Saturday, March 5, 2011

Blogging about blogging: A few insights from the recent blog-storm

I've had some time to reflect upon the effects of the blog-storm that occurred earlier this week (you know what I'm talking about). This experience has given me some interesting insights about blogging and the nature of the blog, and probably social media in general. Being the sort of person that I am, I find myself unable to keep these insights to myself, so I'll share them here. Take whatever you think is of use, and leave the rest behind :-)

(1) What one has posted cannot be unposted: This is true even though it is possible for you to remove your own post after you have posted it. The moment one posts something, it is there for the entire blogosphere to see, even if only for a few seconds. What this means is that the message that you have sent out remains indelibly etched in the consciousness of whoever happens to see it. While you can remove the post, you cannot remove the message that has been imprinted upon the mind of your reader. For better or for worse, this message will stick in the reader's mind, and inform his or her impression of the nature of your writing and, by extension, who he or she thinks you are as a person. Therefore, if one cares at all about what others think about him or her, one would apply the same general rule to blogging as to speaking: Watch what you blog.

Of course, it is possible that perhaps one's yoga practice is so advanced that one is no longer capable of being affected by what others think of oneself: In other words, one would then possess the siddhi of being impervious to others' opinions. If you do possess this siddhi, then this point doesn't apply to you. Mere mortals like me, however, have no choice but to humbly accept and work with this reality :-)

(2) Blog comments have a snow-ball effect: To illustrate what I'm talking about, let us consider the recent blog-storm (again, you know what I'm talking about). Looking again at the, ahem, infamous post that started this whole thing, I noticed that most of the comments were short quips that tried to express what the author was feeling or thinking in a few short words ("PUKE!", "Low brow", "Noooooo"). None of these comments were particularly negative or damaging to anybody in and of themselves. However, I think that a negative comment, however insignificant in and of itself, has a tendency to attract other comments of the same emotional valience. Why does this happen? I don't know, it just does. Anyway, before you know it, you have five to ten such comments, cumulating in a wave of negative energy that is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Why should anyone care about this phenomenon? Well, here's why: Even if you happen to have the siddhi of being impervious to others' opinions, and thus cannot be affected in any way, shape or form by such cumulative negativity, you probably should spare a thought for your less well-endowed fellow blogosphere inhabitants (like me, for instance :-)). I'm not advocating self-censorhip; I'm just saying that blogging is like yoga practice; it can't hurt to have a certain level of mindfulness.

(3) The blog tends to magnify certain characteristics of the blogger to the exclusion of others: This cuts two ways. If I write something on my blog that severely offends somebody (and I am quite sure I have done that before, unfortunately), I will become the biggest A-hole in the universe, as far as that person is concerned. This is because that person has no other frame of reference with regard to me; he or she cannot possibly know what kind of person I am in my off-blog life. Conversely, it is also quite possible for me to write something that really reasonates with somebody, and for that person to then regard me as the best thing since... sliced bread (I know, this is a cliche, but I can't think of a better expression right this very moment :-)).

So again, unless you possess the siddhi of being impervious to others' opinions, you might also want to keep this in mind. Maybe you already know this, anyway...

Just thought I'd share these little insights. I apologize if this post comes across as being didactic (but then, what do I do for a living? :-)).

May the Force be with you.  


  1. Well said Nobel! I've been thinking along the same lines this week. The whole discussion was an interesting look into my own reactions and over-reactions. The permanence of "online life" is definitely motivation to catch the pause of clarity before speaking/writing.

  2. @Christine, 'The permanence of "online life" is definitely motivation to catch the pause of clarity before speaking/writing.' Very well said! Again, it looks like blogging has many interesing parallels with yoga practice :-)

    @Claudia, thanks!

  3. Hi Nobel,

    This has been my observation about blogging, email, texting, and any other technically generated messages: people write things online (or with any kind of technology) that they wouldn't say in person.

