"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

the precariousness of blogging: thoughts on internet anonymity and authenticity

i got an interesting reality check today, when two of my teach for america contacts called me to discuss my last blog post.

obviously, i was embarrassed. i felt like an utter ass having to talk to future co-workers and/or bosses about my flippant gut-rxn post about their organization (or is it our organization?... i guess i'm part of it too now, which makes me kind of a hypocrite and kind of a horrible colleague...)

then, i was confused: i heard the phrase "media sweep" (apparently Teach For America runs these regularly to see what's being said about them and i got caught up in the dredge [sic] report). later, i checked my sitemeter stats and realized i'd been receiving record traffic to the site today for my latest post, and felt a little overwhelmed at the sudden inadvertent attention my blog was attracting, and a little upset to realize my writing was becoming an issue of concern. (panic would hit later, when it occurred to me if they're reading this, what else are they finding about me? would they disapprove of what i was saying, would they try to censor me, or worse, ask me to censor myself?)

i was suspicious, too. i figured TFA had PR managers (if you're reading this, "hello!") and that they'd eventually catch wind of my blog and would be reading it for clues into my character or political leanings (in fact, it surprises me that i wasn't contacted earlier about it...) but there's something utterly jarring about talking to your future on the phone, and having to discuss your blog. i mean, having a conversation about my blog is always a strange thing for me. even when my friends and relatives allude to my writing here, it startles me. it seems private, even though i know it's not. there's a cathartic purpose to my writing, i leave it here, let it live and let it die, and it's always strange to me to have it brought up in my real life. i know that probably makes little sense, but i think that in many ways the identity i am forging here is different from the one i live day-to-day. maybe more honest, maybe more flippant, maybe freer, less tied down to institutional loyalties and less sensitive to organizational commitments. i guess the internet provides the freedom to publish without having to own up to anything... this is a persona i've created, this isn't me.

i say things here without thinking about how it may affect my life, but maybe even occasionally with the hope that it will. it's a delicate and vulnerable intimacy that i've chosen to share with the world in this public and exposed space. i've always been well aware of the precariousness of such a set-up, but never have i felt so unnerved having to integrate the two parallel worlds i've created for myself. and it seems that lately these are growing ever farther apart from each other.

i mean, i want to teach, and i want to change the world. the only reason i even bothered applying to TFA in the first place was that it seemed like a good way to do both right out of college. i am extremely happy and glad to be invited into the corps. when it occurred to me that i could have been dismissed because of my recent writing, i was devastated and extremely regretful. but, i meant everything i said. only now i realize that i spoke too soon, too dramatically and with too little information. (TFA and Americorps refuse to pay you for hours of political activity done in your free time, but that certainly doesn't condemn political activity in its entirety.)

this is all merely to serve as a public disclaimer* to my previous post. though i meant everything i said about political activity and its importance to one's education, i don't think Teach for America is entirely encouraging political withdrawal (tho, realistically, they should also consider the message they're sending to recent college graduates, who are extremely sensitive to material threats and already possess predilections for political apathy - any threat of disciplinary action against political activity could be the death blow to political progress). and even though their "media sweeping" has me a little unnerved and uncomfortable (uh, "Big Brother" anyone?), i don't want visitors and devoted readers to think poorly on Teach For America and their policies. and of course, i applaud TFA for endeavoring to change the lives of our youth. they're right to recognize that hope for change and progress must occur in the schools.

after all, i'm a company (wo)man now, gotta toe the line...

*disclaimer #2: even with the knowledge that TFA ppl will probably be monitoring my blog on a regular basis from here on, i am going to continue trying to make this a safe space for my expression and reflection.
**disclaimer #3: even after all this, i am most grateful to TFA for having the patience and understanding to excuse my last post, and to have the integrity not to dismiss me after the brash things i said. it truly reflects well on the character and dedication of the program that they were concerned for my feelings and sought to clarify miscommunication, rather than writing me off immediately. i was extremely impressed with them for being so forgiving and understanding, because i know that they didn't have to be. and for that reason, i think we're going to get along, and i am happy and proud to consider myself a part of the corps.


remaerdyaD said...

