Can I blog this?

Just got off the phone with a colleague who is organizing an interesting event. What I should have said at the end of the conversation is “Can I blog this?” But I didn’t. I don’t think I’ve ever said that to anyone.

Self-disclosure in blogs — not just of one’s personal life, but of things directly related to one’s work — is difficult enough to manage: Do I tell you when I’ve done something incredibly stupid (yes, I usually do), or do I present myself as infallible? But an equally important question is what happens when I am reporting on others?

Take, for example, the two entries I’ve made most recently. In one, I report on something a friend has published in the local newspaper. I think it is obvious I can relay this without invading anyone’s privacy. In another, I present what someone has said in an “open” faculty meeting. I think I’m pretty OK there as well, though it’s really getting more fuzzy. Not mentioning my provost’s name, though this is easy enough to find out, was a deliberate attempt to leave my comments out of a Google search for her.

But much of my day is made up of meetings with individuals. Joi Ito has no problem blogging these meetings (complete with pictures). I wonder how his interlocutors respond to this. Does he ask them? Obviously, when the little camera comes out, they have to guess (?).

I’ve used creative ambiguity (including the diarists crutch: initials) to try not to overdisclose other people’s lives or the life of our organization. But it is hard to know whether my level of comfort in publishing my ideas and events meshes with that of others.

I remember when I first found that some of my students in a class at UW were keeping livejournals. Among the entries were very frank opinions of my teaching–mostly positive :). Others seemed to be simply keeping their diaries on-line, and were not shy about publishing the most intimate elements of their own lives. (This seems to be the norm among livejournalers.) One of these bloggers related in great detail the story of one of his friends coming out to him on the day of the entry. It was made clear that this person’s friend had not yet come out to his parents or others within their social circle. Yet here it was, on a screen for the world to see. It was unfathomable to me that someone could be so forthright about their own life, let alone the lives of those around them. I sometimes wonder if the MTV generation has a different feel for where the boundaries of private and public life exist.

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  1. Posted 2/27/2003 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    I don’t blog comments people make to me in private conversation – or a private meeting for that matter – unless I explicitly ask permission for it.. or I make it completely anonymous and impossible to trace to the person. What’s my incentive to respect people’s privacy in that way? Basic respect. And I also want them to keep talking to me. And I want to be able to trust them as well. These things are mutual, after all. If I were to make public some comment a friend/colleague/student/anyone entrusted me with then I would be betraying that trust. And next time they wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing with me anymore, nor would I with them. That would be very unfortunate.

    When you say: “I sometimes wonder if the MTV generation has a different feel for where the boundaries of private and public life exist.” – I wonder, rather, whether they realize what it really means to publish something on livejournal. I don’t know if they really understand how public that is in the end.

  2. Posted 2/27/2003 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    Good point. Now everyone’s your mom and almost everyone has a key. ;)

  3. Posted 2/27/2003 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    This is off topic but I noticed that two or your XML links at pointing to different ports on and I figured that’s probably not the way they were supposed to be :)

  4. Posted 3/1/2003 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    I generally ask. Sometime I ask after the fact so this delays my posting. Most people are happy to be blogged about. On the other hand, I usually write good things about people I blog. Having said that, I try to make it a point to avoid having meetings with people I don’t link. As I am learning once again, the best way to deal with people I don’t like is to ignore them. ;-p

  5. Cory
    Posted 3/6/2003 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me of the “Simpsons” episode, where homer is Mr. X. He made his “blog” of sorts, although by operational definition it may not be a blog (I think it’s reasonably close enough to consider in this case), by reporting on people’s private lives. Once his secret got out that he was “blogging” the private lives of others, he was instantly outcasted. I think in principal if you don’t get permission you are intruding on ones privacy. I also think if ambiguous enough however, that you aren’t. When is ambiguous ambiguous enough?

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