Last week, I had a forced identity crisis. As it did for plenty of other women/writers/people who consume far too much media, Emily Gould's infamous cover story and the resulting maelstrom sat in my thoughts, roiling and churning until the inside of my head looked like something envisioned by Hieronymus Bosch. I can offer no comment on the merit of the article, or whether it deserved the forum it was given--by now I've read so many critiques and dissections that my own opinion has been diluted to unrecognizability. But what hit the hardest was that, through the shrieks of outrage and outpouring of animus, two messages came through loud and clear about blogging: It's a pointless, narcissistic (Narcissus would no doubt love the nonstop invocation of his name these days) scourge of modern media, and Gould--or I, or anyone who wastes his/her time revealing private details on the Internet--will inevitably regret it.
Gould's tale hits close to home--the use of your life to create a narrative online, the resulting flood of readers, the compulsive drive to keep digging further for a "good story," the masochistic allure of strangers ripping you apart, the hollow but soothing assurances to yourself that hey, at least they're paying attention. But concluding that her entire exercise (and, by association, that of other personal bloggers) was nothing more than an "exhibit[ion of] empty narcissism" or a seductive but dangerous opportunity for self-exploitation and public mistakes simply doesn't offer a full picture.
It's true that, as a twenty-something woman caught up in the sea change of blogging notoriety, I did, as charged, write some cringe-worthy items I wish had stayed sealed in a spiral notebook. Yes, I too have publicly navel-gazed (though rarely with the casual expertise of my predecessors the boomers). I made jokes at the expense of others, violated boundaries, and even entered into juvenile battles with other bloggers--none of which I'm proud of and all of which will remain etched in Internet stone. I hurt people in my life, and spent years atoning. Still, as far as doing stupid shit online, I'd say Emily and I are in excellent company; from Lee Siegel to John Mackey, the number of people leaving less than flattering cyber-trails is approaching near-ubiquity. At least we have the excuse of youth.
Plus, with a few years of distance from the worst (or best) of it, I can step back enough to see the experience for what it was: A violent but valuable jumpstart to forced self-awareness, not to mention a path to a second career. For any and all of its negative effects, blogging had a profound impact on how I saw myself, beyond mere charges of "my generation's Me-ism." I discovered the self expression that I'd never managed to muster anywhere else, and I gained access to people and viewpoints from all over the globe, who in turn offered perspective and insight into the (tiny) extent of my own problems and the (even tinier) role they played in the larger world. I reached out to the one-fifth of the world's population with access to this new medium, and I was handed a glimpse of how they saw me--and how I could see my own life in the equation. I gave back what I could--commiseration, advice, plus I convinced a bunch of people not to go to law school, reason enough to blog any day. But above all, I created and shared something authentic, and I'm far from ashamed of it--quite the opposite, in fact.
Media can be tough on its devotees, print and online alike. It draws the same hyper-competitive overachievers as fields like law and banking, but fails to offer the same barometers--raises, bonuses, partnerships--that tell you how good a job you're doing and (more importantly) how you compare to everyone else. The endgame is some amorphous definition of success, potentially different for everyone. And so writers sit stewing in angst, nursing perpetually bruised egos while we watch others get arbitrarily plucked from the batch and handed "star" status. Blogging muddies the waters even more, offering a golden ticket that can shoot twenty-somethings to instant popularity--whether their peers feel they deserve it or not.
But gnash your teeth about it or no, this is the culture and the tide of the business, and the only guarantee is that tomorrow the story will have moved on to something else. So whether or not you think Gould can write, or her story was shallow and meaningless, or blogging represents the destruction of all that is sacrosanct in media/society, the fact is that this sharing of the self has fully infiltrated our ethnography, perhaps even for the better. And when she cashes in on book and production deals for her "oversharing"--and I give it 10-to-1 odds she does--then maybe the rest of us can skip the rage, take a breath, and let ourselves be proud of the creative hurdles we've jumped to survive in this metastasizing business.
And if you're still feeling tormented, well, might I suggest starting a blog?