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Editing The Past

Hugo Schwyzer is one of my favorite bloggers because he continues to falsify any theory I try to construct about what makes him tick. He manages to simultaneously bare his soul and keep his personal life a jealously guarded secret. He recently posted about the pitfalls of LiveJournal-style blogging, posting all the gory details of your day-to-day life. He's concerned that some of his youth group kids are being insufficiently cautious about what they post. I quite agree in terms of the need to remember who has access to what you write (though the use of friends filters and the brouhaha over "frienditto" a few months back suggest that most LJers are already thinking hard about these issues). Most of my life never shows up here or on my LJ, and I'm happy with that level of privacy.

But then Schwyzer offers another rationale for being more private that I'm not so keen on: "By documenting so many details of their intimate lives, many are losing the opportunity to start over, to change, to redefine themselves in the eyes of their peers, parents, and everyone else." I understand the need to be able to change, both internally and in the eyes of others. That change is easier when information about your past is not readily available. People have an understandable skepticism about claims to have changed, and are quite willing to use details of the past against each other.

On the other hand, I don't think that such documentation of the past is a bar to change. One need not (in some cases cannot) use the "born again" model, in which the past is wiped out or treated as if it belonged to a separate person. There is a role for being honest about what you have done and how you interpret it as part of the history of the person you are today. Having the "raw data" available can put a check on wishful thinking or rationalization about where you came from.

While I've never blogged (or even privately journaled) about the kinds of sex, drugs, etc. issues that Schwyzer is concerned about, but political opinions can be rather personal. I'm concerned about people -- including myself -- thinking that I'm a good writer with intelligent things to say. As I was building my personal website, I had the opportunity to edit my own past, picking and choosing what elements of my past writing were made available. I'll admit that I had a strong impulse to censor it, to decline to put up anything from my embarassing first couple years of political writing. Even now I cringe at the thought of people following the link and reading some of the things I wrote years ago. But I also felt that I would be a bit dishonest with myself if I did that. I don't want to be thought of as the kind of person who writes "Colgate's E-Mail Wars Could Teach NATO A Thing Or Two", but I'll accomplish that by putting it in the context of my development as a writer and thinker.

So be aware of what happens when you hit "post," but don't assume you must err on the side of privacy.


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