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Personal vs. Private

Jamie's written in a far better manner than I could an entry discussing the self-censorship one must apply to their blogging. She also links to a New York Times article that I won't link to given their "charge for archived content" policy that I found interesting. Her article brought up in my mind a distinction I've been wanting to make for some time now: the difference between what is "personal" and what is "private."

Anything I post here becomes public - the opposite of private - simply by being published on a publicly accessible (and oft-Googled) web server. I "publish" in part because I don't consider myself a very private person. There's not a lot I won't share and there aren't many questions I won't answer, regardless of the questioner.

However, just because something is not private does not make it non-personal. My grandfather died a few months ago and I wrote about it on my blog because I wanted to document and archive my thoughts and feelings. People I know in the "meat" world expressed their sorrow with me because of what I'd written. On a practical level, it saved me from having to repeat the event to every one of my friends. My grandfather's death was thus not a private event, but what I wrote remained very personal.

In making public such personal things as the success or failure of a new relationship, the death of a loved one, thoughts on suicide, uncertainty about a future job (etc.), I effectively transfer the responsibility of maturity to someone else, to "the reader." I transfer the responsibility of maturity to those in cyberspace reading my blog because occasionally I say something interesting. I transfer the responsibility of maturity to those I know in the "meat world" with whom I interact with daily.

This responsibility, I've learned lately, is not taken very seriously. I often learn of people's "personal" thing just by being around them. Someone's girlfriend may call them at work and may I overhear part of the conversation. BAM! I've found out something personal. Jeering that person or asking him about these personal things, or in any way making him uncomfortable because of what I know, would be downright rude.

Why then do people seem to regard information gathered by reading someone's blog as anything different?

Writing has always been an exercise for me, a way to sort out my thoughts. When I started blogging last year, I was excited to have a place to archive my thoughts. Prior to blogging, I found myself having the same conversation about some recent event or another with a few close friends nearly every day, and blogging provided me a "shortcut." A "go read this and catch up." A "jump start" into the conversation, the blog providing the groundwork. I didn't have to type or say the same thing to five different friends. I only had to write it once.

I was also excited that I could - unlike in a traditional diary - quickly search my past thoughts! It's tough to find every instance of the word "Crystal" in a paper diary and much easier in a MySQL database. The easiest way to search has always been the public search engine provided by MovableType, and you can't provide "shortcuts" to conversations if you don't publish the article, so until recently, I've simply published everything I've written without a second thought.

Because people can't be trusted with the responsibility of maturity (respecting someone's right to a personal life), that's changed. I'm now writing just as much as ever, and I intend to, but I'll be keeping some entries in "Draft" mode indefinitely. Some I may publish a month or two down the line, when they won't show up on the front page or in the RSS feed(s), and some I may never publish.

I've always tried to walk the thin line between what I can write about myself and what I cannot, particularly when writing about myself involves relationships or things that others have said to me (or done with me, etc.). I'm fortunate to have understanding friends who are smart enough - and know me well enough - to ask for clarification on any foggy areas. Unfortunately, that thin line is going to be made a lot thicker by my new "drafts first and possibly forever" rule. That line is going to be made a lot thicker because people simply can't be trusted to treat what they read on a blog with the same level of sensitivity (which, granted, is not much, but is more) that they treat other personal information.

Given all of this, I find myself tempted to set up a "private" blog. Jamie says:

There is no lock on a blog, no key necessary to enter, no quarter to purchase the day's entries. Anything you write is fair game here; anyone can read it without violating your rights.

This is of course true in the general sense, but I find myself tempted to create such a "locked" blog for my truly personal thoughts. I could write some PHP module and include them in every page. The modules would generate a one-time-use unique username and password at my request. I could generate a username and password (my master username and password provide me complete use, of course) and share an article with those I trust to take the responsibility of being mature seriously. It could be done. I'm tempted to do it not only on a "desire to write down personal thoughts and share those with my loved ones" level but also on a technical level. It'd be some nifty code!

Fortunately, I realize that the more rules you apply to a situation, the easier it is to break them. KISS, right? If something was borderline personal, on which blog would I place it? The overhead of searching two blogs alone negates much of the benefit. The upkeep and maintenance… There are several other obstacles that couldn't necessarily be overcome, and even if they could, it's simply not worth it.

And so I find myself making a new resolution today, my "drafts" rule. After all, if "the writing" is the excercise - if that's what I enjoy - then there's nothing to stop me from writing. I just don't have to publish. I can copy, paste, and email what I've written to those I trust to be responsible with my personal thoughts, and everyone else can go re-read my articles on Accessor Methods or something.

8 Responses to "Personal vs. Private"

  1. The boundaries of on-line journals

    People who I know in real life have, from time to time, asked my why I never seem to write about my daily life — experience at school, with friends, et cetera. There is one simple answer, which is in...

  2. Personal vs. Private

    Erik commented on having a private weblog as well as his public one. I figure this is as good of time as any to rehash a story of mine from about five years ago, my first foray into online weblogging....

  3. In more ways than one, this article which you have written have cleared many of my doubts & fears about public & private blogging. My sincere condolences for the departure of your grandfather.

    I come across many blog sites containing entries that I personally deem inappropriate to share with the cyberspace community. Sometimes I ask myself their real purpose for these private & personal entries. I can never understand their real intentions though. There are many topics which I would like to write about too but many times, there seems to be this force holding me back. I finally understand why.

    Because people can't be trusted with the responsibility of maturity (respecting someone's right to a personal life)

    Just this sentence alone have made me realise just how vulnerable we are. The actions of the people around us could prove to be more fatal than it seems, as we never know just how responsible they are. Do we?

    I totally support the idea of applying the "drafts" rule. You're absolutely right! We can just write about what we see or how we feel & not even publish to the irresponsible who reads them.

  4. Private vs Public

    Jamie hits upon an interesting point, which I've debated in the past. Should I censor myself in my blogs? Erik replied to it, and I like what both had to say. I feel like, anything I post here is public. I know a lot of people don't read my blog,

  5. Do you think the danger in others not respecting your personal information lies with those you know in "real" life or other bloggers? I haven't had any of these sorts of problems as of yet since my blog isn't all that personal, and not many of my friends know about it. I'd be interested to know where the problem lies, with the "real life" people or online people.

  6. Being a programmer, I vote for the personal/private blogmod. It would be fairly easy, and cool too. You could have a password protected area on your site where people could pick up a non-expiring cookie. When this cookie is detected by MovableType, a certain category of articles would become visible.

    As for deciding what posts belong where: If you feel that an entry MIGHT belong in the personal category, throw it in there. A simple rule like that would solve the problem, I think.

    Then you could have the best of both worlds, or all three worlds. Searchability is still maintained on your end, because you will have access to all articles. And you won't have to waste time retelling a story for each friend. And you add yet another extremely useful feature to which many bloggaz out there are in need of, even if they don't know it yet.

  7. Couldn't the personal/private thing be achieved with one blog?

    I admit that I'm only slightly versed in the ways of MT but couldn't you just edit the main templates to exclude the personal posts based on catagory. You could then add a new template generate a special kind of archive of only the personal posts and keep the url known only to those you trust. You might not even need the password protection.

  8. Too much work. Too easy to accidentally break it. Too easy to get around.