This may sound like a “Don’t hate the players, hate the game” proposal. It isn’t. In all this renewed talk against so-called “mommy bloggers” stirred up by a recent essay, we must turn a critical eye toward the culture and the system that elicited a constant supply of the “harrowing personal essay.” What really has encouraged moms and other writers to lay it all out online?
Feed me, Seymour
Let’s all agree on these basic tenets: Writers need to write, and the internet needs to be fed.
We understand, inasmuch as we understand the strange species called “writer,” that writers are compelled to write. They’d write on the walls with their own blood if you took away their tools. But what exactly does the internet feed on and why is it so starved for it?
Back it up
In the early ARPANET/University/Military era, the internet wanted more server connections. In the middle days, starting in earnest with the invention of the World Wide Web in 1996, the internet wanted one more thing: attention. Behind the endless appetite for readers and clicks was, of course, money: Profits for service providers; earnings for website hosts; sales for advertisers. The internet and the web are run on this rule and this rule only: “attention=money”
The early blogging culture was sooooo inviting. Intoxicating, really. Readers were welcoming. We linked to each other’s blogs. We commented. When we shared, we connected. The rush of sharing-then-connection raised the “worthy of reading” bar more and more. Even I, the cynic, the techie trained to be suspicious of all things internet, fell into the vortex a little bit. Here’s an abbreviated timeline of my own online experience:
1979: First personal computer in our house.
1988: I started online in forums. I had an anonymous username, as did everyone else, and sharing was über-encouraged.
1995: I had a website (buried in taxonomy of a work server) but no username. My image and name were there for all to see. BUT: no sharing. It was a static site with pictures, almost like a very staid pre-LinkedIn page.
2004: I started a blog (this one), but again, with a username. For three years, I blogged about my personal feelings and experiences, but knowing I wasn’t totally anonymous (friends and family knew “purplecar” was me), I avoided the “harrowing overshare.” Working in technology, I definitely did my best to keep my husband’s and children’s identity offline. (Side note: because I was an early blogger and a woman, men referred to me as a ‘mommy blogger.’)
2007: I deleted the past 3 years’ posts because I didn’t feel comfortable sharing those inner thoughts any longer. My subject matter, the Psychology of Technology, has stayed steady ever since. Rarely do I mention my children on any of my channels. I keep family life private.
Here’s a (very) abbreviated timeline of blogger events, with an emphasis on moms:
2010ish: Bloggers enraged the Bitternet and even the more sane types for not revealing their paid reviews. At some point, federal regulations dictated all bloggers must reveal any income sources that may affect the reader’s impressions. For example, if a mom received a free sample, she had to publicly acknowledge it in the post about that product. Also, bloggers were compelled to reveal if any link was an affiliate link right next to or in the text of said link.
2016: A can of hate is opened up on moms-who-write-about-their-families, spurred by a recent article by Elizabeth Bastos entitled “Why I Decided to Stop Writing about My Children” in the NYT’s “Well” Blog. In summary, the author discovered she was betraying her children’s privacy and trust by writing about them online. Lots of hand-wringing, finger-pointing and pearl-clutching ensues.
Yes: hate the game. But name the game first
I linked to the Bastos article on my social channels because I’m a big believer in its basic message: be mindful of a child’s right to form their own identity, free of a forever-documented personal history. I think we Gen-Xers grew up without the internet’s blood sucking; as parents we can do our best to give our kids at least a semblance of that same safe space in which to experiment with different identities.
In hindsight, I realize my sharing of the article may have inaccurately portrayed my beliefs about parents writing about their kids. Admittedly, trust between a parent and child is a sore spot for me, as it is for many of my peers. My current rage isn’t directed at parent writers, though, at least not fully. 95% of my rage is for the invisible machine that entices and then consumes the humanity in all of us. Why aren’t the for/against-parent-blogging camps talking about the economy-driven internet? Why does the machine get a free pass? (and why are women seemingly always dumped on the most?)
We need to name the machine. It wants us, it needs us, to bare our souls. Because everybody knows: souls sell best.
Image Credit: Me. They may or may not be my children behind the blur. That is the real Liberty Bell, though.
Talking about children on social media – by my friend Paula Kiger. Our tweet exchange about the NYT article is included in her article