I’ve noticed a few bloggers lately writing a “what I’ve learned post” to benchmark anniversaries. It’s not a particular blogging anniversary – though I noticed I tend to start or switch blogs in February – but now I’m past that demographic-changing 35th birthday, so why not write about the activity that has, unintentionally, changed my way of living over the course of the last five years?
I’ve actually been blogging for ten years, give or take. First the diaryland account as an extension of Daria fandom that turned into ventilation for the International Student Office job (I would love to get into that line of work again, but this time come prepared with adequate medication, silly string and a water cannon.) Then I moved onto blogspot in an attempt to find other bloggers, and I came just a bit too late to the Livejournal party – though I still maintain it, as at this point the population has dwindled as the quality in select areas has risen. Livejournal is the place to go if you’re a fan of something and need to know where else to go. The InPlainSight fandom really rocks it, and the moderators do fan management right.
Now I’m spread across WordPress blogs although I still consider Livejournal my personal center. It feeds everything except Fat Chic (just seemed good to draw a line on that one, as that’s by far the least personal of all my blogs.) Perhaps now that I’m on a stable server, in a stable place, and I’m producing content again, I’ll see some growth here.
I have to say, at this point, that while blogging has changed my lifestyle, since the advent of the Internet it has changed my life in a less personal way than any other digital activity I’ve engaged in. I made friends and met mentors when listservs (egroups, email lists, whatever you call them) were the main way of interacting. I also met people who are in my life today that way, and through Internet forums and a Daria chatroom. As I’ve said before, I’m unusual in that I really do tend to meet the people in the magic box out here in the physical world, and this means that I don’t consider the Internet an anonymous space. I have met people as a direct result of Fat Chic, but it’s very different in that there was not really a build toward any type of personal relationship prior to that.
My life is heavily, heavily wired. So much so that it’s hard to have a relationship with me without being similarly equipped. Some of this is deliberate: I hate crowds, and while I can do small talk I tend to lose interest unless it turns into deep talk/real talk quickly. I can’t separate blogging from my life: while I wouldn’t say it is my life, my electronic identity very much shapes my day to day choices.
Here’s what I’ve learned in the nine years I’ve been writing – and exposing in some ways my truest self – online:
Assume your mother-in-law is watching.
No, really. People I thought would never read my writing at all drop comments to me out of the blue about things I write. Often this is positive. Sometimes this is not. While I am a more discrete and far less angry woman than I was when I started this in my twenties, I do sometimes post in anger. While 99% of the time I don’t say or do anything online I wouldn’t say or do to that person’s face, I have also come to realize that I’m wired a bit differently from the rest of the population. I don’t think of the computer as an anonymous box, and I don’t spend a lot of time fearing confrontation – if someone’s going to get confrontational, I’ll handle it then, and in most cases I pretty much know what to do. I also don’t seek confrontation, but if someone treats me poorly I feel obligated to demonstrate self-respect by speaking my mind about the behavior.
Thankfully, as long as I’m outside of Crown Point, Indiana, people treat me pretty well most of the time.
I’m also pretty sure that my mother-in-law knows exactly what I wrote about her in those early years. It was unkind on my part, but it also needed to be said. The world’s a lot bigger than Iowa and has a lot more choices than left-right/right-wrong.
I don’t think of myself as an early adopter, but I am.
Because I have a mild obsession with research and news, I did tend to know about new technologies and try them long before Mike came along. I “blame” it on Mike nowadays, but when I honestly look at my behaviors, I find quite a few things on my own that Mike will mention to me a few weeks after I’ve already tried them.
Competing is smart, even if you fail. Focusing on the competition is stupid.
Here’s something about me that some people will find surprising: I am absolutely not competitive. Yes, you’re looking at the whole opinionated-demeanor and imagining what I might do to you if you stole my favorite book, but now stop: what do I do when you have good news? How do I behave when resources are limited? What do I do when I lose a game, or when a project goes badly?
Left unattended, I’m a freaking socialist. I think I’d be a type B personality instead of a type A if I’d been nurtured just a little bit differently as a child.
I do what I must to ensure the preservation of my survival and to what extent I can my dignity. Other than that, I’m actually secretly laid back. I really do have a checklist in my head about what requires confrontation and what can just be – and there’s a whole of world problems solved under the “just be” category.
The Internet itself is a prime example of cooperative competition. You absolutely can not get anywhere without a leg up from somebody doing the same thing as you. You may eventually turn your work into status and money, but the real competition is for something far more abstract: attention.
What gets another person attention will not get me attention because people do not want to hear the same stuff over and over. When a major news story hits, people read different newspapers, listen to different podcasts, read different blogs for different perspectives. I don’t need an original idea – I need an original opinion.
Nothing beats face time.
Admittedly, I actually meet my Internet friends. But I also do this with my local friends: if you want to call, call to schedule coffee. Relationships are built and maintained best with regular – if small – doses of actual, physical companionship.
It takes a lot more work to be positive than it does to be negative.
I almost think this doesn’t require explanation, but it does: trying to look for the positive and to focus on the positive takes a lot of work. Life is challenging, and our attention goes to scandal, titillation and negativity because we are entertained by it. The “I fixed this” and “I dealt with this feeling by making some art” is mildly interesting, but it doesn’t stir up the addictive chemical hormones in our brains that encourage us to look for shit and act like shits.
It also goes against a whole lot of cultural conditioning.
But that’s OK, this is the Internet. There is porn of it, I’m sure.
Try to say something that hasn’t been said
The one glaring frustration that drove me from the Wiccan forums, but others, too, is that people rehash the same ideas and opinions. The idea of dialogue is to expand ideas, adopt new ones, test out ideas to see if they work. This is often not what happens. Some forums go so far as to implement a “search before you ask” rule. I agree with this wholeheartedly; there’s nothing wrong with researching a question (and doing more than just using Google) to get an answer. The idea behind taking the time to research is not just to be more knowledgeable, after all, but to have better questions to pose.
I know I’ve learned a great deal more than this in my time blogging. But for now, I think this captures where I’m at. I’ll check in with you all when I’m forty, and give you a status update.