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August 12, 2003

Truth and Blogging

I'm still in the process of collecting links about the ethics of blogging. I think it is an important topic in terms of defining blogs. In my original post, I commented that "My own tendency is to avoid revising." Oddly enough, I ended up revising that entry a couple of times before publishing it, in part due to my own developing thoughts on the topic.

As I was writing, I was struggling with clarifying the distinction between my personal practices and the habits of other bloggers and the expectations I have for them. Like Liz, I don't want to establish anything like a prescriptive set of rules for other bloggers. I think that Jonathan Delacour's reference to Dave Rogers is relevant here: calls for authenticity are often wrapped up in desires to appeal to an Authority in order to silence people whose opinions might be different than yours.

I do think that audience expectations are a major part of writing. Matt's comment about the social quality of all writing seems relevant here. My writing has certainly changed as my audience has grown and changed from a few close friends to some close colleagues and beyond. I want to produce something interesting and thoughtful for them to read, and I hope I'm doing that. I also recognize my position as both author and audience member and hope that I can learn something from what I write (my blog has served me quite well as an "external memory" tool and as a means for becoming a more confident writer, for example).

I also find that Jonathan Delacour (in the same entry as above) has articulated nicely one of the issues at stake in calls for accountability in blogging: the distinction between Rebecca Blood's frame of reference in journalism and other frameworks, such as academic blogging. Again, I think that one of the central questions here is audience--a "journalistic" blog's readers will have much different expectations than an academic blog's (assuming that these categories are at all distinct). I'll likely correct my mistakes if--or when--I make them (but only if someone in my audience calls me on it), but because my blog generally involves my effort to track ideas, I prefer to see that evolution unfold as it happens on my blog.

What is even more surprising are the demands for authenticity in fiction writing, with the discussion of William Gibson's qualifications for describing amphetamine use being a prime example. I think Gibson's response to this question is rather apt:

As someone else points out, I'm not experientially qualified to describe what it feels like to be a woman either, but I persist in doing that as well.
In part, I think this desire for authenticity might be a response to our hypermediated culture. Or it might derive from the challenges posed to our interpretive faculties by new technologies--we want new media to resemble familiar older technologies. In the long run, I do think that blogs should be given space to become whatever they are going to be. I enjoy the experimentation the form allows, and if I have any sense of accountability, I think it comes from that desire--the wish to provide something entertaining, interesting, or informative to my audience.

Posted by chuck at August 12, 2003 12:46 PM

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Compelling post in the midst of a compelling discussion. Isn't it fair to wonder how much of the anxiety about authenticity (or, to conflate distinct ideas: truth, accuracy, or honesty) has to do with blogs as autobiography? Not necessarily as the coherent narrative of the self's experience, but instead as records of the fragmentary bits of that experience, held together loosely by the form's conventions? In other words, hanging the blog on the self comes with some expectations about that self's coherent ethics, which are supposed to precede the blogging subject.

It's likely, I guess, that plenty of people are pointing toward autobiography (KF, for example) in this discussion. Blogs, given their overt willingness to be momentary and mutable, seem to me like they might be, in some ways, a better autobiographical form than the static book. That's not a call to excuse reckless harm via blogging (the result of a total absence of ethical responsibility) but a reminder that blogs look like a way to demonstrate the randomness (maybe impermanence is a better way to think of it) of their authors than the fantasy of a well-ordered narrative of a life. Can't we have an authentically messy self (one that, among other things, revises) on a blog without breaking too many rules, or at least the rules that matter?

Sorry about the long comment. Hoping it hasn't all been said before. I'm off to revise my entire blog...

Posted by: dave at August 12, 2003 2:39 PM

I think that's my reading of it. In the paper I proposed for the collection on blogging, these questions about autobiography, or at least about "experience," are pretty central. Your description of the interaction between the blog and the blogging subject captures it nicely.

I'd also agree with you that blogs--which are in part defined by immediacy--may very well be a better autobiographical form than the book. Lots of things to think about here for my essay.

Posted by: chuck at August 14, 2003 11:31 AM

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