Revealing all on the internet

Posted on June 9, 2010

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Revelation is everything, not for its own sake, because most self-revelation is just garbage – oop! – yes, but we have to purge the garbage, toss it out, throw it into a bunker and burn it, because it is fuel. It’s fossil fuel.

(Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius)

I’m not massively comfortable with the notion of blogging, precisely because of its revelatory nature. The idea of throwing out thoughts on the internet to anyone who is listening (often nobody) seems like too much of an exercise in vanity; that’s why my previous blogging attempts detailed on the main site take a different angle to most blogs. They were based in news, and largely reported facts, with the occasional opinion mixed in. It’s the opinion that got me mentioned on the BBC news website, and so obviously one can infer that blogging is something that by necessity needs a strong, opinionated argument behind it – it needs revelation of the author in some way.

There are plenty of vanity blogs out there: ones like Belle de Jour led the way in horrifically detailed self-revelation of sexual mores, and it’s no coincidence that the most popular blogs are often based around sex. It satisfies people’s need to be voyeurs: the online version of curtain twitching. And like Dave Eggers (owner of the famous McSweeney’s Internet Tendency) writes, much of it is garbage – fuelling the need for readers to pry into the lives of others.

The image can also be continued, though, as saying that blogging, or autobiographical writing, is a form of self-immolation. Indeed, if you’re not trying to justify yourself through your work online like Jean-Jacques Rousseau did in his Confessions two centuries ago, then you’re probably trying to knock yourself down: there seems very little middle ground.

I was speaking to Nick Trend, the Travel Editor of The Daily Telegraph, a few months ago about the need for old media stalwarts to branch out into new media. “The internet,” I said, “demands something of you. The readership aren’t content with seeing faceless names on a byline – they need colour.

“It can be something mundane like your favourite travel destination, or colour, but they need something. The internet requires give-and-take, self-revelation; it’s a symbiotic relationship.” You’re not any better than the 12-year old from Arkansas hiding behind the username ‘sparkyplug98’ anymore.

He, naturally, was horrified. I am too. But what you can do is give the illusion of baring all, when really you’re guarding all the most important parts. You give away tiny little pieces, but never the whole. You create an internet persona, and every fact you reveal isn’t necessarily the truth. It’s a generational thing, I tried to explain to him. There are all sorts of reasons for it, from the rise of reality TV and the newly-founded career of ‘celebrity’ to professional nightclub promotion teams (barely-clothed flyerers, in case you wanted to unpack the terms) and the simple fact that you’re able to get in touch with someone in Aruba or Zanzibar within a click of the mouse (or more likely, touchpad on your tiny, cheap yet hugely powerful laptop). It’s a different world to the one he grew up in. People don’t wait for their news until the morning after. People want emotive, personal reactions, as and when events occur. As Eggers explains, “Revelation is everything.”

Revelation is everything, not for its own sake, because most self-revelation is just garbage – oop! – yes, but we have to purge the garbage, toss it out, throw it into a bunker and burn it, because it is fuel. It’s fossil fuel.

(Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius)

I’m not


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