After reading the recent…

After reading the recent NY Times article on blogging and privacy, and after a conversation with agent Bob on the subject, I find myself poking at this whole question again. Most strongly, I find myself bemused by how far my attitudes are from those of the people who are clearly threatened by blogs.

The article focused on personal details that might be exposed -- I can understand that fear. Certainly there are details I might tell someone in confidence that I would feel upset about if they publicized them -- whether on a blog or in gossip at a party or wherever. But I guess I don't quite get, on some visceral level, why blogging feels so newly-threatening to so many.

Haven't we always relied on the discretion of friends and lovers? Haven't we always had to hope that their ideas of appropriate discretion are sufficiently congruent with our own? Is it just that blogging is making it much more quickly obvious when there is a disconnect? In earlier days, a decade or so ago, perhaps the odds were that you'd never find out that your ex had a tendency to make fun of the way you barked like a dog at the moment of orgasm -- because you didn't hang out with her friends. Now, there's a reasonable chance that if she's the type to tell indiscreet tales, that she'll do it for a larger audience, and so you're likely to hear about it, eventually.

I guess I feel like in some sense, this current reaction of shock is a temporary thing. That etiquette is infinitely flexible, and will evolve to accommodate the practicalities of blogs and the net. That we have always had to rely on other people's discretion and sense of what is appropriate, and that people will naturally find the company of those who are like-minded in that regard.

I imagine workplace etiquette will evolve as well. You remember the interview that I'd written up? You may not have seen the comment from Sarah later, where she said, "Mary Anne, I'm curious how you feel about the fact that any of these schools, including those you are interviewing with, could easily come visit the journal and read your thoughts on the process (and on specific schools/interviews) before making a decision....I don't think you've said anything inappropriate and as a future academic I'm really enjoying your insight into the process, but I wonder if that possibility concerns you at all."

At this point, I don't feel like there's a clearly defined workplace etiquette covering blogging of job interviews, especially in academia (which has a general pedagogical culture that values transparency). But certainly it's possible that a potential interviewer might read that piece, consider that I had been inappropriately specific and public about what they considered a confidential interview process, and may even be uncomfortable enough with the idea that I might blog about other, similar, aspects of my future workplace that they wouldn't be willing to work with me. Which would certainly make me sad.

The cautious thing to do, the action that would be most likely to protect my chances of getting that job, would be to refrain from such blogging. But I feel like I have to weigh my own deeply-ingrained valuation of transparency/openness against a consideration of possible personal gain. And while I'm certainly not claiming a right to blog anything I feel like, I do feel that it's up to me to judge what is appropriate and sufficiently discreet. My friends have to trust me on this; my lovers have to trust me on this, and in the end, my employers have to trust me on this too. If they feel like they can't, then they're entirely right not to get involved with me. It's really not a question of blogs versus the era pre-blogs. It's a question of whether you trust someone's judgement or not.

I suppose I think that's where we're all headed in this regard. Choose your friends, your lovers, your employees wisely. Talk to them about where your boundaries lie, and make sure their own boundaries are sufficiently congruent with yours for comfort. Or you may end up in a very uncomfortable situation when you stumble across their blog.

3 thoughts on “After reading the recent…”

  1. “It’s a question of whether you trust someone’s judgement or not.”

    I think there are few people that I trust absolutely, and the number gets smaller as I get older. The point is that the wider the ripple effect, the more cautious I have to be in what I say. Not just because a friend might have a different idea of how private something should be, but because they may decide tomorrow that they aren’t a friend, or because they may misconstrue something I said or did, or because of the telephone effect of the person they explain it to, misconstrueing something.

  2. I suspect also that our culture is becoming more transparent: That people are not so upset any more about the idea of the whole world knowing that they bark like a dog when they have an orgasm. This seems scary to people who think it’s rude to eat in public without using utensils, and some of the Big Deal may be a reaction of the latter to the former. “How can you say that in public?!?” Blogging just makes it easier to say things very publicly.

  3. I was visiting with my parents over the weekend, and they like to read the Times. My mother looked up from the article about blogs and asked me if I ever read them. We then got into an interesting discussion about this exact topic (not so much the job interview angle, but the privacy of friends/family angle). And then I came home to find that you’d decided to continue the conversation.

    I think you’re right that at some level the issue comes down to trusting the judgment of those you interact with, but it does get a little more complicated when someone’s poor judgment could result in you being misrepresented to thousands of people instead of just a few aquantances. Back in the days when online journaling was new and everyone ‘knew’ everyone else, there was a sense of self-policing, at least as far as egregious violations of reasonable conduct went. Now that everyone and their mother (well, not mine 🙂 have a livejournal, that’s become more difficult. I’ll be interested to see how this plays out over time – if some sort of unstated but accepted rules of conduct will develop (which I think is generally the case as far as offline gossiping goes), or if this will continue to be a divisive issue, or if we will all simply get used to giving up this aspect of our privacy.

    Mary Anne, I hope that you get an offer from a school that is a good fit for you – ideally close to Chicago! I know too many people suffering in academic jobs they dislike because they went for the best school or the best location or whatever instead of the place with the best workplace environment for them. I really think you’re right on target to make that a priority, and accept that some schools that might turn you down are places you wouldn’t have been happy anyway.

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