From Leonardo DaVinci to Bridget Jones, history is full of diarists. Regardless of motivation, humanity has had the urge to transcribe their thoughts and experiences. Some meticulously guarded—or, in Da Vinci’s case, coded—their writings against the prying eyes of would-be readers and others published their musings for mass consumption.
Though the practice of writing down personal thoughts has changed very little over the centuries, the technological revolution has added an entirely new dimension to the concept of the journal: the weblog.
Better known as a blog, this interactive digital diary, initially popular solely among the technologically inclined, has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity in the past five years. Technorati.com, a popular internet usage tracking blog, lists over 112,000,000 blogs active on the Internet today.
Websites such as LiveJournal.com affiliate themselves with the concept of diary keeping through their domain names and the option of keeping users’ entries private and inaccessible to the public.
Vincent Mosco, a Queen’s sociology professor said the two activities stem from very different impulses.
“The motivation to keep a journal is largely personal,” he said. “It’s to keep a record of what you’ve done and communicate it for your own self. … It’s typically not expected to be communicated with others.”
Blogs are intended for a wider public, and have more to do with peoples’ interest in expressing their opinions than creating a personal record of thoughts or achievements, Mosco said.
“I’ve been keeping a journal for the last 12 years and I haven’t missed a day. I simply write a couple paragraphs or so every night.” he said. “I do it—and I believe journal writers do it—as a way to reflect on what you’ve done, to recall your experiences.”
Although he has contributed occasionally to the blogs of others, Mosco said he has no desire to start one of his own.
“Journal writers tend to be a bit more insular,” he said, “Bloggers are likely to be more gregarious, less concerned about keeping their feelings and opinions to themselves.” he said, adding that the writing styles are similar, but the intended audiences are different.
“A blog is intended for an audience of as many as will listen and a journal is intended for an audience of one.”
But while the weblog has migrated far from its origins as a live journal, Mosco maintains they’re still related on a basic level.
“Both of them are very much connected to memory,” he said. “That is, to keeping a record of how you experience life.”
Dustin Freeman, Sci ’08, has been writing for an audience of many for three years. His blog, monkeyenterprises.blogspot.com, began as an attempt to hone his writing skills.
“Intitially it was putting words together in sentences to avoid writing reports,” he said. “Now it’s a way to keep people updated on things. I write personal news about myself, what I’m up to, my thoughts. A few of my friends read it and can comment, and they have their own blogs so we can comment on things we think are cool.”
Currently a dedicated blogger, Freeman kept a journal between grades 7 and 8 that he wrote in every day. He said the most rewarding thing about keeping a journal was being able to read through old entries later.
“It’s like a personal time machine,” he said. “It’s like a window into your mind at that time in your life. … But it felt sort of stupid to write stuff in a diary and hide it, so I [thought that I] might as well put it out in the public.” Freeman said with blogging came a new awareness of the content he was producing.
“I think there are these shells of privacy. With the journal, I only ever intended for myself to read
it, so I wrote personal things that I never expected anyone else to read, and that makes it different from the blog. The blog I made more personal, but now that I’ve realized people actually read it, I have to be careful with it.”
This is where multiple blogs come in. The blogosphere has expanded since its beginnings as a method of communication and updates between friends to a large network of different blogging websites fulfilling different needs.
“There are a lot of different types of blogs. I have a friend that keeps three.” Freeman said. “He’s a professor, and he keeps a professional, academic one, where he talks about his research, then he was one completely consisting of rants, where he talks about how people don’t know the difference between mayonnaise and miracle whip. Definitely not the kind of thing you link to from your school website, but something your friends can read because it’s funny. And then he has another one that is made up of things that he finds cool: links, products, etc. All of them are intended for very different audiences.”
As the demand for niche blogging has risen, it has created a higher demand for well-written, well researched blogs, which has in turn created a new job market: professional blogging.
Journalists, celebrities, gossip mongers and more have found there’s money to be made through the weblog—and a fair bit at that. Most of it comes from advertisers eager to attach their brands to high traffic sites.
Far from the private, insular world of the journal keeper, these professional bloggers rely on the size of their reading public to generate advertising interest.
Regardless of the channel we chose to utilize for self expression, it seems that documenting our thoughts, opinions and achievements is a high priority for many—consider it autobiography 2.0.
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