I was concerned to read this story of Justin Hall, long-time blogger, who after what appears to be a pretty clear (and pretty public) nervous breakdown, simply stopped blogging. This is part of the problem with the cult of exhibitionism and narcissism which is inherent to the nature of blogging (and which I have explored extensively elsewhere). Revealing all to the world inevitably involves revealing weaknesses, and a public profile just heightens the impact of publicising those weaknesses via a blog. It is possible to maintain a sense of dignity in posts but only those who have known celebrity status seem intuitively capable of understanding where to draw the curtain between public and private life.
For instance, Wil Wheaton’s blog exposes much that is personal, but Wil understands there are limits; he does not discuss his wife or step-children except to show how much he cares for them, and he does not reveal any extremes of emotion usually until *after* he has time to reflect on them. Rather than being immediate and reactionary, Wil Wheaton tends to be more thoughtful and reflective, drawing on the goodwill of his readers rather than shocking them into submission. Of course, Wil *has* celebrity status and draws a cult audience as a result of his involvement with the Star Trek franchise. Unlike peer bloggers, Wil attracted an audience virtually before he had anything to say merely because he was celebrity. Fortunately for those readers who initially followed him, Wil also proved to be an entertaining and erudite author/blogger who sustained his audiences with skill, rather than celebrity.
But the old adage from marketing theory is about driving customers to your products, sustaining customers, and locking in customers. Good blogging will sustain customers, and perhaps even lock them in if the blogger is prolific and interesting enough. But driving traffic *to* a site is what tends to encourage bloggers to find some internet ‘scoop’ in much the same way that journalists pursue in mainstream press. And where an internet story doesn’t score, it’s rather tempting to exploit the anonymity of the internet, and be as exhibitionistic as possible; capitalising on the voyeurism of internet readers and surfers. To drive traffic to their sites, some bloggers have intellectually and emotionally stripped themselves bare, and found the minor celebrity status they have drawn as a result, to be rather seductive.
Problems arise when this dedication to a customer readership, and to sustaining interest in one’s writing, becomes so time-consuming and so revealing, that the loss of one’s personal time, privacy and capacity for individual growth is inevitable. This cult of blogging is about blogger-oriented audience dependence, and a desperate need for positive reinforcement. It’s an addiction, and should be recognised as such. And it’s a danger many A-List and non-celebrity bloggers have faced. Some have passed through a phase of non-blogging, and returned as wiser, more careful bloggers, anxious to keep some of their lives entirely offline. Others remain gagged forever, unable to face the harsh reality of an audience they have disappointed.
I’m glad to read that Hall believes he will be back to blogging eventually, but it’s clear that in his new relationship, he needs to spend some establishing time in private. Indeed, I would be much surprised if Hall divulges much of his private life for a very long time. As a blogger he may well be able to return to the intellectual and technological endeavours which have dominated his professional life. But as an individual, sustaining personal relationships, and a private existence, he needs both time and space to develop – without an audience.