ambivalent imbroglio home

« June 05, 2004 | Main | June 07, 2004 »

June 06, 2004

Blogging in public and private spheres

This is going to seem random, but that's the way my mind works. What follows is just some thinking aloud about how blogs might affect the public and private spheres. My thoughts are related to the idea of the public sphere as described by Jurgen Habermas, but I'm thinking in more simple terms of a sort of basic line between what people feel should be/is public (acceptable for public discussion, public knowledge, related to other people), and what people feel should be/is private.

Question: What happens to the division between public and private spheres when people begin putting their daily diaries online? Does this already fungible division, A) disappear altogether, B) become somehow more entrenched, or C) something else or in between?

A) The division between public and private disappears altogether. If people put their most intimate thoughts online (in a blog, for example), nothing is left for the private sphere. Everything that's published goes into the public sphere, and the private basically shrivels up and dies. There are ways in which this could be a wonderful thing.

Example: Let's say that previously my decision about what kind of car to buy was a private decision, one I felt I could and should make on my own, possibly with only a little input from people very close to me. If this is a private decision, part of the private sphere of my life, I might feel free to buy the biggest, most gas-guzzling SUV I could afford. After all, this is part of my private life and affects only me (and perhaps a few people very close to me). Sure, people will see me driving my car, but by then it's too late. I've made the decision, and it's my decision to make, so who cares what they think. On the other hand, if this is now a public decision, one I make in a public way, with public input (i.e., via my blog), I may have many second thoughts about buying that big pollution machine that may cause more people to die so that don't have to pay too much for all the gas it requires. Instead of thinking that my decision affects only me, I will be reminded that it has far-reaching affects on all of my readers, as well as people I've never heard from or met. Net result: Fewer people buy SUVs. With a smaller or less clearly-bordered private sphere, I will be less able to delude myself into thinking my actions do not affect other people, and I will be more likely to make choices that are good myself and others, instead of those that only seem (superficially) good for me.

Of course, a disappearing private sphere could also be a bad thing. Is my decision to have an abortion a public decision, or a private one? What about my decision to have gay sex in my bedroom? The Supreme Court said last year that this was part of the private sphere, and therefore not subject to legislation. This is a positive step. However, I wonder if the same goals could be achieved by making this less private and more public. Instead of closing gay sex off in the privacy of personal bedrooms (a sort of "don't ask, don't tell" model), what if we all talked about it openly, with at least the same honesty and frankness with which we talk about heterosexual sex? Would prejudices against gay sex then disappear?

Bottom line: It seems impossible that the private sphere will ever completely disappear. Certainly blogging won't erase it....

B) The division between public and private becomes more entrenched. People do not put their most private and intimate thoughts online. Blogs encourage people to put more information online, so that at first glance it appears the sphere of privacy is disappearing—what was once reserved for the privacy of a personal diary or the intimate conversation of a trusted friend, is now published online for all the world to see. In some cases, this does appear to be happening. Especially on certain LiveJournal sites, for example, blog authors appear to be publishing very intimate details of their lives, pushing those previously private details into the public sphere. However, those intimate detail-blogs are by far the minority. While many blogs reach a surprisingly personal level, most still withhold a great deal of information about their authors' lives and thoughts. What is withheld is often guarded zealously, with blog authors taking great pains to keep even the slightest whiff of those subjects out of the public eye. So while the private sphere may be shrinking, it is far from disappearing. Instead, it's becoming more entrenched, more vehemently protected, more private and more precious. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Hard to tell.

C) The division between public and private neither disappears nor becomes further entrenched. Perhaps it doesn't change at all? Do you think your ideas of what's public and private have changed at all since you began blogging or reading blogs? Have the lines dividing what you feel you can and should discuss with other people moved at all? Has your idea of your relationship to other people/the world changed in any way?

Posted 08:21 AM | Comments (2) | meta-blogging

about   ∞     ∞   archives   ∞   links   ∞   rss
This template highly modified from The Style Monkey.