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31.7.04

Blog Crushes And The Real You

Milbarge has a guest post at Crescat Sententia on the subject of blog crushes. My own admiration of various bloggers has been surprisingly free of romantic overtones*, though I do have some experience with message board crushes and IM crushes. Milbarge is concerned to respond to the criticism that online identities aren't the "real you," and so someone with a blog crush is falling for a fictional or deceptive personality. Now, it's obvious that blog personalities don't always match "real life" personalities. Blog crush critics assume that the latter is the "real you," while the former is fake whenever the two diverge. Certainly the scope for deliberate deception is greater online, but in my experience few of the people you meet online are the fabled 40-year-old pervert pretending to be a teenage girl.

Milbarge (echoed by Belle Waring) points out that it's quite possible for people to be very deceptive in person. This is true. Indeed, I'd take it farther even than Waring does, and say that blogging is just another arena of social interaction, so someone who spills everything online can't be said to be "really" shy no matter how withdrawn they are offline (or vice-versa). However, I think Milbarge and Waring accept one of the premises of the critics' argument: the claim that unchosen elements of personality are the "real you," while chosen elements are just an act. Stated so baldly, it seems strange to me. The real you is things that just happened to you, while things you put effort into shaping are less important?

When I think about who I am, and what I'd want others to know about me, I think of things that I've chosen to make part of myself, things I've worked on or fought for (or at least deliberately laid claim to out of my stock of natural traits). Indeed, a big part of the appeal of the internet is that, by giving you more control over your self-presentation, it helps you express the "real you" better than you can in real life. For example, I'm not just putting on a show in this blog -- I really am very interested in politics. But you'd hardly know that if you only knew me in person, because I'm no good at in-person political discussions. And if it weren't for the internet (or for print journalism before that, which shares some characteristics with political blogging) I never would have been able to create that aspect of my personality. In some respects, readers of my blog can see who I want to be, whereas real-life friends see only how I was born to be.

There is a reason that the premise that the automatic is more fundamental than the chosen has some validity in judging crushes. There is an assumption that still colors a lot of our thinking about romantic relationships, that once a long-term commitment is made, peopl relax and let it all hang out. By this view, the main reason people would swim against the current of their own inborn personalities is to impress a potential mate, so once the agreement is sealed, they don't need to keep up appearances anymore. If this is the case, then it is in one's best interests to find out about the unchosen elements of a prospective mate, and ignore the ephemeral chosen ones. But I don't think it's necessarily the case. People are acting all the time. What matters is the outcome, not whether it's natural or deliberate.

*(stupid comment removed)

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