Posts Tagged ‘blogging’

One of the biggest challenges any writer has is to balance between putting too little or too much of himself into his work. Too much, and the writer’s voice threatens to overwhelm the material. Too little and the narrative takes on a detached quality, which is often less interesting to the reader. Many wrleg2iters I know tend to over-invest; I’ve got the opposite problem: how to be sufficiently objective without creating an unbreachable distance between me and my work. I finally get it; I’ve got to show a little leg.

The big reveal has its place, especially in a memoir and more power to the brave people deliberately choosing to let us in. But when it comes to everyday online information, I subscribe to the theory that less is more. I’ve made peace with the account information my various financial institutions require, although I’m trying to get more creative with my passwords but I prefer remaining circumspect about the minutia of my daily life. Who cares what and where I’m eating, drinking, reading, or fornicating?

My friveilends do, at least if I’m a technologically savvy under-thirty-something. Today’s hipster uses not only text and Twitter but also Foursquare, Skimble, Blippy, and Doppir  to let friends, acquaintances and, inevitably the world at large know where they’re hanging, how many crunches they’re doing, what they’re buying, and where they’re traveling. Since the companies behind these nifty communication aids seem to be raking in the bucks, apparently no one is worried about putting their itineraries out there, although one funny Dutchman suggested they might want to think twice about over-sharing with a website called Please Rob Me.

For the ultimate in over-sharing, social networking sites currently rule, although You-tube seems to appeal equally to the flasher2 exhibitionist and the voyeur. Each of these sites requires a combination of tact, fortitude and a firm grasp of social boundaries. I have a close friend who uses an online addiction site for support; he says the stories he sees on Facebook rival anything he’s encountered in his anonymous support group. For the record, I enjoy Facebook; I use it like I might a meeting of casual acquaintances at a coffee shop to exchange pleasantries and information and yes, to connect. But just as I don’t mistake my friends for therapists, I don’t conflate social networks with the confessional…or the bedroom.

If it’s hard for adults to know where the line is and when to draw it, it’s nearly impossible for teenagers. News stories abound about online bullies and their vulnerable and often socially awkward classmates. The group Common Sense Media is offering in-school seminars to grade schoolers on how the web really works: how information gets shared, stored, hacked and breached. Even the youngsters who realize their most private communications could potentially be seen by a wider audience (and you’d be surprised how few of them really get it) can’t wrap their minds around the idea that their online moves might come back to haunt them.Teens and tweens tend to revel in their invincibility or rebel against the idea of a grown-up version of themselves feeling mortified at youthful indiscretions.  chagrined

All this may seem obvious upon reflection but most of us, when posting, commenting, texting or chatting, don’t reflect: we react. I have great respect for the written word but emails, posts, texts, tweets and such don’t represent conversation. They’re monologues masquerading as dialogue, great for casual connections and providing duck and cover on occasion but lousy for building, maintaining, sustaining or even ending a relationship

How much is too much? It’s a decision we make each time we share anything with anyone.With the wisdom of hindsight MMand the benefit of many mistakes in the early years of email, I might suggest a form of rationing as opposed to regurgitating. Reveal something (you are trying to connect, after all) but pay attention. A little goes a long way, trust me.  

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airplane  I just returned from a trip during which I spent at least 12 hours in six airports in three countries. Since my travels coincided with two highly publicized incidents involving airport security, I was ready to write on the subject. But when I returned and caught up on my reading, I realized the subject was already covered, or rather, blanketed. Apparently, as columnist Frank Rich noted in a New York Times op-ed piece, “There may not be a person in America without a strong opinion about what coulda, shoulda been done to prevent the underwear bomber from boarding that Christmas flight to Detroit. In the years since 9/11, we’ve all become counter-terrorists.”

Rich’s article was actually about the dangers posed by our under-regulated financial system, (he proposed a full body scan for banks). But his early comment got me thinking about what it means to express an opinion in the 21st-century and about the op-ed piece, a writing form I respect.  Thanks to the Internet, we can reach a potential audience of hundreds or thousands or millions. We don’t need an editor or even a publisher. Ta-da! Suddenly, not only are we all not only experts, but also op-ed writers.

talking heads    Anyone can have an opinion, of course. But just as we ought to recognize that not all opinions are equally informed, equally considered, equally reasoned, we ought to recognize that not all opinionated pieces rise to the level of good editorializing, especially when our news now comes to us int he form of aggregate reporting and random editorializing.

The idea behind editorial writing is to promote an opinion or perspective. A good editorial can be a punch to the gut or a gentle tap on the shoulder. It can be a call to arms or a keenly analytical observation. It can be passionate or humorous, a case presented or an alternative suggested. In all cases, however, the writing is about the audience, not the author.

That’s something a great many people fail to grasp. Not everything that occurs to us deserves to be expressed and not everything we feel like expressing rises to the level of op-ed material. I realize that most people who throw their comments onto AOL or HuffPo aren’t thinking along those lines. But I hate seeing the art of op-ed writing reduced to the level of rant; the style is fitfully amusing at best and painfully awful most of the time. What’s the point? If you’re simply venting, go punch a wall. 

punchIn the world of self-publishing, whether books or blogs, we’re past due for a little self-policing. And don’t kid yourself: if you hit the “send” button these days, you’re in a sense published — or at least you’re going public. To paraphrase that great sage Thumper, “If you can’t think of anything new to say, don’t say anything at all.” No sense in contributing to the clutter out there.


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