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Blogging, Boundaries, Privacy

February 25, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about privacy online lately…. how we maintain it, how we ignore it, how we make boundaries, etc, and especially how it relates to bloggers.

I was a much freer blogger when I knew only a handful of strangers were reading. In other words, I was happy to share often and a lot when those closest to me weren’t aware of this aspect of my life.

And then there was the transition period, as slowly more people in my life found my blog or I told more people about it. And I remember thinking, “That’s okay. It’s not like I write about anything scandalous.”

But the boundary turbulence was more jarring than I anticipated.

In communication studies, when the contextual boundaries we set up around our private information flirts with being taken out of context because information gets into the hands of people it wasn’t intended for, boundary turbulence occurs. In other words, when only my blog friends read my blog, I was happy sharing whatever I felt was appropriate for that audience. The information I shared was specific to this context and this audience. But now that so many people beyond the blog-friend-boundary read my blog, boundary turbulence has occurred, thus that information has transcended both context and audience. It’s not that this information is necessarily private, secretive, or scandalous, it just wasn’t meant for readers beyond the blogosphere. (More on privacy management theory here.)

It’s difficult for me to describe the feeling I get when I start to tell a story and someone says, “Oh, I saw that on your blog” or “Oh, I saw your tweet about that.” The context becomes out of whack and the communication becomes one-way. It’s in these moments that I pine for the old days where no one blogged and those of us who did were part of something truly special, quiet, and understood.

There’s something reciprocal about blogging that makes reading strangers’ words okay. I put my life online and so do you, so it’s okay if we read one another’s blogs. But my real-life friends don’t maintain blogs. Why should they have access to mine?

This might be why I have trouble maintaining friendships… my friends and family think they’re keeping up with me because they keep up with my online presence, yet I have no idea what’s going on in their lives because they aren’t sharing similarly. This seems imbalanced and strangely unfair.

But that’s the thing about blogging. We throw our words into the ether of the internet and are subjected to whomever comes along to read them. I just wish we could hold those boundaries a little tighter, avoid the boundary turbulence, and keep the blogosphere small and semi-anonymous.

Alas, those days are over.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. February 25, 2013 7:35 pm

    This is a really eloquent piece about something I think about a lot. It does feel really unfair.

  2. February 25, 2013 7:39 pm

    Your points about the non-reciprocity (I’m sure there’s an actual word for this) of the things we learn about each other through blogging are really good ones– and definitely things that I’ve thought about when considering how widely to share my blog with people I know in “real life.” (Since most of them don’t have blogs, I’m not terribly eager to share mine with them.)

    For me, this also extends to social media: I know many people who act strictly (or largely) as consumers/observers on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, giving likes and retweeting, rather than creating content or sharing things. This is a smaller version of what you describe in terms of one-way communication, but something that comes up really frequently for me. (As in, I have a handful of “friends” that have a snide comment for just about anything, but aren’t exactly contributing to the “conversation” in any meaningful way. Ah, Facebook.)

  3. February 25, 2013 8:07 pm

    I truly struggle with this in both my blogging and my writing in general. Perhaps it’s because I struggle with anxiety anyway, but I live in terror of being found out specifically by my family. There are things I would really like to get off my chest in my writing, but I tend to shy away from these things for fear of repercussions. It’s a lousy feeling and I really wish I could kick my paranoia. My family are more or less computer illiterate anyway, but it would be my luck that a post on my crazy mother went viral. Alas.

  4. February 25, 2013 8:17 pm

    “…my friends and family think they’re keeping up with me because they keep up with my online presence, yet I have no idea what’s going on in their lives because they aren’t sharing similarly. This seems imbalanced and strangely unfair.”

    YES! This!

    I have no problem with my friends reading my blog – it’s sweet that they like me and what I have to say enough to read it and it often spurs conversations we might not have – but I hate that they know what I’m up to and I have no idea what is going on with them. Not cool! But…I have no solutions, you know?

  5. February 25, 2013 9:18 pm

    Oh my goodness, YES. I’ve heard the phrase “oh right, I read that on your blog!” more times than I want to count. Plus, I feel like my friends were less likely to reach out to me when I was blogging because, well, why should they? They felt that they were keeping up with me, so I didn’t get as many calls/texts/e-mails. It’s a very weird situation.

  6. February 25, 2013 10:03 pm

    YES! I have been feeling this for a long time. It’s weird going from this open space where I didn’t know anyone who read my blog outside of what I knew from their blogs, to a space that my mother now occupies. (She’s my biggest fan. When she’s not mad over something I wrote.) It’s a lot more limiting. It amazes me how the people who will sometimes reach out and tell me they read my blog are more often than not people I knew in high school that I haven’t talked to in over a decade. And if I don’t blog, I get concerned texts and calls from friends being all why haven’t you blogged recently? Is everything ok? So basically, I have to disappear from my blog for my friends to check in on me.

  7. February 25, 2013 10:06 pm

    So true!! I am grateful that only a handful of my “real life” friends read my blog. I feel like I wouldn’t be able to say what I say if more people knew about it.

  8. February 26, 2013 1:47 am

    You very beautifully articulated a number of things I’ve thought about many times, and still haven’t quite figured out how to handle. XO.

  9. February 26, 2013 9:10 am

    I completed my grad degree in Comm. Studies in December and recall talking about this very topic in more than one class, that lack of reciprocity in addition to feeling like you know someone because you read his or her life online. Among us bloggers, that latter half is how we know each other and how we build relationships that may develop offline. But among individuals who were merely aquaintances in our lives otherwise, former high-school classmates for example, then it’s a bit different. Comm. programs truly make you think more, possibly too much, about anything and everything, this included.

  10. February 26, 2013 11:48 am

    I know EXACTLY what you mean. It always bothers me a bit when people who have no online presence whatsoever tell me about the stuff I post on my blog but never put anything out themselves. It seems like an unfair relationship.

  11. February 26, 2013 3:30 pm

    This. Exactly.
    I’ve had people cut me off mid-story with the charming, “I know! I read that on your blog.”
    It’s so frustrating. Not only does it make a lot of my communication with my friends feel one-sided, but I also feel like I’m doing double duty when I do reach out in other ways. I’m the one blogging and I’m also the one sending letters, texts, phone calls, and doing the social directing because they feel all caught up and I’m in the dark.

    I miss the days of the small blog community.
    Sometimes I wish the blogging community could be limited to bloggers, like how facebook was originally for college students. I’m a fan of the inclusive. I think it’s freeing.

    • February 27, 2013 11:47 am

      The thing about this one that gets me, the “I know! I read it on your blog!” comments, is that maybe I wanted to go into more detail with a close friend of family member. Maybe, sure, you know I went on a trip because I blogged about it, but maybe I wanted to share another layer of that with someone that I didn’t include in my post. Being cut off with a “I know what you’re going to say!” makes me want to say, “No, you don’t!”

      (Yes, I came back to creep the comments because I wanted to know what others had to say about this :))

  12. February 27, 2013 7:15 am

    This struck a chord with me too and was one of the concerns that made me quit blogging. But then I missed the outlet, and the community. So now I’ve started from scratch and blog anonymously. It isn’t ideal, but I just find the alternative incredibly stifling to what I share and write about.

    I still worry about people ‘discovering’ me, especially my students or colleagues – I don’t need them knowing the intricacies of my life/mind. I’m perfectly happy for fellow bloggers to, precisely because of the reciprocity you describe.

    Thanks for articulating this so well!

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