Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Who'd Want to Live in a Vacuum?

I realized this morning that I've been blogging for almost 15 years.

When I created my first blog, my audience was exclusively strangers on the Internet—my writing purposefully kept secret from anyone I knew in real life.

That must sound odd to an Internet culture that now values individuals who have branded themselves with their real, full names and whole life on display as a cohesive package—but that was just the opposite of early Internet culture.

There was comfort and safety in keeping all identifying private information concealed—and excitement in the mystery of it all. While I was a homeschooled teenaged girl growing up on a nursery in Alabama in real life—on the Internet I could anonymously explore and discover a voice I might otherwise have never thought to look for.

Blogging back then wasn't self-involved. Nobody took pictures of themselves or tried to make their lives look glamorous. There was no need to put on make up or create a vivid character for an online audience. There was no risk of over-sharing or faking anything—because we were just writing about our lives in a self-examining, thoughtful way—trying to make sense of the world around us and connect with people completely different from ourselves who we knew we'd never meet in real life.

You could be yourself, unvarnished.

When I started learning to code (awfully) and building blogs for my friends, that's when the trouble started.

When people in my personal life knew where to find my blog, they were suddenly able to go through the archives and access posts I'd written about fights with friends, conflicts over boys, and secret crushes. A friend of mine was suspended from high school for writing a blog post complaining about a teacher—and I was punished because I made the blog for her (justice is in short supply for teenagers, Amen?).

It was then that my audience changed and with it, my writing style. I worried about what my family members would say—and I would edit myself accordingly. I "admitted" things I wanted to tell certain people, knowing they would read it and I could avoid the unpleasant exercise of advocating for myself. My tone and content changed. And then, gradually, the Internet changed.

In college I would ride my bike to the library to spend an hour a day (maybe) on the Internet—and now I'm only off the Internet when I'm sleeping.

And what a different Internet it is.

I learned a valuable lesson when my audience expanded to include people I cared about:

Words don't live in a vacuum. 

With rare exception, you can't tell the unvarnished truth without hurting someone along the way.

And wouldn't it be nice to return to a world where the Internet is a place we visit for a few hours each evening after a long day spent in reality?