Blogs and diaries

I mentioned an article about diaries and blogs by Laurie McNeill in an earlier post (the article is from the journal Biography, which doesn’t have free access online, as far as I know – I got my copy from my academic library), where McNeill considers whether online diaries and blogs are a new genre or simply a new form of an old genre. She comes down on the side of seeing online diaries and blogs as a new form of an old genre:

Are Internet diaries, and their generic relations, the Weblogs, a different form from diaries in traditional print media? Or have Internet users simply adopted the traditional diary genre and adapted it to the public realm of cyberspace? … its practitioners in many ways reproduce the traditional diary, upholding instead of resisting the genre both in form and content.

I’m not convinced, however. Yes, a lot of the conventions are the same, including the regular entries labeled by date and the chronological order. But my experience tells me that reading and writing blogs is a very different thing than reading and writing diaries. I think that we are looking at a new genre, not an extension of an old one. McNeill does point out how blogs are different than diaries, but I don’t think she credits the differences enough. I’m actually not generally hung up on issues of categorization, but I think in this case that to call blogs diaries obscures the most interesting things they do.

Doesn’t the different relationship to readers make a big difference? And doesn’t the presence of those readers shape the types of things said? I am reading Virginia Woolf’s diaries at the moment, and I am reading them long after her death. If I had been alive during her lifetime, I would not have been able to read her diary. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to comment on it. The expectation of privacy with diaries is important. Blogs, however, are meant to be public, meant to attract readers, or why would they be online? Many of them aspire to attract readers’ comments, turning a very private diary genre into a dialogue. McNeill also doesn’t recognize that many blogs mix the personal stuff with lots of information and links that are meant to inform readers. Blogs, unlike diaries, can combine personal and public information and therefore serve the purposes of writing about the self AND influencing (or trying to influence) public debate.

I’ll close with Woolf’s take on diaries from her January 3rd, 1918, entry:

The diary habit has come to life at Charleston. Bunny sat up late on the Old Year’s night writing, & Duncan came back with a ledger, bought in Lambs Conduit Street. The sad thing is that we daren’t trust each other to read our books; they lie, like vast consciences, in our most secret drawers.

The diaries are secret, but she also sees that as a sad thing. Hmmm … would she have been a blogger? What do you think – are blogs a brand new genre?

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