Over sharing, Blogging and Transparency—Notes—and Quotes-- from a Talk

10 years ago

This past week, I gave a talk at Arse Electronika, the conference about sex and technology and culture with my friend Viviane on blogging, transparency, authenticity and identity. Viviane is my friend I met through reading sex and relationship blogs right after my divorce; once we met in person we became fast friends and use social media, email and the telephone to stay connected.

Our talk, entitled “Avoiding the Emily Gould Effect: Over sharing, Transparency & Blogging” talks about identity and reputation management in a world where many people stream big chunks of their lives—and don’t always anticipate some of the situations that may result—or how their readers may bit back. The presentation—along with annotated links—is going up on SlideShare this week, but I wanted to share some of the notes for an essay I wrote as I worked on the preso.

We live in a world where everyone knows everything. It’s Being There and EdTV for real.

The narrative of our lives is that we are real, and that we package the real in the virtual and ship it out to you. Yep, it’s all about the lifestreaming, just like EdTV.

  • Robert Scoble is online 20 hours a day, talking with 20,000 people + as millions listen in.
  • Jefferson is the Samuel Pepys of the slut blogosphere, obsessively chronicling every encounter, from just legal coeds to Nubian sex parties to housewives out for a thrill.
  • Julia Allison, gossip and relationships writer and TV spot personality, starts life streaming, sharing the very public hassles of her relationship with Jake Lodwick, a controversial start-up millionaire.

These acts of sharing your life in this way support the narrative that our lives are stable, and we’re persons of note. It also supports the assumptions that being interesting will reward us with respect and success--because our lives, our ideas, our friends, and our jokes are so valuable, so compelling.

Just like on reality TV, we don’t have to do anything—we just have to be—only with less nice clothes than Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie.

Is there any surprise that we’ve become a culture addicted to fame?

And that blogging on the Internet has become, for many people, the cultured and erudite way to achieve the celebrity and recognition garnered by movie stars and cam girls?

And of course, that brings us right home to sex, relationships, blogging and over sharing.

In a culture where celebrity can be bought, and where reality shows rule, ordinary but ambitious people can become micro-famous by virtue of many things—from their bisexuality (Telia Tequila) to their frank authenticity (Robert Scoble & Violet Blue) to their dating, relationship and media ambition (Julia Allison).

But, you know all that, don’t you?

You, the people formerly known as the audience, as Jeff Jarvis has said, are the consumers of their enduring narratives. Bloggers spin the tales, and you consume.

So when, you might ask, does exposure, or transparency, become annoying?

At what point does sharing information about the latest breakup, the sex toy, the current flame, the past flame or the three-some become two much information—either for you, the audience—or for the exhibitionist you are so cheerfully watching?

And when the world hits TMI with the latest blog celebrity smack down, when it is good fun and when it is over sharing?

Sure, it’s tempting to focus on the public breakups, the flame wards, the Team Nicole and Team Paris camps, but it’s more interesting to examine how other writers—bloggers like ourselves—think about and manage their own boundaries as to what they write (and to ask you to think about what your boundaries and personal rules are).

To that end, we asked some of the bloggers we talked about in our preso to answer the following questions:

  • Do you feel you're public figure and you need to let everyone what's going on with you, or do you feel you have over shared at times?
  • How did you come to the transparency you have?
  • Did you feel that you over shared at times? Why or why not? About what? And what did you learn from this/did you change your voice?
  • For people who feel they have ended up more of their personal life than they intended, what advice would you give them?

Here are some of the responses we collected (and some relevant items already out in the blogosphere):

Rachel Kramer Bussel
--Do you feel you're public figure and you need to let everyone what's going on with you, or do you feel you have over shared at times?
I don't think of myself as a public figure so much as I know I have lots of friends and acquaintances as well as readers who I don't know who appreciate knowing what I'm up to. That being said, though, I think I've always written, online and off, as a mechanism first and foremost for me to sort out my thoughts. Sharing them is almost secondary.

Once you get used to sharing in a certain way, whether it's via blog or Twitter, and you do add a level of openness, it's hard to back down from that without people thinking something is wrong. That can start a vicious cycle where you spend inordinate amounts of time posting when you could be doing other more productive things, so I think the key is finding a balance, one I'm pretty sure I haven't yet struck.

- How did you come to the transparency you have?