"Well," he says to his computer screen while scratching his crown. This has been quite a time for the blogosphere - though I do not know how blogs have been reporting it, here goes one angle:
0. Bush excounterterror czar, which includes cybersecurity, stated years ago that the official white house position since clinton (who oversaw the privatization of the internet) is that there will be no responsible leadership on the internet - ie passing of law with the kind of teeth that meets the street - until it can be demonstrated that it has played a significant role in the death of someone.
1. See alive in baghdad for my comment on the absolutely brutal slaying of its lead blogger in his home.
2. A month later, the white house position is the blogging is to be taken more seriously - ie under law - as journalism is.
3. Search reveals that the prez has had a blog for a couple weeks now. Comments appear filtered/non-existant (:

And I still think education is ultimately about finding out how the universe operates. Keep politics to pol-sci.

FWIW, I think someone is either starting to censor or hack my blog.

Anonymous said...


Don't apologize for your convictions. Either you believe in yourself and what you're doing, or you don't.

As for Teach for America coming by your blog, if they think you are going to cause trouble, then it's best they find out now. However, everyone has their own ideas of what is right and in every single workplace there is discussion of issues. Blogging has changed the score though, because now, anyone can say anything.

Do blogs rise to the level of journalism? Is it it free speech? Yes and no because the standards of libel and slander apply to all forms of speech.

As far as the government is concerned, everyone who has a blog or for that matter, speaks out on the issues, is a terrorist. It used to be you were a Communist and before that an Anarchist and were monitored by the FBI. Every government of every stripe believes that its citizens are out to get them and devious plots are being hatched to overthrow the rulers.

Paranoia knows no political boundaries Steph, never forget that.

Good luck and (((((hugs))))

Rae Jin Devine said...

"i know that probably makes little sense, but i think that in many ways the identity i am forging here is different from the one i live day-to-day. maybe more honest, maybe more flippant, maybe freer, less tied down to institutional loyalties and less sensitive to organizational commitments."

It makes perfect sense, the problem is whether or not you like yourself more in one incarnation or the other. If so, work to become said peson.

"i guess the internet provides the freedom to publish without having to own up to anything... this is a persona i've created, this isn't me."

That kind of attitude is irresponsible Miss Lee. I also don't believe you live by it. Sadly, some people do.

"i say things here without thinking about how it may affect my life, but maybe even occasionally with the hope that it will."

Can't have both. My Xanga has fairly tight privacy settings strictly because people I didn't know (and who were unwilling to introduce themselves) were reading large volumes of what I consider to be my personal e-diary. That said, I do my absolute best to have nothing in my life to hide so anyone who's read it is free to bring anything in their up to me. THAT said, I also clearly maintain it as a personal thing and don't expect anyone to treat it otherwise and I do my best not to use it as a "communication" tool. If I have a problem with someone they'll be told, by me, to their face.

"it's a delicate and vulnerable intimacy that i've chosen to share with the world in this public and exposed space."

It is, and many of us live better lives because of this.

Thank you.

I don't know how much actual thought you've given to blogging as a professional endeavor. By my standards, and I'm sure many other's, you're quite good.

Meanwhile, I actually have blogging on the brain as a professional outlet and educational subject.

While "officials" don't need to recognize things like video games and blogging as - well - whatever those that actually respect them want to to be regarded as, if those same people don't give them due respect no one ever will.

AKA, if the people playing video games don't stand up for them, why would anything ever change?

The same goes for blogging.

TFA clearly takes blogging seriously, whether this comes from a fearful or dismissive point I don't know; I haven't looked into them as closely as I've wanted too.

Do you? Do you want to? Should you? Do you need to?

I'm surprised, and frankly a bit disbelieving, that you haven't considered these questions.

At the same time, maybe you don't have to. I've enjoyed what feels to me to be a very personal and relaxed space for you pulled off with a certain flair I've come to appreciate both IRL and right here.

Meanwhile, due to my own career aspirations I have to question the various presences I maintain online because someday it very well could came back to haunt me. It's a different problem for me though. I rarely, if ever, use a psuedoname and, just as in life, I do my best to portray myself openly, honestly, and accurately.

That includes my myriad personality flaws, emotional highs and lows, and, perhaps most worrisome, personal information that could be used to link "who I am" to various places I post.

I just recently joined a very casual forum on the recommendation of a humorous e-friend. Said forum contains a "Mature" board. I registered with my usual handle, reintroduced myself to the people of the forum with personal information that could link me to the old board I was on (and who I am in real life) and then proceeded to post on threads deemed inappropriate for someone under the age of 18.

