I’ve been following Leah’s weblog for 6 years (when she was 14 years old on Diaryland!). In fact, when I first started making web pages in 2000, Leah’s site gave me good ideas about how to get started (She has a great eye for design).
Now it seems she got married. That’s great, and I hope she and her musician husband have a great time. (I’m secretly sorry to hear she’s leaving Austin to go to Nashville so her husband can try to be a musician. But even I was surprised to find out that within a week of being married she had already blogged about her wedding and YouTubed the ceremony.The funny thing is that in the next five or ten years everybody will be blogging and Youtubing their wedding and all significant life events. Doing this will no longer seem like a big deal.
Fun fact: Leah and I have exchanged a few emails her and there, and I’ve followed her travails through Canada and Texas and her awful retail jobs, but coincidentally she worked at a Blockbuster video store I used to frequent when I lived in Austin.
Leah and friends are a creative and talented bunch. It reminded me of how creative a time high school can be for people. It is really inspiring to read about Leah’s classes and projects–back in the good old days (early 1980s), things were so primitive–we didn’t have PC’s; we had typewriters and sometimes word processors. Many tools for creativity hadn’t been invented yet. That’s not to say we didn’t have fun. At the time I was devoting all my free time writing modules for Dungeons and Dragons which I’d play with friends. (I don’t consider myself a computer game nut, but that early foray into game design and character building definitely prepared me for later writing projects). At that time, video guys and music guys and writing guys and drawing guys and computer guys were each in their separate corners. We rarely interacted. Now, however, it seems you need basic proficiency in several creative domains. That is probably good.
Getting back to Leah, the young blogger and designer. Leah’s blog has been chatty about lots of things; I don’t read the comments on her blogs (she receives a ton), but in general, I don’t think she’s aroused a lot of negative vibes from other netizens; she hasn’t revealed too much of herself; she’s managed her public and private personas quite admirably. Old fogies worry about the legacy left by people’s online diaries and myspace profiles, but really, if you just exercise a little common sense, you’ll be fine.
Finally, I remain a bit envious. Web diaries are a great creative outlet for teenagers, one I wish I had access to at the time. Who knows what I would have done with all that freedom? Would I have put my “entire life on the web”? Would I have simply moved into Second Life never to be seen again? Would I have shirked the web altogether? Would I have been seduced by the evil temptations (predators, porn, hacking, online gambling, wacko fans) or used it simply to keep track of friends? Also, wouldn’t it be great to be able to reread the thoughts and emotions you had during a formative period of your life? (In fact, I often surprise myself whenever I read something I blogged about only a few months ago).
Update. I left this essay unfinished for several months. Now I return to it again after Leah did a post about her grandfather’s death. I can’t remember if I mentioned this elsewhere. For a while I was keeping a secret blog on diaryland and occasionally emailed other diary writers. That was before the days we had comments on blogs, you see. Sonny, we had it tough back in the olden days. I used to love reading diaries by students and young adults, getting a glimpse into what they were thinking. I remember reading one by a teenage girl in a private school. She wanted to be an actress, and she felt so out of place in her school and even her neighborhood. She applied to some drama school on the East Coast, and miraculously, she auditioned and got it. She was estatic..and so was I. (I wrote her a note of congratulations). Later, I read another sad diary by another teenage girl. Her diary was fairly typical as far as teenage diaries go, and then one day she mentioned that her father had dropped dead at a concert. It was all so random. He had even called her from the concert to tell her he was having a great time, and then 15 minutes later, he had a heart attack and died. I read this at a cubicle while working at Dell Computers, and boy, I almost cried. She described it the way a 16 year old would: lots of runon sentences, random details and genuine pain. For the next few weeks her posts were emotionally numb; she didn’t really talk about the death, but I knew that was looming on her mind. And then she just stopped. I started reading her diaryland several months after her father’s death, and when I got to the latest post–which hadn’t been updated–I sent her a frantic email–to offer my condolences and inquire if she was ok. It’s always distressing when online diaries just stop–although they always do eventually if you wait long enough. Miraculously she wrote back and said she was fine. The last few months were awful, but she was picking up the pieces and making the best of it (even though she had forgotten the diaryland diaries altogether). She was genuinely touched that a complete stranger had read her thoughts and wrote to her. She had suspected that no one was reading her diaries and that no one cared. But she was wrong.
Is anyone beginning to think it’s a little icky that for a while I was reading all those diaries by teenage girls? Okay, maybe it was, but that was the demographic at diaryland back then, and besides it was a fascinating time of life (and something I missed out on). I went to an all boys high school and was always the social misfit with regard to girls. This was a way to learn about how teenagers thought and acted during that time. I read one girl’s tale of her first kiss. It was a magical moment for her (and me). It made me recall my own first kiss: the shyness, excitement and thrill at discovery. The difference between reading novels and online diaries is that online diaries are written by people who don’t intend to be writers, but simply want to note what happened to them that day.
I once related some of the details to some thirtysomething middle school teachers, and they were positively horrified. “You pervert!” they said. They thought it was entirely inappropriate to send an email to these people–even if they happened to live in Timbuktu. Yes, there is a kind of thrill in being able to follow the life story of someone you’ll never meet. Also, it also gives one the ability to occasionally offer words of sympathy or comfort. That is the role of the Internet surfer: to lurk in the background and offer occasional words of support (and even understanding).
Is this sort of vicarious involvement satisfying? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Yes, there are fakes and deceptions, but most of the time it’s easy to spot slippery/sophisticated tales. It’s easy to tell the difference between someone who is pretending to be psycho and is genuinely lonely. Are these online connections sufficient human contact for us? Probably not, but it may the only thing we are left with.