As a teenager, I spent countless hours justifying my online journal to my parents. To them, it was beyond comprehension why I’d want to write anything vaguely personal in a forum anyone could read, especially with so many Internet predators. And, after all, “when I was your age, I didn’t want people to read my diary.”
It’s not a diary, I’d argue, or at least it wasn’t to me. It was a way of communicating with my friends. I wrote about what happened at school, who everyone was dating and other gossip, and my friends could add their two-cents on the comments page. I was just another normal, awkward teenager leaving a trail of seemingly inconsequential thought on the Internet. But somehow, it made me feel connected knowing that someone knew my exact mood at that moment (based on LiveJournal’s canned list of emotions, everything from quixotic to bitchy) and my side of the latest gossip.
But after a while, my friends’ responses became less and less friendly. The gossip became mean-spirited as people surreptitiously targeted one another in their entries. Comment sections became battlefields for heated debates and even unprovoked personal attacks. At least a couple fifteen-year-old girls cried.
While our society assumes that only pre-teens (and sketchy adults masquerading as teenagers on the Internet) use websites like LiveJournal, such sites have unarguably revolutionized communication for our generation, and not necessarily for the best. With access to the Internet, anyone can author a blog – whether that person has something worth saying or not. But by giving adolescents the opportunity to voice their opinions in public – an opportunity once reserved for the supposedly more responsible members of the media – the Internet has allowed them to elevate high school drama to a tabloid-like level of sophistication.
Worse still, there’s a degree of suspended reality involved in Internet communication. Without face-to-face interaction, we can’t actually experience the consequences of our words, making it easy to hurt others without a second thought. On LiveJournal, we can gossip about our friends just as much as we gossip about our foes, publicly humiliating them without having to actually say it, let alone to their faces. Our generation has given “talking behind her back” a whole new meaning.
Unfortunately, it seems these incidents could grow with us, evolving from bouts of teenage drama to cases of adult immaturity. Forget about the kids who can’t write academic papers without a lol or two; what about the ones who keep their blogs into adulthood, thinking it’s okay to write frankly about how much they hate their bosses in order to unwind after a long day?
I guess I can’t blame my parents for wondering. Why do we want to share personal details with an unseen audience, poised for judgment? We all have different motives. Maybe we’re curious, participating to find out what other people are writing about themselves. Maybe we’re bored, treating Internet communication like the next fad after Beanie Babies. Maybe we’re lonely, writing in the hopes that someone will read and understand us a little better. And yeah, maybe we’re a little na’ve, too trusting that society will do the proverbial “right thing” and not harm us with the information we willingly supply. But too often, it does harm us – not necessarily in the form of the Internet predator that every parent so fervently fears, but in the form of the eighth-grade bully who grows into the college bully.
It would be easy to separate myself from that adolescent, armed with naivety and a blog, but it would be a lie. I gave up my LiveJournal in last August, finally convinced that I could not win the battle against hurtful, guiltless semantics by trying to be reasonable. Maybe the most mature decision our generation can make is just to leave some things unsaid.
-Emmarie Huetteman is the summer associate editorial page editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.