03 May 2014

On Reflection

Something I miss from, let's say, the late high school early college era of my life, are personal journals on the internet. Your LiveJournals, Xangas, WordPress instances running on a repurposed 486 desktops; shit like that. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places, but I get the feeling it's getting sparser out there. I don't know anyone with a regularly updated one. Clicking the "Next Blog" link at the top of this site has led me to mediocre at best baseball blogs, collections of photographs terminated sometime in 2009, blogs about someone's huge and painfully religious family, but very few things that I would consider to be a person publicly reflecting on the events of their life and their feelings about them.

Now let's not get crazy here and consider anyone's high school LiveJournal to be high art. But fundamentally, these type of journals tend to be very reflective and I find reflection to be a compelling and maybe even beautiful thing to consume. Part of my enjoyment of it could be non-sexualized analogue of voyeurism, if such a thing exists. You end up getting insight to what can be very private elements of someone's life: what things have made them happy or sad, their doubts, their hangups. And you're able to do this without paying the price of expressing any interest or having to ask probing questions. It's especially poignant if you're familiar with the person in question. You get to peak into their thoughts on shared experiences or find out about elements of their life that you did not know about. And all this is laid before you: normally private thoughts, publicly free for the taking.

But that doesn't really answer the question of why I find it to be this enjoyable thing. I think it helps me build a more complete mental model of people, especially people that I know. I find the contextualization of behavior--really just acting differently based on who is around--to be a very frustrating quality. It interferes with the ability to understand how a person operates and what motivates them, what are the important tenets of their life. Mystery sucks, predictability and consistency are golden. Some behavioral contextualization is probably necessary for society to function; still, it annoys the shit out of me. In a public journal, the behavior is presumably less influenced by surroundings as a person is likely alone with their thoughts. This is far less annoying.

So where'd it all go? Probably the easiest explanation is just time. As students maybe people had more time to explore and record their thoughts. With more severely limited time reflection falls off the end of the list. That's not at all interesting to think about, though.

I wonder to what extent modern social media plays a role. With things like Facebook and Twitter serving as outlets of expression, is journaling online no longer as appealing? If this is true, I think it's kind of a shame. There's a certain polish that a Facebook status or Twitter update has. You're looking to make a short announcement in an attempt to get attention in a sea of other short updates. Whereas in a long-form online journal, there is much less of an emphasis on grabbing attention. Twitter and Facebook tend to show people at their best. Journals show people at a level that's potentially more honest and unrefined.

Another component may be a sense writing one's private thoughts publicly is a childish thing. What today seem like merely strong emotions today may seem embarrassing and misguided later. Sharing insecurities is probably unwise when it's trivial for someone to find them and possibly exploit them. I've felt this way in the past, destroying a college-era blog primarily because I would be embarrassed not by the things I had written, but by the things I contemplated writing and decided the next day was glad I didn't write about. A better example of this is the LiveJournal of a friend of mine. Heavily embarrassed by personal information that he shared he gutted the journal and very infrequently shares the details from this era.

Thus, in attempt to see ourselves as having grown beyond that, leaving this childish behavior behind, we cease to behave this way publicly. And that makes a great deal of sense to me. Sometimes I view the reflection that I do here as melodramatic. Multiple people have pointed to the writing here as concerning: evidence that I am not happy or not even satisfied with the life that I live.

But that I dispute. What we strive to accomplish through writing--just having written language--is to actually break down and understand complicated, ambiguous things. Mostly, the things that make us happy are not complicated. Writing about them serves nothing but to preserve them, and more than likely they will be preserved in our minds anyway. It's the complicated things--the events that we don't fully grasp, the things that make us feel ways that we can't express in few words, the weird unspoken parallels that exist between events-- that benefit from being written down. We take our thoughts and actually transcribe them into a wholly different form of expression. Though that process, we come a little bit closer to understanding. It's evidence that we're actually trying, and often failing, to comprehend the world around us.

So of course we're going to look vulnerable, unpolished, and childish. That's what we're supposed to write about. That's what makes people actually interesting. So why not do it in public?

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