Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Blog versus Diary: Just New Technology or a Whole New Way of Thinking?

Since college in the late eighties, I have been torn between two worlds. I have been "old fashioned" since I was a little girl. I love old books, old buildings, old documents, and old ways. I was the girl who wanted to be an archaeologist in six grade so I could learn more about King Tut and see what it was "really like" to walk like an Egyptian. I was the high school student who volunteered to organize old scrapbooks at the local Vanderbilt mansion so I could learn what it was like to live in a different time, under different circumstances, in big poofy dresses with early plumbing and electrical systems. Then I met my husband, who had been taking apart computers since the age of 11. He dragged me kicking and screaming from a typewriter to a computer so I could write my college papers in the newfangled way and move from the "dark ages." Next up, there came graduate school where I was thrust into technology and absorbed as much as I could. Finally, in my first job, I was hired as an archivist / reference librarian in a public library where my position quickly expanded to include "Internet Coordinator" and my transformation was complete...

"You are the youngest and fresh out of grad school so you know more about computers than the rest of us and we need a library web page." Marvelous!

I love computers. I love them because they help me make the connections between old and new that I so love to evaluate. I love using my computer for organizing, researching, photo editing, etc. I love to write things on my computer that I plan to share with others. BUT that's exactly what my computer is to me -- a tool for sharing. It is not for the things I plan to keep all to myself or for my family legacy.

For the private, I use my diary. It is a small book that I keep by my bedside and I write in it with a pen -- and I'm not ashamed to admit that I prefer the fancy old-fashioned kind of pen too. The kind that you may get once in a lifetime. I love the tactile feel of it all and of the cozying up under the covers, while reaching into my brain to figure out what is going on in there. A cup of tea beside me or a glass of wine helps too. The artifacts and environment are certainly part of the experience, but as usual I digress and will save that observation for a later day.

In some ways, this is a game of semantics as the words I use in my profession and to identify myself are slowly hijacked by those more ensconced in computer than I (I guess). My Twitter friend Dennis Moser said it well in his blog "Non-Flat Culture" in an article titled "Curate" Archives"...What's Next" . (Go take a look at his rant so that I don't have to repeat it.) I just wonder, should we use new words for new online things? Why do we have to forget about things like the value of being with ourselves to just hand over the words to new technology?

Now, let's take the word "blog." According to Wikipedia "A blog (a contraction of the term "web log")is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video." And there are many different types of blogs. The one that most interests me for this posting is the "personal blog" which crashes into my little world of off-line diary writing. According to Wikipedia, "The personal blog, an ongoing diary or commentary by an individual, is the traditional, most common blog. Personal bloggers usually take pride in their blog posts, even if their blog is never read. Blogs often become more than a way to just communicate; they become a way to reflect on life, or works of art. Blogging can have a sentimental quality. Few personal blogs rise to fame and the mainstream, but some personal blogs quickly garner an extensive following."

Obviously, I blog so I can appreciate this. I write this ArchivesInfo blog. I also maintain a Garden blog. I love using this media to communicate with the world. And that's the crux of it all. A blog is a tool of communication. I am not sitting down to work out my most private thoughts with myself. I am very much aware that you are reading what I am saying. So, is this just a new way to write my personal thoughts or is it a whole new way of thinking about personal thoughts? Should I be sharing my diary with you online as well? Is the private become less private and is that okay for us as a human race?

I once mentioned to my college advisor, who is also an enthusiastic diary keeper, that sometimes when I write in my diary I think about people who might one day read the diary. She was horrified and quickly said, "I NEVER think about that." To her, a woman about twenty years my senior, the diary is very personal. To me, a practical archivist living on the cusp of a huge change in society, I tentatively let go of some privacy, but yearn to keep some of it at the same time.

I am heartened by those who take on blogging as a means of expression, while at the same time I am disheartened that these people may totally give up the idea of diary writing. I am glad that computers (when people can get access to them) help level the playing field a bit, giving everyone a voice. But I don't want the old to be totally lost among the new. When we turn totally towards computing, we lose a bit of something special. Somehow, handing down my ThinkPad to my daughter is not the same as giving her a box of my diaries. This generation needs to think about whether blogging and other computer tools are just a new technology to make the old better or if we are beginning to think about culture in a whole new way. I believe that it is quite possible to we are losing a valuable piece of culture and self-expression by plunging ahead without appreciating what is behind.


  1. Hi Melissa,
    Very interesting. More then anyone, you somehow manage to post about what I've been currently writing about or working on. I have been composing a post about What makes a family history blog or story resonate with a broad readership.

    I'm fascinated by your thoughts on What should be Private and What you should share with everybody. I guess it really comes down to the reasons someone decides to write in the first place; ultimately what are we trying to achieve through sharing our thoughts with others.

    Computers and the internet have commoditized information. We can go to any number of websites to learn how to do something or what something costs. Maybe the only thing left that makes us special and unique as individuals are those personal thoughts and feelings. Will someone be able to turn those into an algorithm?

    Harry Delf

  2. Hi Harry,

    The Internet is very quickly changing how we communicate and how we function. In many ways this is a good thing, but I hope we consider all the implications before we get to the algorithm stage!

    I look forward to exploring this topic more with you!

    - MM

  3. Great post Melissa. And your right, very much related to my post about Dairy writing as a dying art. I'd love to do a survey of the different generations and see how many people are keeping a diary and how much has the incidence gone down!