Last week, I received an e-mail from a reader that told a discouraging tale. The reader explained that the story might one day become a blog post. The reasoning? It might prove a cautionary tale to help others avoid a similar situation.
I cautioned against sharing it.
I caution a lot of bloggers anymore. Too many of us have an idealized view of how the world works. In addition, none of us is prescient enough to understand what the world will become. We believe an innocent activity will always stay innocent. People can be trusted with your confession and mine.
I’ve been blogging since 2001. I had a blog before Cerulean Sanctum that dealt with the tendency in our society toward lowest common denominator thinking and action. I still write in Cerulean Sanctum about that fatal flaw, but not quite as much. Bigger fish to fry, as they say.
As I enter my seventh year of blogging, I’ve accumulated some painful lessons.
Blogging is an essentially naked enterprise. You can’t blog for any length of time and not post personal information. Even on a site like Engadget or Lifehacker, blogs that look at what’s happening in the world of electronic gizmos or discuss ways to make your day-to-day living more efficient in a hectic world, the blog owners reveal personal details bit by bit. In many ways, your blog is you.
Godblogs go one step further in that the very nature of talking about faith exposes the talker on an intimate level. We’ve all heard the aphorism that polite company resists talk of religion and politics. Blogging, on the other hand, delights in discussing the raw truths and lies that occupy the core of what we are as a society and as individuals.
And there is much danger in this. Danger that we ignore at our peril.
1. Google has a long, vast memory – I can find material on Google that I posted to Usenet newsgroups 20 years ago. Little did I know that someone would one day collect all that data and store it forever. Google bought up the archives of Remarq and DejaNews and now you can find what I said on alt.rec.music.christian circa 1987.
When I typed that Usenet comment, did I ever dream that someone in Singapore 2007 would use a “Web browser” to access a “search engine” to reference something I said around the time that “Walk Like an Egyptian” was the #1 song in America?
Truth is, I should have known better.
Today, Google (and whatever search engine will replace it one day—hey, Alta Vista, anyone?) is cataloging what you blog almost as fast as you blog it. All your personal revelations are being stored on a massive conglomeration of RAID-arrayed hard drives for access by anyone who wants to know about you now and in the future.
Just the other day, a client asked me to interview a businessman. I sent a brief note asking the businessman what time he might be available. I later called him. In the course of conversation, he asked me about my organic farm. I was stunned. How did he know I had an organic farm? Simple—he’d googled my name and read what I’d written online.
While that should be obvious, it’s still startling when it occurs. What’s more startling is that people are beginning to default to that behavior. Singles google prospective dates. And businesses google prospective employees.
The Wall Street Journal recently had an article that described in great detail how employers are bypassing the old-fashioned means of getting info on an employee and going right to Google. So if you’d like to work for Microsoft, but a youthful indiscretion a small eternity ago led you to post on your Web site a pic of Bill Gates as a Borg clone (possibly with added devil horns to ensure your mixed-metaphorical point), it doesn’t matter how much you fawn over Microsoft products today. You may need to stick a fork in yourself.
Even personal Web sites or blogs you had years ago that are now offline or deleted are stored in sites like the Wayback Machine at Archive.org. You press that Submit or Publish button and your little comment is now one for the ages.
As Christians, we need to be highly concerned about where this is leading. Non-sectarian employers, by law, cannot ask us about our religious or other closely held beliefs. But no one can stop them from googling us and finding our less-than-positive article blog post about Zoroastrianism or homosexuality or even Fiat automobiles. When your potential boss, a closeted Zoroastrian who loves Italian cars with a passion (even the crummy ones), googles your name and finds your opinion on your blog, what chance do you have of working for that guy? Zippo. And the worst part of it is he doesn’t have to prod you for that info or give his real reason for not hiring you. It all stays very hush-hush.
If you’re a blogger, you must consider these things. We may think there is no cost, but one exists. The Church in the West has not accounted for this phenomenon, but it will need to. As anti-Christian sentiment continues to rise around the world, we must be prepared to help those who pay a price for speaking the truth. I can tell you right now that there are people reading this blog who have been discriminated against by search engine. Expect it to get worse.
2. Stalking – Stories are starting to come out about bloggers being threatened with violence because of something they wrote. Some bloggers have even acquired stalkers. That may sound far-fetched, but I’ve spoken with a few bloggers who told me stories I didn’t want to believe.
We live in a sin-sick world. People exist who derive strange feelings from their interactions with others online, and bloggers are not immune to their dysfunctions. It’s no longer just celebrities who attract deranged people.
We need to run a constant filter on the content we put out in public. While it may be true that we can’t account for every trigger for every off person out there, we must be wiser on this issue. Even now, I’m reconsidering some of the content I’ve placed online.
3. Blogging can be an addiction – While there are fewer personal journal blogs percentage-wise than a few years ago, they still exist. And even if a blogger doesn’t use his or her blog as an online diary, it can still take on a life of its own.
Some bloggers can’t walk away. The thought that their hit counters start going down if they don’t post for a few days leads to despair. Some live out their entire lives online and the thought of anything happening to what they’ve built up becomes a crushing load that keeps them writing and writing and writing. And that writing often comes to the detriment of their spiritual lives and the lives of other family members.
Here’s a hard blogging truth: readers are fickle. As much as I love my readers and have some of the best readers in the blogosphere, reality is reality. I had to reference a post from a few years back and only one commenter out of about thirty on that post still comments. C’est la vie! If you’re constantly living in fear that you can’t hold folks, then get out today. You have to have another reason for blogging than numbers and their faithfulness to you.
I could say a lot more on this topic. I haven’t touched on the social network sites and how they are being used in nefarious ways, too. Life online is more dangerous than we think. More and more people are going to scratch their heads and wonder why they didn’t get a job they were perfect for or why supposed friends stopped calling. Information is power and the Web is pure information. Those who know how to tap its resources hold considerable sway over us.
I may be giving away my age (and it might be used against me <grin>), but I remember a line from a famous TV show that applies to this issue: Hey people, let’s be careful out there.