The immortality of words on the internet

It’s been a strange week for me. My dad and my aunt both underwent significant surgeries, and my boyfriend had a terrifying experience with Clear Air Turbulence on his business trip to South America. Meanwhile I’ve been home alone, wrestling with my thoughts and emotions about it all. Many times I’ve wanted to blog about what’s going on, but each time I sat down to do it, I found myself… hesitant, unable.

(For the record, both surgeries went well, and Andy has already flown twice since the CAT incident.)

The thing about the internet is, it’s forever. And also, it’s full of strangers. And though I may think I’m saying something harmless, I don’t really know who’s reading or how they might interpret my words.

In general, I’m not one of those people who fears that what they say will get twisted and shoved back in their face. I believe in the goodness and rationality of mankind. I figure that if someone misunderstands me — or even if I really do mess up and say something stupid — I can clarify and be forgiven. Life will go on.

Furthermore, who’s really listening, right? I’m not John Green or Heather Armstrong or Ashton Kutcher. I have my little circle of friends (you guys ROCK, btw) so what’s there to worry about?

Well, that’s where the “forever” part comes in. In real life, when we have late night conversations with our friends, where we ramble for so long that we start to forget what we’re saying even as it comes out of our mouths, it’s no big deal. We’re expressing a single thought in a single moment. Then the moment passes. Like a footprint in the sand, the thought has made it’s impression, and then it gets washed away. Harmless.

On the internet, moments don’t pass. They can be stumbled upon or searched for, days or weeks or years later. Even deleting your words doesn’t guarantee that they can’t be found. (Thanks, Google cache.) Maybe I’m not famous now. Maybe I don’t have enemies or “haters” yet. But maybe someday I will.

Look, I don’t believe in living my life in fear. But I also don’t believe in living in ignorance. So all I’m trying to say is, sometimes I don’t know how much to say.

(I realize that for something like health scares and traumatic plane rides, I’m probably safe. Short of crazies or trolls, no one’s going to attack me about that stuff. But this issue of “what you say online” has been on my mind for a while. And not just for my own blog, but also for comments, and discussions boards, and Twitter, and everything.)

It’s funny, because this is part of why we all blog, right? We want someone to read our words, to connect, to respond. It’s not about agreeing all the time (because wow, that’d be boring). It’s about sharing experiences, ideas, and opinions. It’s about learning and growing and feeling. It’s about adding our thread of life to this vast digital web.

So I’m not going to stop blogging, and I’m not going to stop getting personal. But I guess I just wanted to say that it’s not always easy. That there are valid concerns, and I don’t always know what to do about them. So I have to proceed as I would with anything else: the best I can, and with good intentions. Hopefully that’s enough.

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19 Comments

  1. I hope so too. That’s all you can do really. Is it worth it? I think sometimes you just need to take a chance. The world needs diverse voices and I don’t want to be afraid. (though sometimes I am)

  2. PREACH, girl.

    I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, too. Right now I’m in a place where I am comfortable with writing (almost) anything and not worrying about who sees it or what, but I try not to let that take too much control because I have no idea where I will be in 10 years, even 5 years, even NEXT year. I have a naturally big mouth and I’ve toned my blog down a lot since I’ve made career changes and what not, but I still think of an anonymous blog I had when I was 19-21ish where I just vomited any thought I had, good or bad, vile or obscene, onto the page and thought “well it’s entertaining so who cares!” It’s not like anyone knows about it now, but I feel like if someone who was going to hire me saw that, they’d think I was a total unprofessional brat who couldn’t control her mouth or thoughts, and that would suuuck. Plus, I am a totally different person now than I was then.

    In a way it could be like getting a tattoo. Those tribal rose lower back tattoos were trendy and cute for about a year, but now it’s seen more as “ohhh, one of THOSE girls. She totally went to Cancun for senior spring break and won the wet t-shirt contest, then bought that with the money.” (I hope that makes sense to someone other than me).

