Douglas Rushkoff:
June 29, 2000 2:01 PM   Subscribe

Douglas Rushkoff: "The myth of the internet - and one I believed for a long time - is that most people really want to share the stories of their own lives." And I'd add to that: most of those people who DO want to share their own stories really don't know how to do it. And that includes me...
posted by ericost (13 comments total)
Look at the incredible uniformity we find in the blogging community. Surely people are more varied in their persons than they are in their blogs.

I think it must be that we have not really been taught how to tell our stories. Some people have the gift and are encouraged to create, to take creative writing classes, etc. Others have not until recently had much of an outlet nor a motivation for personal story telling, and the lack of practice shows.

But the internet screams out for us to use it to talk to each other and about ourselves. The kids in elementary school today, the ones who grow up with a computer wired to the internet in the rumpus room, in the classroom, in the refrigerator, surely they, as native internet citizens, will be different from us. Will they speak the story telling language naturally?
posted by ericost at 2:50 PM on June 29, 2000

But by Rushkoff's definition - that content is measured only by its success in enabling other people to talk about it (content) with other people - weblogs are working.

Witness this site.

Look: it's not as complicated as we'd like to make it, thus requiring some dramatic solution. The only thing standing in the way of personal narrative on the web is the ego and attendant neuroses of the personal narrativist. Hence the repetitive battles over links and egos and elitism and whatever else we allow ourselves to be distracted by - instead of the story that needs to be told.

We can tell stories just fine - we just need to get out of our own way.

posted by gsh at 3:04 PM on June 29, 2000

Uh, yeah, ditto. What gsh said.

Sometimes it's hard (for me, I'll speak for myself) to remember that not every conversation - at parties, at work, with family or flatmates or significant others or therapists or whoever - needs to be about something major.

Sometimes shooting the shit has a huge amount of social value. That's what I get from Rushkoff's article - that people are starting to figure out how to use the interactiveness of the web & the net to actually get to know other people.

I mean, really, why do people come here to read and post things? If it was all about one way communication (in or outward), we'd just put up pages & type words into search engines randomly when we got bored.

There's an occasional conversation going on here. And if it's sometimes about someone or something I would never know about other than through here, even if it's inane or boring (but especially if it isn't), then more to the good.

I don't see a downside, really.
posted by chicobangs at 3:24 PM on June 29, 2000

Whenever I read an article like this I have to wonder if the author's spent any time exploring the web at all. What a load of twallop.

There's a huge number of people sharing their stories online, but you won't find them if you stick to the sites of gloss and hype. Diaries, online journals, personal narratives -- call them what you will, but they've been around since 1995 and show no sign of abating. The registry, for example, lists over three thousand sites, and that's only the tip of the iceberg.

What's stopping these pages getting recognition in the way that weblogs (a far less interesting form of personal page, in my opinion) do? Two things, I think.

Firstly, the time investment. Reading a new journal is like coming into a movie half way through a major plot arc when you still don't even know who the characters are. You have to accept that you're going to be a little confused for a while. (Or read the archives, which could be anywhere from a few days to a couple of years. The longest continual journal that I know of is The Mighty Kymm, who's written every single day since May 1996.)

Secondly, online journalers don't seem to promote themselves as vigorously as those who create other kinds of personal site. I suspect the intimate nature of the writing is a factor in this, but it may well not be the whole reason.

For those interested in reading some good personal writing on the web, a baker's dozen of recommendations:

First Person Particular.
Plaintive Wail.
Foot Notes.
scherzi e sospiri
Sticky Fingers.
World Wide Jeb.
Bad Hair Days (also a good weblog, but read the journal entries).
And The Mighty Kymm, of course.

There's all sorts of lives and lifestyles in that group -- young, older, single, married, those with kidlets, straight, gay and places in between.

Read. Enjoy.
posted by Georgina at 9:22 PM on June 29, 2000

No, the myth of the Internet is that most people really want to read the stories of others' lives. The daily hit count on 99+% of all personal pages - including most webloggers - is in the single digits. On a lot of them the monthly hit count is in the single digits. Sure, anyone can publish, and that's great. But almost all of it is a forest of trees hitting the ground where nobody's around to hear it. Unless you're an amazingly good writer, and/or know the tricks of getting free advertising for your site, you're going to be mostly baying into the wilderness.
posted by aaron at 9:52 PM on June 29, 2000

I was reading an article recently bemoaning the contemporary distaste for journal keeping, a popular past time for centuries prior to this one. The historical record will have a gap in it - roughly concurrent with the invention and popular adoption of the telephone - when it comes to information relating to individuals' lives. From the Long Time perspective, maybe we should consider that these online journallers are doing History a favor, whether anybody reads their work now or not.
posted by m.polo at 6:58 AM on June 30, 2000

Aaron, you've improved my day.

