The illustrious plaidder
started a riff on my meta-journalling musing, which, in addition to being an honour, started me thinking about the topic again. plaidder
"There is something people just like about seeing their experiences shared by strangers, and I think that's partly what fuels things like Livejournal. Even if it's something relatively minor like dental work, people like knowing that someone else has gone through it, and checking their own history against everyone else's. And the online journaling thing sort of feeds that jones, in a way that probably is less destructive than the craze for reality TV, which is how the rest of America seems to be filling that need."
I think there is definitely a link between reality TV (Pop quiz - who remembers what Andy Warhol said?) and the multitude of ways in which people make more-or-less public various aspects of themselves and their lives on the Net/Web. There's something going on that has, as most things do, at least a dozen sides.
My oldest and dearest friend has for a long time been making jokes about our culture's growing obsession with the media - including cybermedia - and more pointedly, how it seems that everyone wants to be known in the media. He likes to say that nothing is "real" to most people unless it's been on TV, and that no one is "anyone" unless they're a media personality. And it certainly seems that way at times. Not so very long ago in our society, entertainers were people of questionable character - you might go to a play, but you would never want to associate with an actor. Now everyone wants to be one.
Some people have suggested that we do in fact feel that there is something inauthentic about our lives, for so many different reasons - loss of physical closeness to families and communties, the increasing pressures of the workspace, the culture of fear, the shutting out of the natural world... I could go on, but you get the idea. There are probably a hundred reasons that we might be feeling a lack of authenticity (and probably just as many that argue that this sense of inauthenticity is nothing new, and just as many more that argue that we have never before had the opportunity to live such lives of authenticity).
But in any case, there are all of those people in the public eye, maybe for just 15 minutes, but at least for that space of time, everyone is looking at them, listening to them, acknowledging their reality. So maybe that's part of why there are thousands of people trying to be the next Canadian Idol, or live in Big Brother's new house, or have cameras plastered on them as they race around the world. Or compete on Jeopardy, which has always been one of my little fantasies (my first moment of fame was as a contestant on Reach for the Top). And for every person who tries out for one of these things, there are millions, it seems, who watch and perhaps vicariously imagine that they too could be on the screen.
Is there a connection between that, and at least some journalling and blogging and website building behaviours? I have a website. I have no idea why. I've put up a bunch of stuff that probably no one has ever read or ever will, and every once in a while, I add a little more. I'm not really trying to communicate with anyone - unlike people who have real products or skills to promote that are best exhibited on the Web. I don't have an agenda, some message that I'm determined to get out to as much of the world. There's nothing stored on my website that couldn't just as easily be printed out and stored in a desk drawer. So why is it up there? I can admit the possibility that putting it out in cyberspace somehow makes it - and me - more real, at least to myself; I have a website, therefore I am.
Journalling is less egocentric, I think - there is at least an implied audience - I am on some friends lists - and hence the potential not just for establishing one's existence, but also for creating communication. Which is interesting, because journals were often private things when they were written on paper, although I'm sure that more than one person has written a journal in the hope that at some point they would become famous enough that other people would ask for it to be published.
So perhaps it's not that suddenly, in this society, we need to make ourselves famous. Perhaps we've always wanted to, and it's only now that so many of us have the tools to try.
And I'm still thinking about what that might mean.