I have been writing about my life online through various platforms since 1999. Thirteen years is a long time to be spilling your guts to invisible faces on the Internet.
One of the first times I remember being really aware of the fact that other people I knew were reading what I was writing was in high school, when I wrote a LJ post about liking a boy from another country. A friend of mine commented, corrected his country of origin, and it dawned on me: anyone could be reading this. The boy I was writing about could be reading it! People might read it and then talk about it –- at school, hanging out, wherever.
Being an average and awful teenage girl, I then began wielding my new sense of power in not-so-nice ways. If I found out that a girl who liked the same boy I liked was reading my LiveJournal, I would then start writing posts that were basically meant to highlight how amazing and perfect for him I was, and to also not-so-subtly insult her.
Was this Internet bullying? I'm not sure, but at the time it seemed like a logical thing to do. I was in charge of my blog, my little, tiny corner of the world, and I could say whatever I wanted, right?
I eventually grew out of this phase and started using blogs as a means to update people on what was going on in my life. This was all well and good for many years –- throughout the rest of college and after I got married. Family members liked having the information at their fingertips, and I liked blabbering on and on about all my thoughts and emotions and feelings.
When I got pregnant, it was a great way to let our family know what was going on. But when I won a contest on a popular family blog, and then my son was born two months early, all of the sudden a lot more people were reading my blog.
It never occurred to me that by blogging to an audience that I was revealing intimate details about my family to people who were mostly strangers –- in fact, it never occurred to me that the details I was revealing were that intimate, since I felt like I had clear boundaries about what I would talk about (colic, happy events, and the city we lived in) and wouldn't (exactly where we lived in the city or super personal details about my relationship with either my husband or son).
I didn't write about tantrums or posting photos of my son screaming –- not because I wanted people to think we were perfect, but because I feel like those experiences are private. My boundaries didn't seem to create a sense of restriction: I received a small number of regular emails from people who were convinced we were exactly the same based on a handful of details I put on a blog.
I had the first inkling of “Maaaybe I should slow down on the blogging about my kid” around the time my son turned one-and-a-half and started looking and acting like more of an actual person. It seemed easier to blog about his random happenings when he was a smushy baby -– babies basically do the same stuff.
He and I also became more mobile as a team around that time –- we were out more often, and I started to feel weird about people possible being able to pinpoint where we were based on a photo or something I said. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I couldn't continue to comfortably share details from my son's life, and since he and I spend a sizeable portion of time together, I couldn't comfortably share details of my life.
As much as I loved -– and still love –- the community that often comes with blogging, I discovered I was no longer willing to talk about even the good parts of life, like fun trips and experiences and sweet things my son says, or the harder parts, like doctor visits and struggles each of us face every day.
I think it's going to be really interesting to see how this first wave of kids who are blogged about every day come out of it.
For the most part, I think the kids will be fine -– most blogs don't have hundreds of thousands, or millions, of readers each day. I also don't judge or condemn parents who continue to blog about their families and their lives. I assume each parent has consciously thought it through and is comfortable with the level of readership their child or children are regularly exposed to. My own issues with family blogging have nothing to do with online predators (there are plenty of predators offline, too) and everything to do with discovering my own boundaries.
I spend longer than you might realize poring over each article I write for this site, making sure I'm being open without revealing too much, dropping enough information to be relatable but not enough to be exact. Writing about my husband moving out was gigantic for me, as it was the most open I've been online in probably years. But it was awesome: I received so much support, and when my husband subsequently moved back in, there were comments I went back to on that post that made me feel great about it.
I try to always sit back and ask myself what I'm trying to achieve with a particular piece or post. What's the goal? What's the point? How will I feel once this is online? How long will it be there, and will I regret it in a year? Five? 10? What will the Internet even look and act like 10 years from now?
The answers aren't totally known to me, but I'd love to hear what you think.