Am I a blog stalker?

I've been reading this family blog, but they don't know. I think they think it's private!


Cary Tennis
October 23, 2009 4:18AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I have appreciated your column for some time now, and have particularly appreciated your notes on detachment and family relationships.

Through a well-known search engine, I stumbled upon the blog of a family friend. Our families, while never particularly close, grew further apart when their family moved across country over 20 years ago. This person probably doesn't remember me well (if at all), but I find their family blog (thoughts, photos of their children, etc.) interesting and oddly compelling.

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Recently, this person has mentioned something on the blog about taking their blog private and also about blog stalkers. I suppose I could be considered a blog stalker, as I haven't identified myself as a reader to the blog owner.

I am a regular reader and appreciate their writing.

Is it a reasonable expectation, if you have a public blog, that only people you know will read it?

Personally, I think it's a bit naive. This is the Internet, after all. And a person only has a limited expectation of privacy when they make some information public -- particularly on the Internet.

Obviously, this person has noticed that I (and possibly others) have stumbled upon their blog. Through the magic of the Internet, they realize that I'm reading.

And since it obviously makes them uncomfortable, I have stopped surfing there on a regular basis. Or I will identify myself as an old family friend and reader (although we've gone very different places in life). I suppose I need to figure out what my part is in this. I did a search on their last name in the beginning, after all. But is my interest really any different than that of a reality show? Or that of someone trying to keep up with people from whom we've grown apart?

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As a matter of fairness or reasonableness, however, does a person really have the expectation of anonymity with a family blog on the Internet?

A Confused Possible Blog Stalker

Dear Confused Possible Blog Stalker,

You ask, "Is it a reasonable expectation, if you have a public blog, that only people you know will read it?"

I have to say that no, that is not a reasonable expectation. It is a funny expectation. But it is not a reasonable expectation.

On the other hand, it may be an understandable expectation.

That is, it is understandable that we have finally reached that stage with the Internet where people who know nothing at all about how it works are using it daily.

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When cars first came out, you couldn't just buy one and drive it, unless you had a driver/mechanic on your payroll. You had to know how they worked and fix them yourself. You had to at least change a tire. The early days of the Internet were like that. You had to understand it and figure it out.

Not anymore. So it's understandable, in a way, that rather than approach the Internet as something to be understood on its own terms, people would instead bring their everyday social expectations to the Internet, assuming that being on the Internet is like walking down the street, that the same norms apply.

Is it reasonable to assume that if you stand naked on the street no one will see you? No, but perhaps they expect people to simply look away. Perhaps we are supposed to sense when something is private, and look away, and only people with bad manners would read another family's blog, having "stumbled across" something that is private.

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Ha ha.

It is hard for some of us to imagine such a state of mind, since the very amazing thing about the Net is precisely that mind-blowing fact: that your stuff is viewable by so many others! But such is human progress.

Anyway, I suggest you write to them, using e-mail or maybe using the rather remarkable technology of the U.S. Postal Service, which will send a letter pretty much anywhere in the U.S. for only 44 cents, and say that you are an old family friend, that you "stumbled upon" the blog and have been reading it with interest and while you understand their wishes to have it private, you would like to be included among those who are granted continued access.

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Write Your Truth.

What? You want more advice?

 


Cary Tennis

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