Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Boundaries

Blogging is a funny enterprise. One might follow a particular blogger for a while and feel a certain familiarity. After all we write, and put our content out in public for whomever would wish to read. You might in time get a feel for a blogger's writing style, and suss out his or her pet interests and issues. But beyond that, how much about your bloggers do you have the right to know?

I suppose the short answer to that question is that you get to know whatever the blogger wishes to share with you, and no more. Some readers never quite get the message though.

As I see it, the matter boils down to boundaries. As an autonomous adult, there are certain things that I may wish to disclose in some contexts that I'd prefer not to disclose in others. What am I going on about? My understanding from mental health professionals is that you can tell a lot about the mental state of individuals by their ability to set their own boundaries and to respect the boundaries set by others. Healthy individuals who have a stable sense of self can consistently gauge the level of self-disclosure appropriate in a given context. Granted there may not be absolute hard and fast rules about such matters, but there's a general expectation that a fair amount of self-disclosure may be healthy when communicating with a lover or close friend, but not so healthy on the job or with total strangers. Similarly, it may be healthy to be interested in the intimate details and minutia of a lover's or close friend's life, but not so much in that of coworkers or total strangers. As I understand from the mental health profession (I am merely a layperson), individuals who cannot or will not establish or respect personal boundaries do so because they have no mature, coherent sense of self. In other words, there is probably some sort of personality disorder or other form of mental disturbance involved.

In a way, my decision to start blogging had a lot to do with boundaries. I didn't wish to go on extended political rants in the workplace as such behavior would be entirely irrelevant to my vocation. Nor did I wish to bug friends and family, if for no other reason than all of them have heard what I have to say often enough as it is. I viewed blogging as a means to satisfy a particular need - to vent on mostly political matters - and keep my personal boundaries intact. Now blogging is a public behavior, and most of the people who read this blog are total strangers. I assume that if you are reading this, it is because you were interested in reading a blog on politics, from a leftist perspective (whatever that might mean anymore) and not because you wanted to know my favorite color, my sign, my address or my workplace.

Initially, I blogged semi-anonymously, although I have become much more anonymous in the last year and a half. Being semi-anonymous worked for a while. I neither advertised nor hid my real-life identity, and muddled along for several years without a problem. As long as other readers respected my boundaries, there was no problem. That started to change a couple years ago. I recall being rather jarred when a total stranger just called me out of the blue. The individual had to do a bit of work to accomplish that feat, but we'll just say that the ensuing encounter was a bit awkward. That individual was unfortunately acquainted with someone who seemed to believe that a dislike for the ideological bent of my particular blog was sufficient license to begin publishing details of my non-blogging personal and professional life on hers. This apparent obsession with my private life was something I found quite disturbing, and it became apparent that the obsession would not end for a long time. Needless to say, for the sake of those closest to me, I figured the safest route was to reestablish some boundaries, and nip an invasion of my privacy in the bud. That meant relocating the blog, for starters. Since blogging was merely a hobby to begin with, rather than a vocation, readership numbers (and of course revenue) were of minimal concern. The old blog was essentially put into mothballs - left accessible only to its authors. I also found it necessary to remove any of my websites that this individual might have been accessing. A fair amount of time was spent removing traces of the old blog and websites from the Google archives. I found it prudent to invest in an IP blocker both for this blog and any web presence I chose to maintain. Although there was little I could do about my work information being made public to any Tea Party nutcase who might want to know, a planned career change would ultimately make that info irrelevant.

It is safe to say that there is a face beneath the mask; a real human being typing these words. There's the rub. What matters are ultimately the words, the ideas - not who said them. Perhaps in an age in which the norms concerning privacy have changed so drastically that boundaries between private and public life have all but dissipated, I am a bit of an anomaly - a throwback to some rapidly vanishing age. Someone was once taken aback when during a conversation regarding some trivial celebrity scandal, I remarked that I could care less about that particular celebrity's personal life (or for that matter the personal life of any celebrity or public figure). All that mattered to me was that person's body of work. His/her personal quirks and foibles were none of my business. I think I uttered words to that effect. So it goes.

I read many bloggers, but it does not occur to me that I should somehow know the intimate details of their lives. I have a remarkable lack of curiosity about such matters. What I am curious about is what these authors mean by their next blog posts - nothing more, nothing less. Is that such a bad thing? I'd offer that it's a good thing, and shows a healthy respect for the boundaries of those whose writing I continue to find enormously fascinating.

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