Truck Stop: Random Rants.

Online Journals.

I decided to update this article finally (2005-05-13), so here we go:

I have issues with online journals; you know the sort, the Livejournals, the Blogs and countless other oddly named versions of basically the same thing. Even though they are all fundamentally identical, one of the strangest things is that people who use one generally say that theirs is somehow different and in some way better. "My journal is more real than yours, because mine is typed in Times Roman on Conquerer 100gsm paper".

But this isn't my problem, my problem is how these journals tend to be used. Don't get me wrong, I don't so much have any issues with people who keep a journal for their friends and families about what they did that day and as a forum for posting the occasional picture. I don't have problems with people who use them to let off steam or people who use them to rant about the world in general - There is no harm in that. My issue is with people who make their journal their lives and then start to justify their lives with their journals.

It was interesting to hear A.S. Byatt (she won a Pulitzer) commenting on journals on the World Service. She described the whole modern habit of public Livejournals as a modern form of Protestant ablution. In a public journal, she says, you make yourself real by writing your life down and having people read about it but think what these people could do if they moved their energy into writing about something else and making that real instead. In my opinion, they would probably produce a hundred million shitty novels, but hey!

Before I carry on, I have to say that most people look at me and say "What is your problem? If you don't like it, don't read it." but it's not like that is it. An online journal differs from a private journal in that the contents of is are published. Things said about people are immediatley in the public domain (and therefore subject to the laws of defamation, libel and slander) and more relevantly, whilst obviously I don't have to read people's journals sometimes events, people and situations that myself or friends are involved in are published in people's journals so, occasionally, I do end up reading them.

Oversharing, Misplaced Reinforcement and Intellectual Masturbation are my main issues. The first two are potentially dangerous to both the person writing it and everyone else involved and the latter one is just odd.

I am firmly convinced that if it was beneficial for Humans to share as much of their lives as some journal users are convinced they should then the human race would have either developed telephathy or much greater empathy responses. Online journals seem to be the best evidence ever of why Oversharing can be so dangerous. When someone is having "issues" not only do they appear to think it their one true task in life to share everything about it with anybody who will "listen", they also feel the need to argue with people about it via the commenting system of their journal.

One of the most pitiful things I ever saw in a journal was the long lasting break up of a marriage, that was documented to the most minute detail over a number of journals. It was really quite odd and brutal. The parties involved would use their journals to rub the other's noses in as to how happy or miserable they were and friends or enemies on both sides would comment on everything, poking their noses in and becoming the ultimate in overly interfering extended families. Of course, it doesn't stop there because then people take sides, and they start to use their own journals to insult others, and so the stuation grows. Every single event becomes something major that little portions of the extended dysfunctional family have to get involved in and thus do the family feuds perpetuate.

As a slight aside, I find people's justifications a bit screwed up - They behave like naughty schoolkids desperately scrabbling for excuses. They ban and unban people from reading their journals, or making comments and yet, they soon unban them again because they don't seem to be able to live without the attention. One of the most amusing phenomena is the way that friendships appear to become so superficial to the point that one comment about something that somebody did, or said by one of the "family" will usually cause one of the inevitable internal feuds with the result that somebody will always end up getting hurt.

The reinforcement issue is an odd one and I would be interested to see how this effects users of these things long term. What happens is that the journal author will post an entry documenting various badly thought out, ethically reprehensible or just plain stupid acts and rather being told that they are idiots or getting some degree of negative feedback for their action they will instead have all their friends tell them that it doesn't matter, or taking their side and actually providing what amounts to positive reinforcement for performing a negative action. Ultimately, this means the journal author will lose the ability to know when they are being complete morons or worse, like people who are obsessed with their own mental illness as their reason for being, they will start to perform and document more and more negative actions just to get comfortable and sympathetic feedback from their online support group come mutual pity party.

I should probably explain my problems with Intellectual Masturbation. I don't mind people who write things for themselves, who have their own achievements and write about original things. That is creative and even if I don't like it, I can see merit in it. My issue is with people who will fill their journals with things written by other people to share with others and will maybe even make a few comments on it. They have no creativity of their own and justify themselves by existing in the shadows of other people's opinions in the hope that some of it will rub off on them to make them appear more interesting in some fucked up way. "I appear more important, because I sit, parasitically, on the shoulders of giants."

I guess what annoys me is that it is self-justification of the sort that tends to really grate me. These are the sort of people who, in the past, would have published Science Fiction fanzines, or ran fan-clubs for one of the lesser known band members of some weird niche pop-group. They are the sort of people who would be secretary of their local computer club and basically, the sort who lacking much originality of their own feel the need to regurgitate stuff that other people have said (sometimes without even having digested it themselves) and spread it all over a public forum so that their friends and extended-online-family can tell them how clever they are. Maybe I am wrong but I like original thought and people who have something to say for themselves and if I wanted to see piles of colourful vomit, I think I'd just prefer to hang around late-night-bus-stops or watch MTV.

Michael Lawrie's 'Lorry' homepage. Email: