PermaLink I am not my website. My website is not me.05/23/2008 03:03 PM
I don't know if you saw this piece in the New York Times Magazine (may require registration to read) where Emily Gould, formerly of Gawker, wrote about her experiences blogging and how it affected her, negatively and positively.  Honestly, she isn't encountering anything I didn't encounter years before.

Can blogging improve your life? Without question. Writing, and writing more, helps. Helps you vent off stuff online that you really don't want to release in person when someone annoys you. Helps you let others see that they're not the only ones that think a particular way. Helps to focus your own ideas about who you are and what you believe (or don't believe).

Can it also screw things up? Sure, why not? Just like in-person communications, someone is liable to get porked off at something you say, take something out of context, make a big deal about nothing, or assume that what they read is the sum and total of what you thought on a topic.

What this woman never learned, and may never learn, are two simple things:

I am not my website.
My website is not me.

Anyone who believes otherwise is spongy-headed. I imagine that actors run into fans all the time who confuse the characters they play with the actor who plays the character. In the blogging world, the same thing applies: the words on the page are a small part of that blogger's life, and it's completely the mistake of the reader to assume (a) they're complete, (b) they're comprehensive or (c) they're even factual. Just as you wouldn't think you "know" someone from a thirty-minute conversation on a plane, you shouldn't assume you "know" someone simply from reading some words they wrote on the net.

By extension, what that means is that I never take anything "personally" on the net. Unless someone actually knows me well in person, nothing they say can affect me personally because they don't know me personally. They're not reacting to me, they're reacting to words I wrote.

If you don't keep that in mind, and encourage your readers to keep that in mind, you're setting yourself up for major fail. And they're setting themselves up to look like morons. But since I generally don't "know" my readers (many people who read this site are exceptions, but there are other blogs I maintain where I am sure no one from the 3D world stops by) this means that I can pretty much dismiss anything "they" say because they're directing it at the words, not me. And anything that seems to actually be directed at "me personally" of course cannot be, since they don't know "me personally" and likely never will.

Perspective is everything. I've been writing online for more than eleven years now, and have had everything from very public sites like this one, which is nicely indexed by Google and contains absolutely nothing I wouldn't tell anyone on the planet to their face, to highly-anonymized, invitation-only sites where strangers were strongly preferred, to, in the most extreme case, a site I kept for several years that was completely, utterly, fictional. The blog of a woman in a city I've never lived doing things I've never done. It was an experiment to see just how believable such a site could be if it was entirely fictional but written with enough background and real-sounding tidbits to pass muster with the typical blog reader. It worked until I learned what I wanted to learn about the concept, then stopped updating it. Five dollars for anyone who can find it... it's still out there.

What did I learn? That most readers aren't actually interested in the "real you," because instinctively they know they'll never meet that person. They're just interested in a good story. One that affirms something in their life, or tells them an insight they might not get otherwise, or at least gives them the increasingly-passe thrill of looking over a stranger's shoulder. If you give them a good story, that's fine enough. And that story need not include everything about your life. As such, it can never be a complete picture of you, and thus comments it generates shouldn't be taken personally.

And in some cases, one can create an entire alternative identity online, one that, by this standard, is no less "real" and "valid" than the identity you present walking around the office or buying groceries. At a Lotusphere session some years ago, I offered up this observation and noted that in fact, your online identity can actually be much stronger than your offline one, and reach and affect more people in some small way. And the "reality" you present online can be just as valid as the one you present in the physical world, and perhaps even more so, even though the two are simply a matter of emphasizing different aspects of and events in your life.

I'm an example of that, but I also know its limits. And the limit in my head is simple.

I am not my website.
My website is not me.

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