I started writing about sex, first with erotica and then some nonfiction, back when I was in law school in the late 90's. I used my real name just because I always had; I didn't give a pseudonym all that much thought, and that followed me to the internet. It's one of those questions I don't even bother asking myself – would I have been better off with a pseudonym? Possibly, but I think juggling two names and identities would've been pretty tough for me.

The trickiest thing about wanting to share is that you'll never be able to share everything, you're always giving only part of the story, but by writing even something simple about your day, you're giving readers a clue about who you are. It may just be one piece of a larger puzzle, but it's something, and you can't blame them for taking that and making it into a version of you in their minds.

I think acknowledging that an online persona is just that—and online persona—can help you not feel like you have to qualify everything. It's okay to just post what you're thinking and if other people have a problem with it, it really is their problem (I'm talking here about personal blogging). Sometimes I'll write about my emotions or what I'm dealing with and think, "But this sounds so stupid." Well, yeah; inside our brains is not always the happiest, coziest, most rational place to be.

- For people who feel they have ended up more of their personal life than they intended, what advice would you give them?

I think at a certain point you have to let it go and move on. You can take certain things down, but even then, they're probably cached if someone really wants to find them. I tend not to read old posts; who knows what's in my still-there live journal account? I feel like the posting itself is so cathartic that once I'm done, I've mostly mentally moved on. But I think you can write personal things without it always being about you.

Nick Douglas

I stumbled into "transparency" by writing for a briefly popular blog and thus being chattered about more than I was worth, as well as by being a young man moving to San Francisco who could count the number of times he'd had sex on his fingers. I was living out my discovery of adult life in front of a crowd of party-goers who paid attention to me because I blogged about them a lot.

That's mostly died down in the two years since I left Valleywag, since the biggest thing I've accomplished is not to accomplish a thing. But recently, three women in my life -- one recent ex, one one-night stand whom I'd actually really wanted to see again, and one near hookup whom I cancelled on because she turned out to be insane -- all wrote angry blog posts about me on the same day.

That shook me up. I had to tell myself: no more passive-aggressive notes to lovers on Twitter, maybe a little less trying to hook up with every girl who strikes me as witty online. I made up with the ex and the one-night stand, and meanwhile the almost-hookup from Seattle went to New York and banged some other blogger, who later e-mailed me saying he regretted it.

I've over shared plenty, but I have a pretty good excuse: I'm a professional writer. And a professional writer can't over share, they can only waste good material or put something out there before it's polished enough.
I have no advice. I'm far too much an exhibitionist, and I believe too much in fucking up royally as the key to my education, but I have no idea if my approach will work for anyone else.

Violet blue

I show myself as human. So many tests. Hacker Boy went in the ER for a couple of after-midnight 5-6 hour screaming-in-agony episodes that made me as close to insane as I’ve ever felt, not to mention his recent surgery. Him and I, we don’t know where we’re going either, but we’re fearless about love, even when it’s scary, and it’s not always been white-hot upload speeds and roses and sips of Absinthe. I’ve had insane lies written and said about me in the internet — the oh my god kind, the ‘but I was there’ kind, the kind that you look at and go, why do people have such hate in them? Why should I do good here in this world when some people just want to watch the world burn and they get joy from hurting others? Journalists wrote about my sex life; I turned into tabloid fodder, and I realized that the blogosphere does indeed have a glass ceiling for women. When weird shit happened in the blogosphere people accused me of all the usual shit; being an attention whore, being this, being that… whatever.

Melissa Gira

I want to talk less about “over sharing” and more about the gutter. “Over sharing” has jumped the theoretical shark. In academia, we’d say the term and the way its deployed is over determined, but this is the Internet, and so, sharks it is. Chomp. We need better tools to take this thing apart. Using “over sharing” as our analytic lens is like using Gawker commenters to issue a Human Rights Declaration. And what I mean by the “gutter” is what Scott McCloud nailed in Understanding Comics — that we have been trained as readers to fill in the gaps between images (read also: blog posts, Twitter updates, News Feed items). This is where we as readers/users engage a text as authors (little “a,” Barthes bear with me). This is where the people formerly known as the audience get a front seat in our own lives, as writers, producers, creatives, insert overplayed word you’re too scared to apply to yourself and your work here. Plus all the connotations of the gutter are perfect for what we’re really pointing at here: body/bawdy talk, cum and tears, love and loss. Look at the examples Susan and Viviane pulled for their talk: girl, sex, blog.

So, dear readers, Please share your thoughts on over sharing, transparency, negotiating what you reveal here-more on this topic to come.




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