Web Junction points out that new information shows up in blogs long before it is published elsewhere. He encourages librarians to not only read library blogs, but also to start their own as a way to keep abreast of current topics, help with advocacy, break stereotypes, and build community.
Second year student Betha Gutsche wrote a paper last year entitled Planet Blog for LIS 508. In it she sees library blogs as enriching the library community because “the blog offers an occasion to display multiple facets of personality by sharing favorite books, poetry, music, to broaden discussion of social issues, to seek and share solutions to problems encountered in library service.” Library blogs are a great way for librarians, and those in related fields, to find relevant information as well as encounter the thoughts of other librarians.
Some may ask, “Why do I care what Joe Shmoe thinks or did during his day?” and it may be that a great many people do not care. But some do. Most blogs list a blogroll which is a list of other blogs read by the author. Blogs also sometimes group together to become an online community. In her paper, Gutsche says, “Increasingly powerful search engines can shine a spotlight in the dark corners of the Internet, revealing the true confessions of a shy young teen or the political rants of a socialist activist.” Gutsche questions whether these online communities can really provide a suitable replacement for physically defined communities. It’s a good question to pose, considering the growing number of blogs popping up on the net. There is clearly something appealing about the freedom an online identity gives a person to express who they are to a wider audience than they would reach in the physical world.
Many of us look with awe and excitement at this new way to make the ideas of the individual heard around the world. Figurative champagne bottles pop in celebration of this up-to-date display of free speech. However, as with any published form of the written word, there is a dark side. Just this October, Gregg Easterbrook, the senior editor of The New Republic, was fired from ESPN for allegedly making anti-Semitic remarks on his blog Easterblogg. The important distinction to note is that the blog where he wrote the offensive material was not part of the column he wrote for ESPN. In many people’s minds, this violates our right to free speech.
Some bloggers are going so far as to consider blogs “dangerous” because the information in them can be used against you. Ernie the Attorney says, “I don't plan on seeking a federal judgeship or running for political office, but if I thought I might then I wouldn't blog. In fact, I'm not sure it is such a good idea even though I don't plan to do those things.” That perspective kind of makes the bubbles in the champagne go flat. It seems unlikely, however, that this will stop most bloggers from writing what they think. Perhaps the “dangerous” element of the blog that is now being identified suggests that it will prove to be an influential source of information in the future.
The remarkable feature of the blog is its individuality. There is little or no attempt to disguise the motives and bias of the author because its intrinsic individuality is what sets it apart from other choices of communication. The blog also allows people to find and give information enriched by the context of the personality and interests of the author. Whether the blog in its current form is here to stay remains to be seen. Blogger is now advertising new technology that allows you to call your blog and make an audio recording for people to listen to. For the time being anyhow, blogs are the new way to tell the world what you think. Musings that were once the domain of private journals and conversations are now traveling out across the web, making their way into the minds of those they previously would not have met.