Blogging and the body follow-up

The author of the article on blogging and the body I posted about a few days ago, danah boyd, has found my blog and left a couple comments. As they are interesting ones, and ones that clarify what she was getting at in the article, I thought I’d link to them and encourage you to read them, but then I thought I could just copy them here to make it easier on you. I’m encouraging you to read them because she said she’s interested in the comments people left on my post and would like to hear more. So here’s our exchange; first, danah’s comment (she blogs under the name zephoria):

I want to clarify what i meant when i talk about blogs as bodies. It’s not that i think that people see their blogs as bodies per say. It’s that the properties that we take for granted as embodied creatures are lacking when we go online, namely presence. For example, i walk into the room and my body signals my presence to others around. Had i not posted a comment here, you wouldn’t know that i was lurking. You may get an IP address, but what’s that mean? Part of my presence though is not just my comment on your post – it’s the link back to my own blog where my identity resides in many ways. In this way, i reference my blog in my comments on your blog to create a culture of presence. I do think that the spatial metaphor is a lot easier for thinking of your own blog directly. You can think of decorating your blog like decorating your house. Yet, when people visit your blog, it’s a mixed view. They don’t just see the space you’ve created – they see a facet of you. In this way, the decorations serve as fashion accessories to a body as well as decorations on a room. I do think it’s complicated and sticky but it’s presence that connects things deeply to bodies. And the fact that you have to write yourself into being online… you don’t just exist by appearing and reading… your presence goes unnoticed.

Anyhow, i hope that helps in some way.

Here’s what I said:

Hi Zephoria — thanks so much for stopping by and commenting; this is the first time an author I’ve written about has commented back, and I’m pleased to hear your explanation (and also to hear another aspect of your voice, outside of the academic article — I was wishing to discuss this stuff as bloggers rather than in an academic context, after all). Thinking of the blog as a way to create presence when the body is absent makes sense to me. It’s interesting to me the way other commenters felt uncomfortable thinking of the blog as a body or as the thing that creates presence — as though that metaphor is too revealing and intimate. And I wonder what image people have of me from reading the blog — I guess we’re all sorting out this new way of presenting ourselves that’s very different from the usual way of being physically present, and so things like posting pictures and revealing names and choosing blog templates can sometimes be anxiety-inducing.

And her response:

No doubt there’s a lot of anxiety-producing effects. This is why a lot of folks try to play ostrich. If you pretend like you don’t have an audience, you can just keep writing. Or if you imagine that you have an audience of people exactly like you want, you can keep writing. If you are told that everyone who has ever met you is reading your blog, it’s paralyzing. This is the problem with unknown audiences – we have to envision who our audience is to write… it’s an imagined community rather than a defined or bounded one like a room. (I still want an invisibility potion though for meatspace.)

I read your commenters and i’m curious to know more. I wonder if the concern about it being too intimate has to do with the assumption that we are revealing everything. It’s not a naked body unless you choose it to be. My digital body is cloaked in professional wear with the occasional goofy accessory. Why? Because i have to face that audience. It’s not that this is not me but there’s another “me” on LiveJournal that is far different because that’s the me wimpering about life with my friends while my blog is me musing about things that the professionals who read my blog want to see.

Further thoughts anyone?

7 Comments

Filed under Blogging

7 responses to “Blogging and the body follow-up

  1. This idea of presence and the body is really interesting. When I first started blogging, I worried quite a lot about what people who knew me might think if they found out about my blog and started reading it. For instance, when you walk into a room at work and know the president of the company is there, or someone you hope might one day offer you a job, or if you happen to know that your in-laws plan to stop by this evening, you’re going to behave differently (act professionally, clean your house and make sure you have something to offer them to eat, etc.) than if you’re just hanging out with a group of close friends at your favorite restaurant. It’s pretty scary not to know whether or not those sorts of people are present. Ultimately, I decided I couldn’t worry about it, and that I was just going to write as if these people weren’t there. On a certain level, though, that’s really baring your body: you’re naked, and you don’t even know they can see you, and you’re not likely to ever see THEM naked. That’s pretty anxiety-inducing for me, which is why I just don’t think about it and hope these people have better things to do than to try to find me online.

  2. I like the notion that you have to write yourself into being, that appearing and reading are not enough to create an online presence. In a normal conversation, even people who choose to remain silent are taking part, with their facial expressions, their body language and their choice not to talk. But here, if you’re silent, even though you’re present, you’re not actually existing.

    So back to something that appeared on your blog a few days ago, it makes the conversation performative. To take part, you have to actively DO something. And there is a sense of performance, in “ok, deep breath, let’s say something here if I want to get noticed”.

    I think I like the notion of my blog as writing my presence, more than the idea of creating a digital body. But I do enjoy the mystery of not knowing what people look like, and ever so slowly building up a picture of who they might be from the clues that they drop into their writing. Maybe a silhouette is a good metaphor – something that we shade in delicately as time passes, becoming ever more colourful and ever more “real” through the words we write.

