"How are you?" In our current economic climate, the answer is probably: "Crappy." Or something close to it. As we collectively face unemployment, foreclosures, postponed retirement and whisper it -- a full-fledged depression -- moaning has become acceptable conversation. Welcome to the Age of Bitching.
And what happens in real life is only magnified online. There's only so much your partners, friends, family and colleagues will put with. After all, they have their own rants to share. Fortunately, the internet offers a level of anonymity for when you need to go off about your annoying boss or purge that horrible date you had last night. Besides, the regular way of doing this -- therapy -- is no longer affordable these days.
The leader of the pack, FMyLife, has a million visitors a day with a simple premise: "This is a space where you can let it all out and unwind by sharing the little things that screw with your day, and maybe realize that you are not alone in experiencing day to day crap," says the site, which was founded by a trio of French guys in January. FMyLife allows users to upload their tales of woe in a few short sentences, a team approves the posting and visitors vote either "I agree, your life is f***ed" or "You deserved that one."
Life's daily disasters at FMyLife
Then there's the recession era Stuff Unemployed People Like, a take off on the successful blog Stuff White People Like. "Readers seem to identify with the self-deprecating tone of the site and will freely admit how true some of the posts are," says its founder, who prefers to remain anonymous since she is actively looking for a job. "Alone, unemployment would be depressing." Over at Passive Aggressive Notes, people have a "release valve" for their pent-up frustration. "It all just comes pouring out," says the blog's author Kerry Miller. "'Group therapy' is a phrase I hear a lot."
Misery undoubtedly loves company, but a virtual community is often formed when there's a humorous take on sharing one's shame. "The main ingredient of the stories posted on FMyLife is the ability to laugh at your own mishaps and have the guts to share it with the world," says site moderator Alan Holding. "Anonymity enables us to do so without running the risk of being 'found out,' even though the theory is that people write diaries with the subconscious desire to have them read by other people."
An example of a Passive Aggressive Note, this time with religious overtones
Rather than the more serious (and often disturbing) fare found at voyeuristic sites like Post Secret, this crop of blogs that bitch offer a humorous escape from the day's more serious affairs. "It's pure comic relief," says My Very Worst Date reader Bilen Mesfin, a New York-based video and film producer who has contributed a story or two of her own. "It makes me feel just a little bit better that people suffer equally in the dating game."
Are the popularity of these sites simply a case of Schadenfreude? Perhaps for some. But my guess is that these blogs, whether done with a heavy dose of irony or not, simply make us feel better about ourselves. These guilt-free rants let us know that we are not alone. And let's be honest. Two hundred dollar therapy sessions don't seem so attractive these days, especially when an internet connection is less than $50 a month and can provide endless hours of largely non-judgmental commiseration (you still have to deal wit those pesky comments though). Think of it as a discounted mental bailout plan.