My hits are in the mid-30s to low 40s, and I was worried about it. :-)
posted by baylink at 7:05 AM on June 30, 2000

Some insightful comments here. Thanks all!

IMHO, the art of storytelling is taking a seemingly innocuous incident and, in the writing or presentation, connecting it to a universal human experience.

I've been writing on my photographs for some time. I like to tell little stories, snippets of conversation, that illuminate, in as simple a way as possible, some emotion or thought that many of us can relate to. However, the details make it specific to me or my experience.

posted by Taken Outtacontext at 9:08 AM on June 30, 2000

I am a lone voice crying into the wilderness. So what if people aren't interested? That doesn't make it any less important. Everybody has something to say or a story to tell. Some of us are just better at shameless self promotion than others.
posted by Mr. skullhead at 3:11 PM on June 30, 2000

I've played with online journaling and weblogging and personal narrative at my own websites and all that. I find when I post to my site I have a small following of mostly well-wishers. Friends. Occasionally some stranger will show up and either give positive or negative vibes, but what actually works better is to go into active online communities like this one or H2G2, the MP3c or others and join in an active conversation.

Blogging is fun at my own homepage, but sometimes it feels like talking to myself. Or talking to a wall. I've seriously been contemplating getting some webspace again and doing something similar to what I walked away from but hopefully having learned from my mistakes. I hesitate to waste the money though. Why create yet another destination when there's already destinations out there? And I'm all spread out. People email me and unless they specify from what they're responding to, I don't know which website they found me on. it's kinda neat. It's like spreading the butter evenly on the toast instead of just glumping it in the middle and hoping the bread's warm enough to melt it.

The virtual conversation is happening, but it's happening at portals and community servers. Places like MeFi. That's where the action is.

posted by ZachsMind at 8:49 AM on July 2, 2000

Or maybe THE ACTION is happening at software companies and standards bodies, and everything we do is merely a proof of concept.

In the long run - looking back from twenty years into the future - the infrastructure may look like the achievement of this age, and all of our scribblings and doodlings may be as forgotten as the conversations that went on between the slaves who built the pyramids.
posted by Zeldman at 1:40 PM on July 2, 2000

I find this all unbelievably sad. People saying they want to tell their stories but don't know how, people saying they want to tell their stories but no one will want to read them anyway, people comparing our storytelling to nobodies in another epoch.

Sorry, but you're missing the point.

The point is not to share your stories for all eternity (though if it happens, good for you). The point is not to become as popular as [insert web celebrity here]. The point is to share the human experience, now, right now, and to read and respond to the experiences of others. MeFi is one such way to do this. Online writing in any form, be it articles, opinion pieces, or a journal, is another.

I've been journaling since Feb last year and the amount of response I've received has been remarkable. I'm constantly amazed, in sharing parts of myself with others, how generous people are in sharing in return.

We can't all be web celebrities. We won't all get thousands of hits a day. So what?

Do it anyway.
posted by Georgina at 10:47 PM on July 2, 2000

But consider.

With traditional forms, the artist speaks not only to her contemporaries, but also to those who will come after.

Dickens wrote for his age, but Dickens is still read today. And since Dickens had read Shakespeare and Johnson and Swift (people who came before him) he probably had an idea that his work might live on as theirs had.

It is a form of immortality sought by all artists.

Well, our medium is mutable and impermanent. There lies its excitement and joy, but there also lies the reality that few of our online achievements will be memorialized.

It's not "unbelievably sad," it's just a simple statement of fact.

And if it is fact, then the real achievement of the age will probably be the building of the networks (hardware and software) rather than what was written or designed by you or me.

Celebrity, schmelebrity. That has nothing to do with it. We are atoms.

Jeez, I wasn't trying to bring anybody down.

But if I had been:

We're all going to die anyway.
posted by Zeldman at 12:42 AM on July 3, 2000

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