    So anyway, I totally understand, and have made a lot of changes to the way I approach blogging because who knows if you will want the same image in a few years?

  3. Oh, one more thing (even though that was the longest comment ever):

    It seems difficult, but I think there is also an art to keeping the professional image you want to maintain without compromising or sacrificing your true voice and personality.

  4. Les

    I hear you loud and clear on that one.

  5. Emily

    Kristin,

    I am glad to hear that everyone is safe and sound. I hope you were able to find comfort with friends.

    I have a hard time believing that you would ever say anything “wrong.” My opinion is that if someone were to take anything you would say the wrong way, then they don’t understand you and never will. You will never make everyone happy. Stay true to yourself and you will go far!

  6. It is tricky sometimes, isn’t it, and since I had a child it is even trickier. But I have pretty much the same philosophy as you. Since we are not weirdo crazies with regularly-voiced extreme opinions (other than my extreme passion for chocolate) we will probably be ok.

    What a week for you – glad everyone is ok.

  7. So glad to hear everyone is alright, but so sorry that you had such a stressful week.

    I often stop and think about the same thing — not that anything I post would necessarily elicit polarizing reactions, but more so because, like you said, anyone can read what’s out there. That makes me stop and think before posting pictures of family members, friends, their children, etc. There’s definitely a balance to maintain.

    You’re right, though: a blog belongs to the person who writes it, and the exact point OF writing it is to add your two cents and share your own stories. That’s what draws people in, and, maybe more importantly, what brings us all such an important outlet :)

  8. I’m always cautious (or I try to be) about what I write online. I’ve seen people get hurt and embarrassed by writing without thinking. But you can go too far in the other direction, too. As Stephen Watkins said at the bottom of his last post (paraphrasing) “Let the flame wars begin….. Oh, right, I don’t have enough readers to have a flame war.” Bad stuff can always happen, even if we never go online ever. I try to be reasonably cautious, but I do want to enjoy myself and accomplish things, and that involves taking a few chances.

  9. Sounds fair enough to me. :) I think this is why a lot of writers tend to stick to positive comments, etc. They don’t want to bring negativity and misunderstanding their way…and there’s good reason for that. Things blow up a lot around the blogo, which is unfortunate.
    I’m kind of uncertain about posting personal stuff, not because I’m worried it will get unwanted attention…but because it’s so fleeting.

  10. Yes, it is tricky when you are YOU online. When I first started blogging, oh, eight or so years ago, I used a pseudonym and didn’t tell anyone I knew “in real life” (except my partner) about it, so I wrote whatever I wanted to write, and it was quite freeing and exhilarating in some ways, but I missed being able to talk to “real people” about my blog. So now I’m more careful about what I write, and even trying to be careful, I’ve written things that I decided later that I shouldn’t have, so I’ve deleted a few posts and tweets here and there (just deleted a tweet today!).

    I think that if you’re famous, you run the risk of people copying and pasting your words, and in that case, you can’t really get rid of them. But I’m fairly certain no one is going to that length with my musings, and google cache doesn’t last forever, does it? Isn’t it only there until the next bot comes around for a new crawl?

  11. I think that you have the right balance, Kristan. We can’t be too naive in what we say and how it might be used, but your belief in the goodness and rationality of humans is well-founded. And the alternative is so depressing! I love your blog.

  12. Great topic. This is something I’ve thought about alot lately, too. A similar topic was mentioned on another blog I read in which the author wrote a very polarizing editorial on illegal immigration. She surely offended some people, but felt she had to take a stand in order to say *something.* I felt her pain, and actually appreciated that she didn’t play it safe. It didn’t matter to me whether I agreed with her or not; I was more impressed that she took a risk and actually said something. But, to your point, her words may come back to bite her.

    You always make sensible comments. I don’t think you need to worry. At least, not about your words. Worrying about your family is another matter. I’m glad everyone is okay.

