I didn’t get through many of the articles on blogging I linked to the other day, but the one by danah boyd I quoted from I did read thoroughly, and it had some interesting ideas (if you check out the articles, you’ll find they are rather dry but you might find them worthwhile to look at anyway) — particularly about how we shouldn’t define blogs by the nature of their content (I hate that word but I can’t think of another right now); instead we should consider them as a medium, like radio or TV. The author says blogs are better understood as being like paper rather than like diaries or journals or journalism or whatever. Just as you can write anything on paper, so you can write anything on a blog. Now that strikes me as obvious, but I also know I’ve spent a good bit of time thinking about how blogs are like diaries and journals and personal essays. It makes sense to me that it’s better to stop thinking that way — thinking that bloggers produce a particular type of writing — and to think more about the nature of the blog as a way of communicating whatever it is bloggers want to communicate.
Once you’ve begun to think about blogs as a medium, boyd says, you can think about the particular ways blogs allow people to communicate, and blogs do a number of unique things, including blurring spatiality and corporeality. They are like spaces, and they are also like bodies. Blogs are spaces in the sense that they are a location for people to gather, but, unlike chatrooms, blogs are owned by the blogger, so they are more like rooms in the blogger’s home. The blogger invites people in and hopes that they will be polite and not say mean things. Of course, that analogy doesn’t quite work because not everyone is there all at once. But it strikes me as a better one than the cafe metaphor, because cafes are neutral spaces, not owned by anybody participating in the conversation, whereas a blogger can exclude a nasty commenter, just as a host might kick out a violent guest.
But boyd also says that bloggers think of their blogs as being like their bodies, or even as their online face. Now that’s interesting. Those of you who blog, do you think of your blog as an extension of your body, or perhaps as your face? I realized as I was thinking about switching from Blogger to WordPress that finding the right look for my blog is important to me, but I tend to think of setting up the blog as analogous to decorating my house (a process that makes me quite anxious just as changing the blog did) rather than, say, choosing clothes or a hairstyle.
But then when I think about the photo I’ve got up on the blog, I realize that I’m hiding my face in such a way that either the book I’m holding becomes a substitute for my face or the blog itself does. My body is behind the book and the bicycle, the two subjects I write all the words on this blog about, which are another way of representing myself, a substitute body. And I create a picture of what I think bloggers look like based on their blogs and I remember other bloggers writing about that too, so the blog is a body in the sense that we use it to create images in our minds of other people. This is what boyd says about it:
Bloggers see their blog as a reflection of their interests and values. They also contend that the blog does not show them in entirely, but only what they choose to perform in that context. This corporeal relationship deeply affects the way in which people choose to manage their blogs. There is a sense of ownership, a sense that a blogger has the right to control what acts and speech are acceptable and to dictate the norms in general. Part of this stems from the sense that whatever others write affects the representation of the blogger, not simply of the blog. In other words, people’s additions are like graffiti on one’s body.
Both these metaphors — blogs as spaces and as bodies — are ways of saying that a blog is important to the blogger’s identity, the body metaphor implying that blogs are a closer, more intimate way of shaping identity than the space metaphor. Attacking one’s house — analogous to leaving a nasty comment — is an invasion and a threat, but attacking one’s body is much worse. The point boyd is making about how these metaphors get blurred is that a tension can arise when the blogger sees the blog as part of his/her body and the reader sees it as a space for conversation. In that case, the blogger and the reader might interpret the comments the reader leaves in very different ways.
This article is interesting, and perhaps the others are too, but I realized as I read it that I’d prefer to hear all this discussed in the more informal voices of bloggers than the formal voice of an academic writing in a purely academic mode. Reading the article is like being lectured to; if a blogger wrote it in more informal blogging voice (not that blogging voices have to be informal), it would be more like a brief presentation meant to get a conversation going.