    I think there are a couple of reasons why. First of all, many things said over technology are reactionary - it is an instantaneous response to something. Unlike, the olden days of having to put pen to paper and think about how one will respond, people post, text, blog without thinking.

    Secondly, there is the whole issue of supposed anonymity. I suspect many of the people posting on your blog don't know each other in real life. So there may be more of a tendency to react to a post and write something nippy rather than think about it with an actual person in mind.

    I have seen the evolution of written communication go from old-fashioned letter writing once or twice a year to a not-so-close friend and maybe monthly to a very close friend to multiple texts or facebook posts daily to total strangers.

    Words have always been powerful and permanent - however in the past, people were forced to be more thoughtful before writing because the process of writing required reading a letter, perhaps re-reading the letter, thinking about what was written, and trying to compose a response which could have taken a number of attempts of writing and re-writing.

    Virtual communication may be convenient and instantaneous, but it is not "real" communication. It is not anywhere close to a dialogue. It is just a lot of people individually posting ideas that either are or are not related to one's original post.

    I had an incident happen with one of the blogs I posted about living in Lakewood and the local Jewish Community. I was writing about how much I liked living in a community of people of faith and how much I respected my Jewish neighbors.

    Some random person, completely misinterpreted my post and responded with what I would consider a hostile, reactionary comment.

    Given all that, I would have to agree with Christine and suggest that when "writing" in cyberspace "catch the pause of clarity" before posting.

  4. @Cathrine, very thoughtful and insightful points you bring up. Yes, I agree that the supposed anonymity gives rise to greater temptation to snipe/take cheap shots at other people and say things that they would never be caught dead saying in real life, with the assumption that (1) you are "protected" by a computer screen, and (2) you will probably never meet the person in question. Although, given the fact that the Ashtanga community is relatively small, you would think that people would at least think twice about doing that.

    Sorry to hear about that reaction to your post. Something tells me that the misinterpretation was intentional on that person's part...

  5. I had a feeling you were going to blog about this at some point :)

    I maintain another blog in my off-mat life and have had that one for almost two years now. In that time, I've seen how negative sentiments can escalate incredibly rapidly in a blink of an eye. In some instances, the negativity descended to horrific cyber-bullying, particularly if someone was called out for stealing someone else's content and passing it off as their own. Of course that's wrong, but the snowball effect of negative comments (to your point #2) and the anonymity of writing online (to Cathrine's comment) magnifies it and becomes a whole new beast.

    To your point #3, I think words on their own tend to be an inadequate form of communication (especially when emotions/personal opinions are involved) because they're stripped of any emotional markers that you'd get when talking to someone face-to-face or over the phone. Which is why I use smileys a lot more often to get my point across. See what I'm saying? ;)

  6. Hmmmm, I was thinking, couldn't this all applied to books as well? When one writes a book, fictional or non-fictional, you're communicating to a world full of individuals who you will mostly never meet. Then, when one of those strangers, picks up your book and criticizes it, through review or just ranting to friends, you have to sit and be misunderstood.

    Certain people then develop those negative attitudes, and define their lives to oppose you. Example: I've never met Glen Beck, but I have attitudes formed about him just by reading his writing.

    I'm trying to think of how different writing a book to be published and writing a blog are? Is writing in general a form of virtual communication and not just blogging in particular? Does digital essentially mean virtual?

  7. @savasanaaddict, good points you bring up. With all the blogs I have visited thus far, most of the blog- owners make a very conscious attempt to acknowledge where they get their ideas from. Perhaps this signifies progress from the sort of phenomenon you mentioned? And yes, I certainly see the value of smileys. I think smileys make your friendly/non-hostile intentions much clearer to your readers. I have begun to use smileys more as well :-)

    @Chris, I think the difference ultimately comes down to the attitude one takes towards writing in the medium. As you observed, it is quite possible for one to form certain one-sided opinions about people from their books and essays. On the other hand, I think that carefully crafted blog posts and online messages can go a long way in constructively communicating ideas.