  13. Stephan Hilson

    I could relate to the feeling of expressing my thoughts through blogging. And I was also hesitant on making a post about it so I tried to make a way to divert my thoughts and make something productive of my time. I am glad that the surgeries of those people who are close to you went well and your boyfriend seems to recover from Clear Air Turbulence incident. Thanks for sharing your interesting article.

  14. Thanks for the well wishes, everyone. Dad, aunt, and boyfriend are all doing well now. Better than expected, in fact!

    T.S.-
    “Is it worth it?” Well that’s a good question. I’m not sure how you can measure the value of blogging (or commenting or anything else on the internet). I guess it’s all dependent on the person. In my case, I’d say my online life enriches my real life. I’ve made several friends (including you!) through the internet over the years. Had some opportunities. Hope to have/make some more.

    Mandy-
    You, big mouth? Never. ;)

    I agree, there’s definitely an art in walking the line of personal/professional online. There’s also an art in walking the line of being yourself and expanding your horizons to what works. I find you hilarious, but if I wrote/blogged in your style, I’d be faking it. Sometimes that’s hard for me to remember too: be myself. Carefully. Lol.

    Emily-
    Thanks!

    Amanda-
    Yeah, I think a lot of my ruminations about my online presence started when I graduated (i.e., had a job) and then really ratcheted up once my friends and family started having kids whose lives I was a part of.

    Shari-
    Balance is a good word for it. I think that’s what Mandy’s comment was getting at too. But like you said, if we don’t inject some of ourselves into it, then what’s the point? Then the internet would be filled with the same 2 or 3 or 10 blogs and that’s it.

    Anthony-
    Yep! Good point. Isn’t there a saying about how someone who never takes risks is someone who never accomplishes anything? Something like that…

    Sarah-
    True true. I’m a positive person in general, which I think tends to keep me on the safe side of things, but (as you know ;P) I’m also strongly opinionated. As others have said, I guess I have to strive for balance.

    And yes, life is fleeting. I think that’s why memory, faulty as it is, is better than the internet, in terms of experiences.

    Sonje-
    I’ve thought about going anonymous, but there can be a lot of stress involved in keeping that kind of a secret. For me personally, I think it would be worse than the worries I have now.

    And yes, copying & pasting is another problem. Google Cache may not be permanent, but it’s automatic. C&P might last longer, but is less common. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

    Graeme-
    Thank you so much! It’s reassuring to hear that. :)

    Juliann-
    “It didn’t matter to me whether I agreed with her or not; I was more impressed that she took a risk and actually said something.” That’s such a great attitude. I don’t even think I’m that… big of a person, usually. But I’ll keep trying to follow your example in the future!

    Stephan-
    Thank you for visiting and commenting! I hope you can find the right balance for your words too. :)

  15. Jon

    Agreed about internet privacy. Just thinking about that the other day.

    It helps to have a name like Jon Peters. Nobody can find you on Google–unless they really really want to, or are Jedi-level good. I have always thought of changing the name to something more distinctive, but then again, it is nice to have that anonymity sometimes!

  16. I think that’s a smart way to proceed. I don’t think about this much because I have a pretty clear idea of what I do and don’t want to share online. I have other issues surrounding social media, though – like how frequently to blog and what focus my blog should have. Those are the questions I struggle with every week. I guess none of us really know the answers and are all just doing the best we can.

  17. Jon-
    Haha, yeah, anonymity CAN be nice. Not too many Kristans around, though… (Then again, my name gets misspelled a lot.)

    Meghan-
    Yup, I struggle with that sometimes too. At the end of the day, it’s MY blog, so it’s about me and the things I find interesting. I figure that’s gotten me plenty of friends in real life, lol.

  18. Oh my goodness! Glad everyone is ok.

    Great point about the permanence of stuff posted on the internet. I never had to worry about this issue when I was a lurker, and still tend to err on the side of silence now, but it’s definitely something I should consider more carefully. Thanks for the reminder!

  19. Comments and such are probably “safer” than blog posts — I think search engines assign them lower rankings/priorities — but yes, we should still carefully consider anything we say on the internet.

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