This could be considered a suicidal career move if you are an internet personality. AKA, an online game-journalist, a popular blogger, a tech savvy actress, etc..

Unlike you I don't know what my future career plans are (and I know it probably feels like you don't know either, at least not 100%) but it's always good to think about these things.

I meant to talk to you about that wonderful class you're teaching (I never did get a copy of that packet you handed out at the end of the first day).

The one quote I wanted to start off my "significant educational moment" was the following:

Disillusionment is a good thing.

Gene Metcalf said that to me as we discussed some material he covered in his Toys class.

It was...memorable.

Never in my life had I connected my own dedication to honesty to the idea of disillusionment and in a single moment he (unintentionally) linked something that had guided my life for 20 years and something I had avoided for the same amount of time and pointed out how they are in may ways one and the same.

I say that now so you understand the following - I'm glad this happened to you. Disillusionment is a good thing. It appears you've already learned and grown stronger from this and I want to spend my life watching the same thing that's happened to you (however minor), that's happened to me (hundreds of times over), happen to others.

And I want to help them do it.

That's why I like journalism, sociology, psych, writing in general, teaching English (anything really) and playing video games (and talking with the people that play them, hate them, whatever).

It gives me a chance to do that.

Just like this have given you such a chance.

The truth, however harsh, can and should "set you free."

Keep this place as your own Stephanie, it appears (to me) to be a rather freeing place.

stephan!e lee said...

Rae -

thanks for the comment. it took me a long time to get to it, because frankly, it was a reeaaally looooong comment in and of itself, and i was bogged down with a million things at the time (TFA, senior project, the class, SFS, etc. and blah blah).

but, i'm glad you persisted and reminded me that these things are important, every comment means a lot to me (clearly) and blogging (you are right!) means A LOT to me.

you were correct to assume that i take this seriously. i wouldn't call it a profession, but it is an occupation. that is, it OCCUPIES my time and my thoughts, and that in itself is symbolic of a lofty personal significance that $ can't justly quantify.

our generation has grown up on blogs, i think. i'm thinking of child actors for whom public sympathy is doled out, think Harry Potter et al., children who spend their precious coming-of-age in front of a camera for all to see. well, i think of our generation as an internet childhood actor - we're all internet celebrities in our own way, and i've truly grown up and came into my own via my forays into blogging (you can look in my web history, beginning in 2004 - FRESHMAN YEAR! - publishing under a pseudonym and from anonymous climes, to now, mostly open and honest about my identity, location, political views, etc. we've come a long way, baby. and by "baby" i mean my former self...)

you're right that we must often be careful about the kinds of things we write. esp in this day and age, where info is easily accessible, archivable, and searchable, and employers drudge Facebook profiles for dirt on their future employees, it's a fine line between careful, intentional writing, and self-censorship. i hope to never cross into the latter, but i admit that this one moment brought me awfully close.

and now that i am feeling brave, thanks in part to what you've said, i'll admit: I DIDN'T MEAN MOST OF WHAT I SAID IN THIS POST. i didn't want to be apologetic, didn't want to decry what i'd written, didn't want to say i was being dishonest because i wasn't at the time and so was being dishonest (a vicious cycle!)

really, i try to write everything the way i would say it, and i take full responsibility for that. but i'm also aware that this can be a precarious position, that this honesty can get you in trouble, and as someone who has historically suffered for my irreverence for authority and propriety, the thought of losing my future job because of a blog post (which, even tho i consider it seriously, and don't mean to demean the medium, for me blogging is still a hobby) was enough to get me to backtread rather quickly. and, i am not proud of that. i AM proud, however, of myself for having the courage to post that in the first place, knowing that they'd probably read it if they weren't reading already, and then to admit to a mistake, and now, to reflect on it in a really convoluted meta kind of way.

anyway, what i'm trying to say is i want to thank you for the comment, b/c it means a lot to me to know that ppl are going to hold me accountable, b/c sometimes even i lose track of myself. but i also don't want you to think i am equivocating. i have striven to make this a safe medium for HONEST expression (see my manifesto!), and this is a continual process of renewal and rediscovery, in which i am constantly finding new ways to innovate and express myself.

so, thank you. it's nice to be reminded once in a while.

all the best,