Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Blogging, or How to Converse in a Group Setting

Back in the day, or so I've heard, guys and girls went to dances without dates. At one dance, a guy with a wooden-eye showed up. With his other eye, across the dance floor, he spotted a girl he wanted to dance with. Her only defect with a hair-lip. Getting up the nerve, he finally stood and crossed the gymnasium. She saw him coming and grew nervous and excited.

"Would you like to dance?" the guy sputtered.

"Would I! Would I!" she exclaimed.

His heart beating with anxiety turned quickly to anger. "Hair lip! Hair lip!" he retorted and stomped away.

My dad told me this joke. Then he told me about the time his garrulous pastor began to tell it to a new acquaintance. It wasn't until halfway through the joke that the pastor realized: He was telling the joke to a man with a hair-lip.

What are you saying, and who's listening?

When I started reading blogs a few years ago, one of the blogs I found was from a then-fellow Minnepolitan (?). He wrote a lot about theology and relationships. I enjoyed both, but among my favorites were his writing on the subject of awkwardness and his articulation of the ladder theory of relationships. I recently returned to his site to find it a shell of the blog I remember. It had been transformed. I went to his profile page and found this:

On my old blog I used to tell a lot of stories about awkwardness. I love awkwardness. But I don't so much anymore. Telling stories involving other people and posting them on the Internet for all to see usually embarrasses them in ways they rather not be. So I don't do that as much. My rules of blogging basically boil down to 1) never blog about your dating life, 2) never blog about your work, 3) never blog about stuff that gets said about so-and-so at church. Learned the hard way on all of them.

His shift away from awkwardness I attribute to a bit of maturing in his late 20s. But these other things, it seems, are a few painful pearls of wisdom. He writes out of experience. Perhaps any of his three rules could be broken, but not without caution.

I was talking to some colleagues about the relational impact of blogs. One colleague told me how she had an acquaintance who had started reading her personal blog. My colleague writes about herself, her concerns, and her interests. As a result, her acquaintance found that they had more in common than either one had realized. These common interests helped them move from acquaintances to friends.

These two stories and their opposite outcomes make me wonder what made them turn out so different. These consequences are significant. Discerning their differences, seems valuable to reap the benefits and avoid the perils. I see two variables distinguishing these stories: who you're writing to and what you're writing about.

Who are you writing to? For me, I know that my colleagues and my roommates read this. I have a responsibility, like it or not, to consider whether what I say may communicate something I don't mean or something I do mean but shouldn't say.

Maybe your grandmother isn't reading your blog, but would you be concerned if she did? Of course, she's not interested in your rock'n'roll, but she's interested in you, so she may read it anyway.

What are you writing about? Writing about impersonal topics like book reviews, political analysis, gaming news, or business advice has little bearing on your relationships with friends and loved ones. Writing about your love life, your weird family, your personal beliefs, or your job all have the potential of revealing more than you intended and to people closer than you expected.

Acquaintances have no context for why you've been thinking about jealousy lately, but those close to you can probably make a good guess. And even if they're wrong, they might never know that. This can create (sometimes, unnecessary) resentment, hurt, or distance in a relationship. You may be vague and oblique as to why you've been feeling jealous lately, but those close to you will care enough to wonder why.

As I listed tips for text messaging in my last post, I noticed that they were simply good tips for any interpersonal communication-not limited to texting. Similarly, when blogging, thinking about what you're saying and whom you're saying to are good considerations for any group context.

Principles that make good communication, make good high-tech communication too.


Dan said...

All true.

But what would blogging be without random stories about random people doing random things??

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