In a conversation I had the other day, we got onto the subject of mommybloggers at one point. I’m fairly ambivalent about this group, not being one of them, and with those I do follow, it’s more about the quality of writing than the specific topics a lot of the time.

The person I was talking to, however, was not a fan. Far from it. Particularly the higher profile ones. (It seems everyone’s either Heather Armstrong’s biggest fan or wants to see her drawn and quartered.) His vitriol, as I understood it, was content-centric, both in that their content lacked value, and that they had no business writing about a lot of what they were writing about in the first place. (And that they’d eventually reap what they sowed.) This person is no Luddite and is well aware of the internet landscape.

My side of the argument was basically that, if I don’t like their content, I can vote with my mouse. I don’t have to read their blog posts, buy their books or t-shirts, or click their site ads. These women are practising their craft, making friends, building communities, and supporting their families. More power to ’em for that, I say. And if I don’t agree with the appropriateness of some content, not only do I not have to read it, but it’s not me they have to answer to. It’s not my life, foibles, or diaper-clad bum on display, as it were.

The argument has raged on more than one occasion regarding how much exposure of personal and family life is appropriate online, both in terms of identity and security and in terms of right to privacy. (And let’s face it, privacy online, at best, comes with a giant asterisk beside it.)

Some bloggers use full names, some refer to their kids and partners only by nicknames. Some say things about their marriages or kids’ behaviour that may make for entertaining stories and establish a certain schtick, but, I admit, occasionally leave me wondering what the people think who are the subjects of these tales. (Often the kids are too young — for now — to read blogs, but partners and other family members aren’t.)

I recall, as a kid, times when Mom embarrassed the hell out of me or my brother — always inadvertently — but the damage was done nonetheless. I’ve done the same to her, too. These instances were always verbal, though, and not recorded, or even likely to be repeated. Blogging is different. It’s pretty permanent. Even if you delete the blog, the internet is the biggest experiment in distributed memory the human species has ever undertaken.

So if the kids get older, find the blog, read the contents, and get upset, demanding that mom remove the content isn’t going to have that great an effect. Plus, there’s a good chance that it’s already been out there for years, anyway. (The same goes for friends, mothers-in-law, future employers, etc. seeing content.)

There’ve already been cases where blog content has been used in court in custody battles and (I think) divorces. And “dooced” (being fired from your job for things you’ve written on your blog) has been a verb for some time now.

But then something occurred to me. I was thinking about all this from a very 20th century mindset. (As, I suspect, was the person I was talking to, who is a decade older than I am.) People might react negatively or with surprise to the contents of blogs now, because it can still be surprising to see what people are willing to say or admit in public. Traditionally, the airing of dirty laundry tends to be done sotto voce over coffee. It’s shared and commented on plenty within the “community”, and God help you if you’re the person it’s about.

But that’s changing. Yes, on one front people are becoming ever more conscious of personal brands, and are crafting their online personas to reflect what they want those googling them to see. At least once a week I see someone making a comment on Twitter to remember it’s the same as any other online property, and don’t say anything on there you wouldn’t want found later.

At the same time, though, plenty of other people are starting to just… live out loud. They’re adopting the transparency that social marketers keep preaching, and don’t care what gets found out about them. And if, say, an employer passes on them because of something found online, then oh well, it wasn’t the kind of place they wanted to work, anyway.

I should point out, though, that such people aren’t the same as those who are all for transparency… as soon as they get their personal online brands and presences nicely tidied up. Too bad, really. Dirty laundry tends to be quite easily monetized.

An extension of the evolution from “private” to public, verbal to online, applies to the kids of these bloggers as well. (I suppose there’s an element of “suck it up, buttercup” that comes from the aforementioned attitude.) I don’t think a day has gone by since my niece was born that she hasn’t had at least one picture or some video shot of her. And some of this content is online. With my sister-in-law’s family being out west, online is the best and fastest format for sharing this stuff.

Additionally, the kids themselves are growing up online as well. They’re Webkinz-ing and Club Penguin-ing and building their own communities, establishing and evolving their own brands (no, really) etc. I know of a number of kids, even pre-school age, who have blogs that mom or dad help with. So by the time these kids are old enough to read mom’s blog… are they even going to care what it says?

And these kids’ employers aren’t going to be our employers. They’re going to be folks who also grew up online and understand not only how to research people, but how to filter what you find. As for employers that still care, that frown on party pictures and text speak and body piercings? Well, they’re going to have a hard time hiring and keeping good talent.

Because when you’ve been posting your whole life online from your mobile device since puberty, do you really think these next gen corporate citizens are going to accept having their email blocked at work? And who, come to think of it, paid for that mobile device for your 14th birthday from her website profits in the first place?

2 Comments on Dirty laundry?

  1. Good post Melle. Let me offer another (older) perspective.

    I live my life in public online. My online personal includes my blog, Facebook, Twitter, Dopplr and several other specialized social media sites. If I’m travelling to San Franciso next week, readers of my social media know it. If I’m speaking to a group, they know that too. Sometimes, they know about the bad as well as the good of my worklife (my colleagues blog as well.) 😉

    But (hopefully) they don’t know anything about my family. I want to protect my children as long as possible. I want them to make their own decisions. I hover over their computers and I counsel them on safe computing.

    In the real world we live in, I think there can be too much transparency for the minors we love…

    Does this make me a dinosaur?

  2. Nope, you’re right about on track with what I think. I think kids should be taught to be media savvy just as we teach them to look both ways before crossing the street, not to talk to strangers, etc. After all, we live online just as much as we live in the “real” world these days. And just as you wouldn’t send a little kid out in public on his/her own, I wouldn’t send a kid online that way, either, until he/she is old enough to know how to get around, how to stay safe, etc.

    That said, I still think that “privacy” online is a relative term. I don’t believe it’s possible to maintain or retain 100% privacy. After all, for every person you meet, there’s another person who could choose to “out” information you would rather not be public, and as soon as it’s out, you can’t retrieve it. However, you can still be smart about things.

    As for parents talking about their partners and kids online… I think the privacy/security side of it is just as minefield-laden as the familial relationships/disclosure side. However, it’s not up to me to decide what someone else feels is “appropriate” behaviour. I see that as little different than any other unsolicited parenting advice.

    Of course, we all know that invisible strangers online are never viciously judgmental… 🙂

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