This article was originally published at Foldedspace on 29 May 2003. It may be difficult to remember, but blogging was young back then, and many people disapproved. I’m not sure that all of the links in this story are still relevant (or active).
I’ve been exchanging e-mail with a close friend, whom I’ll call Pete. Pete is strongly anti-weblog. He hates them for many reasons:
- they’re narcissistic
- they interfere with google’s search results
- webloggers present a biased view of their world, etc.
Pete doesn’t even like to be mentioned in weblogs, because he feels he’s always mentioned in a negative light. (For example: though I have no untoward intentions in mentioning Pete in this context, or in writing about our discussion, he would likely take offense at what I say. Thus the alias.)
As you might suspect, I believe weblogs are a fantastic new medium for self-expression and for information distribution.
Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations
I read some weblogs to obtain news and information. (As I’ve mentioned before, weblogs have almost completely replaced my consumption of the mass media.) I read other weblogs to glimpse of the lives of the famous and the semi-famous.
I read some weblogs because they have interesting links, others because I love the writing. I read so-called A-list bloggers. I read the weblogs of my friends. (Guess which I prefer: A-listers or friends?)
Mostly I read weblogs because I enjoy the small glimpses into other people’s lives. I understand that a person’s weblog persona is different from her in-person persona (though I maintain they’re both essential components of the individual, neither one more real than the other).
Blogging About Breakfast
Many would argue that there are limits to what one should share on the web. Some lives are too mundane, or some details of life too personal. I disagree. Within the confines of the law, and the boundaries of friendship, I think one should write about anything and everything.
Pete and I have been discussing weblogs for nearly a year now, and neither of us seems willing to budge from our position. He argues that very few people lead lives of interest, lives that are worthy of web sites. I disagree. I believe that, with few exceptions, every life is interesting, not just to the person living it, but to other people as well. Every life is instructive, is entertaining, is meaningful, though not to everyone else who might glimpse it.
If one has a complaint against weblogs, does that complaint also apply to personal web sites? Personal web sites are not new; they’ve existed since the dawn of the world wide web. Weblogging simply makes it easier to develop a rich, detailed personal site, with accessible archives and a unified structure.
Previously, most personal sites, including my own (I’ve had a personal site since 1994), were slipshod, and only those with a great deal of free time and/or technical skill had great-looking pages. It was tedious to perform frequent site updates, so daily public journals were unusual.
Ben Schumin has a personal website that I alternately love and hate, depending on my mood. He doesn’t keep a weblog [well, in 2009 it does!], but his site is guilty of most of the points about which Pete complains.
Ben records his life in meticulous detail. Want a thorough tour of his freshman dorm room? sophomore dorm room? junior dorm room? senior dorm room? They’re all there, along with an extensive tour of his college’s dining hall.
I first learned of Ben’s site from Spinnwebe, where Spinn spent a week mocking Schumin Web. I joined in the laughter at first, but with time, I came to like Ben’s site, despite (because of?) his naive goofiness, the sheer inanity of it all. Ben’s fire alarm collection is as interesting to me as a collection of snow domes, but it’s who Ben is. I like web sites that tell me: “This is who I am.” What’s the good of having a personal site if everything there is mundane, nondescript, indistinguishable from any other life on the web.
Dreams of a Bloggy Future
There are personal sites from people who might be considered strange (Dale Miller, Peter Pan), but even these are, in their way, instructive, offering a glimpse into a life that I will never live (and, in some cases, would never want to live).
Other personal web sites contain are less strange. Consider these three personal sites, each of which is one of my favorite sites on the web. I recommend each of them highly (and have linked to them in the past):
- Eric Harshbarger, who makes a living with legos.
- Eric Matthias, who built a home-made pipe organ
- Philip Greenspun, creator of photo.net, whose site is rich with information.
Pete has some valid concerns about weblogs, and the implication of public journals. For myself, I’m glad they they exist. I only wish I wasn’t so tired so that I could write a more considered, articulate defense of their existence.
Footnote: Here’s a lovely irony. Pete, the man who used to hate weblogs, now has two of his own. Meanwhile, I’ve been pleased with the exponential growth of weblogs. Welcome to the egalitarian web…