“Too much information.” That’s what I hear from my kids sometimes, especially if I share details with them of what my life was like at their ages (almost 20 and 15 1/2). “T.M.I., Mom,” they tell me as they retreat to their rooms to escape my recollections of life without the Internet, personal computers, cell phones, Blackberries or Wii.
Is there such a thing as T.M.I. in the blogosphere?
Earlier this week, I had one of my insomnia-inspired surfing sessions. I was hopping from blog to blog . . . couldn’t tell you now where I started or ended up. Just clicking, reading, observing, pondering, with Conan O’Brien yammering in the background. I happened upon a blog that I found particularly intriguing because, as I was reading the owner’s most recent entry, I found myself saying, “Stop! Stop! Don’t write any more! T.M.I.!”
The post began with an apology, followed by the blog owner’s prediction that, after perusing what she felt compelled and was about to reveal, her readers would be so reviled that they would probably never visit the site again. Assuming, of course, that they managed to read the entire entry — which she assured visitors would make them uncomfortable.
I wondered if the blog owner had a background in marketing. Talk about a hook! You know that after that introduction, I adjusted my chair and got really cozy, cleaned my reading glasses, and turned down the volume on the television so that I could fully concentrate on the big reveal awaiting me in her subsequent paragraphs.
And the author did not disappoint. She divulged extremely sensitive, painful details about events in her life. It was the proverbial train wreck: I wanted to close the browser window, but was unable to stop reading, even though I was desperately uncomfortable, squirming in my seat and cringing as new facets of her painful past were unveiled paragraph by humiliating paragraph.
The writer in question was unequivocally crying out for attention. Whether or not the stories she shared were true is really irrelevant. She deliberately sought the affirmations and approval set forth in the comments. Why she was so desperate for support from complete strangers is, for my purposes here, equally irrelevant.
The comments? You guessed it. Litanies of “Oh, of course, we will be back; we could never abandon you, especially after you have laid yourself bare in front of all of us. We love you. We support you.”
For me, the post inspired a strange mixture of repulsion, embarrassment, empathy, compassion, and curiosity. I’ve thought about that blog entry off and on in the ensuing days, especially while visiting various other blogs. I have been much more mindful of the level of personal detail set forth there.
I keep asking myself: With so many people blogging about their personal lives, when it comes to the amount and nature of the information shared, how much is too much information? Where is the line? And how do you know when you have gotten dangerously close to or crossed it? Are there any criteria or guidelines we can use to measure the appropriate amount of personal information that should be shared in cyberspace?
What I’ve concluded is that, for me, it all comes back to the core reason(s) we choose to create and maintain a blog. An honest assessment of the extent and quality of exposure that will keep us within our individual zone of comfort is mandated.
Before posting intimate details of our own or others’ lives, a thorough analysis of the potential ramifications has to be conducted, the risks assessed, and a determination made as to the overall wisdom of sharing intimate details about ourselves on the Internet. A good initial inquiry, it seems to me, is “Would I be comfortable having my ________ know this about me?” If the answer is “no,” you might consider imparting the information in the form of a fictional piece or by altering the facts enough to make them unrecognizable to those familiar with the story. Maybe the events could be related as though they pertain to an unidentified friend, neighbor or coworker, rather than yourself or your loved ones.
“Will I hurt anyone by revealing this information in a public forum?” I am ever-mindful of the fact that my blog could be read by my family members near and far, friends, business associates and colleagues, former employers, schoolmates that I have not seen in many, many years, my neighbors across the street, . . . You have no idea who might happen upon your blog and read the entry you are considering. In the case of the woman I discussed above, I found myself wondering if she had children and, if so, imagined how they would feel reading about the events and relationships she related. If your words have the potential power to devastate another human being, you might want to work out your issues using a handwritten journal or a word processor which allows you to password-protect the document.
A companion query concerns others’ privacy. Even though you don’t mind having personal details about your life displayed publicly, what about the folks whose lives have intersected with yours? The fact that you don’t name those folks may not prevent them from being identified via clues contained in the details. Again, examine your rationale for blogging about the topic under consideration and determine if there is an alternative way to achieve your personal goal(s) (catharsis?) while preserving others’ rights and feelings.
Finally, all good writers consider their audience. Who is reading your blog? What is the flavor of the content they have come to expect from you? Will this information constitute a major shift in your blog’s focus or tone? Based upon prior interactions with your audience (comments), is your readership likely to expect and embrace this new direction? Or do you risk, as the poster referenced above acknowledged, alienating your core supporters? Again, are the benefits to be gained worth the risk? Perhaps it would be prudent to launch a new blog under a different name or anonymously, providing you a new forum with a completely different voice and appearance. Starting a new blog and establishing a reader base is difficult, but may be preferable to losing the audience you have cultivated to date.
I have no way of confirming this, but am willing to bet, based upon the nature of her disclosures, that for every comment received by the poster discussed above expressing support, she lost at least as many readers.
My wish for you is that none of your readers ever responds to one of your posts with shouts of “Stop! Stop! Don’t write any more! That’s T.M.I.”