Don’t call us, we’ll call you

July 28, 2010

Virtual trade-offs

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , , , , , , , — llcall @ 6:42 pm

I recently read this very timely article, “The Web Means the End of Forgetting,” in the New York Times magazine.  The article is about the things we choose to reveal online about ourselves and the collateral damage that sometimes results.  It’s timely for me because I’ve been considering what I want to do with my blog.  I’ve shared a lot of pretty personal stuff on here, and for the most part, that has been a good decision.  It’s been a basically positive experience and in line with what I want for my life, to live and present myself as a whole person, not segmenting for different audiences or devoting much time to image maintenance.

But there are obviously downsides: people misinterpreting things I’ve said, or reading something into a personal tidbit that is inaccurate or unintended, or missing my jokes (the real cardinal sin! ;)).

While the article largely deals with things like drunken indiscretions (not my problem — I’m Mormon, remember?), the idea of “good” vs. “bad” information is salient for everyone.  Consider this quote from the article:

Alessandro Acquisti, a scholar at Carnegie Mellon University, studies the behavioral economics of privacy — that is, the conscious and unconscious mental trade-offs we make in deciding whether to reveal or conceal information, balancing the benefits of sharing with the dangers of disclosure. He is conducting experiments about the “decay time” and the relative weight of good and bad information — in other words, whether people discount positive information about you more quickly and heavily than they discount negative information about you. His research group’s preliminary results suggest that if rumors spread about something good you did 10 years ago, like winning a prize, they will be discounted; but if rumors spread about something bad that you did 10 years ago, like driving drunk, that information has staying power.

I’m not so worried about “decay time” at the moment, because I often feel like I am dealing with the real time effects of divulging information that some people consider “bad.”  For example, although I feel that postpartum depression, which I’ve talked about a number of times, should not be stigmatized or treated as inherently “bad” information, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that some people view it that way, and it gives them pause when they try to reconcile that with other “good” things they know about me.

Toward the end of the article, another paragraph popped out at me, which, for the moment, helped me come to terms with my frustrations about these issues:

Moreover, the narrow focus on privacy as a form of control misses what really worries people on the Internet today. What people seem to want is not simply control over their privacy settings; they want control over their online reputations. But the idea that any of us can control our reputations is, of course, an unrealistic fantasy. The truth is we can’t possibly control what others say or know or think about us in a world of Facebook and Google, nor can we realistically demand that others give us the deference and respect to which we think we’re entitled. On the Internet, it turns out, we’re not entitled to demand any particular respect at all, and if others don’t have the empathy necessary to forgive our missteps, or the attention spans necessary to judge us in context, there’s nothing we can do about it.

The author, Jeffrey Rosen, rightly points out that online, on Facebook, Google, we can’t control what people think or say about us.  But if you delete all the references to the internet, it’s still 100% accurate.  As much as I have sometimes thought someone has misinterpreted me in the blogosphere, I’ve similarly thought they’ve missed important context about me in a face-to-face interaction.  And there’s just nothing I can do about that.  Nobody gets it all, they just get moments, snapshots, impressions.  That’s the nature of the virtual world because that’s the nature of the “real” world, the nature of human beings.

So I guess I’ll just keep writing what I want on my blog, when I want (though I’m not sure I’m going to get back to the rigorous posting schedule anytime soon as baby girl is still readjusting to life back in Utah and a little erratic lately), and I’ll enjoy the positive consequences and swallow the negative.



  1. I love when you blog and I always seem to laugh at something you write. I’m so sad that ppl are judging your for PPD….I have always been impressed and grateful for the insights you and other bloggers have shared about parenting. Hopefully the rest of us will be better prepared because of it. Hugs!

    Comment by Emily Tew — July 28, 2010 @ 6:54 pm

  2. I’m glad you’ll still be posting. My opinion on the matters such as depression is that by talking about it, others will say to themselves “oh Lindsay, she’s the coolest, and if she has depression, then maybe people with depression aren’t crazy nutheads after all.” I know this doesn’t help the problem of others making negative judgement, but you’re fighting the system. That said, I can’t claim to be very open on my blog. I suppose that’s because everything that is more personal to me is also personal to some one else and I don’t feel I have the right to discuss their issues on-line. Thus I limit my intimacy to notifications of possible parasites and my inability to cook.

    Comment by Cranney — July 28, 2010 @ 8:56 pm

    • I’m glad we’ll still get to hear about the occasional parasite, Rachel 😉

      Comment by llcall — July 28, 2010 @ 9:11 pm

  3. I would have been even CRAZIER if I’d never met anyone else who was going through PPD. I’m glad you allow insights to your actual life. I am too cowardly to do so, other than when I couch them in sarcasm.

    And if anyone actually thinks that having PPD is a bad reflection on your character, then I wonder what they are still doing on earth, because they are obviously perfect and should be translated, posthaste.

    Comment by Rachel — July 28, 2010 @ 10:45 pm

  4. I really like your second to last paragraph. I can really relate. In person people misinterpret a lot as well. I think there is something about helping to build a reputation of things you intend to put out there instead of letting what’s out there have intensions for you.

    Comment by Audrey — July 29, 2010 @ 12:14 am

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