I started blogging as a freshman in high school, over four years ago. I published over 220 posts for this blog, The Unvarnished Word, which started as “Unusual Passions.” The first name perfectly encapsulates my motivation when I began blogging: I wanted to build so-called “weak ties” with other people in the health blogosphere because I felt that my peers simply did not share my same interests. Later, I felt that the name was too pretentious, too exclusionary––my passions are different than yours and therefore somehow special. Something like that. My motivation for blogging transformed into something deeper for me. It became a way to be honest with myself and with other people when the spoken word was too difficult. I wanted to document all of my experiences and thoughts, to make a snapshot that I could always return to. I also found an outlet for creative expression in arranging photos and text on the post level and picking themes and widgets on the holistic/blog level.
When I came to college last August, I made most of the posts from 9th and 10th grade private; although I kept them for my own records, I felt like they did not represent who I am today well enough to exist on the public Internet. I mean, that’s 2.4 billion people who could potentially read what I’m writing. It’s not that that many people are reading my words––thank goodness––but it’s that they could. All together, the older posts are valid since they represent a development of me, but taken out of context and seen in isolation, they aren’t me.
I also stopped blogging regularly for this blog, for a couple of reasons. First, I pledged allegiance to Inside ‘Dores, because I was already writing about the “Vanderbilt Experience” and because I could earn a bit of money––not much, but enough to buy my family Christmas presents from B&N at the end of last semester. Enough to buy a bus ticket to see my best friend in South Africa this summer. Second, I didn’t like the idea of all of my words popping up in email inboxes, because of the same issue I mentioned regarding hiding my earlier posts––of how my blog posts represent me.
Throughout the past few days, I’ve reflected on blogging as a communication technology, as a medium for socializing and networking, and as a psychological phenomenon. I read peer-reviewed, journal-published studies on my hobby––who knew they existed? I didn’t until I found them in order to give an informative speech for my public speaking class.
I read these studies, and I found so many interesting facts and patterns that, together, point to why I am a blogger. For example:
• Compared to general U.S. population, bloggers are younger, better educated, more likely to be urban dwellers, and avid online shoppers.
• A study of personality among 367 students conducted by researchers at the University of Alabama in 2007 found that of the Big Five personality traits of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, those high in openness to new experience and high in neuroticism are likely to be bloggers; this is especially true of women. Neurotic people are more anxious than calm, more insecure, and more emotionally reactive. Open people are more imaginative than down-to-earth, more independent than conforming, and prefer variety over routine. This makes intuitive sense, as creativity is an element of openness and blogging is a form of self-expression. (I am an open and neurotic personality type!)
• Although blogging is like keeping a journal, a study of Stanford students in 2004 revealed that in general, bloggers intend for their blogs to be read. This is evident in the tools provided in blogging platforms to track reader statistics and pingbacks, and also distinct social actions such as salutations, advice-giving, and invitations embedded in posts. The social aspect of blogging is two-way: friends urge friends to blog and bloggers write posts with their audience in mind. The audience includes known personal social network and the larger blogosphere of unknown readers. Despite the fact that 80% of North America is connected to the Internet, unwanted attention is rare; in fact, bloggers typically find emails and comments from strangers “satisfying and motivating.” (So true!)
• One of the studies found that people blog in order to stay in touch with friends regarding activities, work through emotional issues, seek others’ opinions and feedback, and express their own opinions. One study participant said, “I am one of those people for whom writing and thinking are basically synonymous.” Other functions of blogging include creating relationships and interacting with others, establishing an identity and self-representation, and being able to find and reuse earlier writing for other purposes. (Me! Me! I do that last one all the time.)
• Blogging allows greater control over the time and pace of social interactions. Due to the asynchronicity of blogging, post authors can take time to thoughtfully present their circumstances in the best possible light, and they can write long narratives that would typically violate conversational norms. (Ha.)
• Blogging encourages physical and/or psychosocial well-being. A 6-week study of 121 blogs, published by Stephen Rains and David Keating, 2011, examined blogs written about health and well-being, ie. heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, depression, and HIV/AIDS. The study found a relationship between support from readers of such “health blogs” and outcomes related to well-being: as support increases, loneliness decreases and self-efficacy increases. Blog readers often leave comments with advice, factual input, and messages of caring, concern, and empathy. Social support is a critical mediating factor between the stressful events of life and an individual’s stress response, but the type of support––the type of reader––is also relevant: family and friends want to know what’s happening in your life, but where blogging really shines is its ability to increase the authors’ access to weak ties, such as neighbors, acquaintances, and even strangers––people who are more likely to share similar experiences, offer more objectivity, present less risk associated with disclosure, and bear less obligation to give (or feign) support. Blogging removes tricky interpersonal factors such as the threat of disclosing undesirable information and facing potentially unsupportive listeners. In the study, a majority of readers were considered weak ties by blog authors.
I made a new friend this week, and he uses tumblr to collect favorite quotes and photos, and to express various and sundry thoughts. At 2:30am, while I was working on the speech about blogging, incidentally enough, we exchanged all our social media contacts. Later he wrote this: “Looking at the collection of photos/gifsets assembled on my main tumblr, reading some of the impersonal musings on my personal, and scrolling through the variety of quotes I’d amassed gave me a strangely out-of-body experience. If someone could only read and see those things about me to determine what kind of person I am, what impression would they walk away with?”
That’s a great question. When people read your blog, they are seeing the facets of you that are more reflective and analytical––and in my case, often more anxious and pensive––so of course readers will form a different impression than if they only got to know you in person. Who you present yourself to be in person does not––cannot––represent everything you are, and the same is true of the online persona. In high school I wrote because I needed to be able to express myself in ways that I couldn’t in my day-to-day life, even with some of my closest friends, but there was something about that divide between the real-life self and the online self that was uncomfortable to me, and I thought that if I could find the words to express something online, then I could find the confidence to express it in real life.
Blogging is my passion. The blogosphere is a valuable network. But in the end, I just want to remember and tell my stories, and I want to be known for who I really am––desires that are common to every human.