  3. Before I started my website I had a site on Blogger. Nobody read it, I’m really sure of that and I didn’t mind. I enjoyed writing on it and I wrote a lot. It was really for me, for fun. Now I realise that people are reading my posts on my current site and – to some extent – I encourage people to read them. The process of blogging for me has totally changed. There are pros and cons. I take a lot longer in writing things because people are reading them, but I end up not publishing a lot of stuff because I’m worried that people will read it and that sometimes makes me nervous. I’m less likely to write trivial things. Like Emily says, it becomes about behaving differently.

  4. I’m still not completely comfortable with the idea of blog as body. I get what Danah is saying and the idea of the embodiment of words is not new, I’m just reluctant to apply it to blogging. I’m not sure where my reluctance comes from. The experience of blogging for me is one of conversation so I tend to think of everyone as voices (sort of like Susan suggested with everyone tlaking on a party line). I have no idea what most bloggers look like and while I do wonder I don’t generally try and construct an image. The voices for me are more disembodied. If any embodiment happens, for me it tends to be a veiled or misty figure, indistinct except for the voice and maybe a few traits sort of like God talking from a burning bush or Zeus from a thundercloud (I do not, however, think of bloggers as gods :-)) But I don’t think that’s the kind of body Danah is talking about. Or maybe it is?

    I agree with others who have mentioned the performative aspect of blogging. I wonder, how is the voice of the blogger different from the voice of the radio DJ both in performance and embodiment? Both are unseen and have audiences of unknown people. Radio has people calling in sort of like blog commenters. I don’t think we consider a radio as a body. Does the fact that one speaks and one writes make the difference?

  5. More thoughts on this, in light of the other responses: I don’t really think of bloggers as all that different from other authors I read, except that I can interact with them more easily than I can with book authors (I’m someone who has been known to write letters to authors who’ve written books I like). I never think about what an author looks like or how he/she is present when I’m reading a book. I’m just interested in what he/she has to say. And I don’t think I spend that much time thinking about what other bloggers look like, either (unless, of course, I’m meeting them in real life and need to have some idea as to how to pick them out in a public place). I think that means that I don’t really think of blogging as anything more than another means of communicating thoughts, ideas, and stories through writing. As Stefanie notes, it’s a disembodied experience of interacting with writers’ voices for me.

  6. That’s interesting Emily — in a way I agree with you that bloggers are similar to other authors I read, and yet a blog does feel like a different genre that’s going to change the way we communicate with it. I suppose the interactivity is a big part of that difference — that we as readers CAN make our presence felt. Normally we can’t let an author know we read them, unless we take to writing fan mail. But then — if we think of the blog as a way of declaring our online identities, our internet presence, a book can declare our presence to the world; publishing a book is a way of declaring that you exist. I’m reminded of Montaigne who said something like he’s one with his book — maybe I’m one with my blog in the way Montaigne is one with his book? Except I’m not as a good a writer as Montaigne, alas …

    Charlotte — you’ve made the distinction between physical presence and online presence very clear for me; in the physical world, just being there says something, but online, we can’t “say” something in that way.

    Stephen — yes, the presence of the audience does change the way we write, doesn’t it? When I tell people I know about the blog, I try to keep myself from changing the way I write on it, even though sometimes I’m tempted to — because I present myself differently to them than I present myself on the blog. I suppose online one’s identity can become fragmented, because it’s possible to take on multiple identities and pseudonyms, but for me writing online has consolidated my identity more than anything, because I’m presenting one version of myself which many different types of people can see. I can’t present different versions of myself to different people quite as easily.

    The comparison to radio is interesting, Stefanie — I know exactly what you mean about the veiled or misty picture; I create that kind of image about bloggers and I have about radio show hosts as well. Somehow NOT having an actual body there makes it easier to feel connected to the person — maybe it’s because we have some space and some freedom to imagine what they are like, to create an image or a feeling about it, however vague it might be.

  7. Well this is an entirely non academic informal response- I don’t see my blog as my body at all. I completely control how I present myself on my blog- I don’t have nearly that degree of control of my actual physical being.

    I also don’t see my blog as my whole identity- though perhaps cumulatively with all the hundred and thousands of comments and contributions to on-line forums over the years- it makes up my “on-line” identity but even that is not completely consistent. I’m quite different depending on which internet space I’m in.

    How I see blogging is as a means of self expression (at least those parts I choose to express. Importantly it is also a mode of social interaction that has actually become over the years something in the nature of a secret double life (as pathetic as that may sound). There are times when I spend days on end at the computer writing and not seeing many people outside my immediate family when blogging and commenting almost completely fills my needs for social contact and interaction but its just not something I ever really talk about it in the rest of my life.

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