Thursday, April 2, 2009

Life Online – Or Out-of-Line?

By Terry

Lately things are getting weird online – or maybe it’s just me. I might be spending far too much time searching for subjects to blog about, grabbing photos to enhance my posts, reading too many other blogs, or simply trying too hard to come up with new ways to increase my readership. I’ve found that using recent headlines, or adapting a popular song or movie title as post-headers works well in attracting more traffic. Sometimes I find inspiration for a new post while reading another blogger, although I always acknowledge my source if I use material from another site. That said I’m afraid that after being online for so long (3+ years) I’ve pretty much written everything I know, and thereby earned myself a reputation with long-time blog readers; “friends” I’ve either kept or lost – for one reason or another. Of course, there is always a newbie or two landing on the blogosphere every day; they seem to like me at first, until they realize this dog bites.

Blogging can get old after awhile, which may be why some have dropped their blogs and either got a real life or went on life-support at Facebook. (On Facebook one does not have to write anything of substance or interest. All you have to do is start a cause or give virtual gifts, post when you are going to eat or eliminate something you just ate, write stuff you’re thinking about while not thinking, and so on.) Others who are bored with blogging, perhaps like Mitchell, get other people to write for them. (I’m so kidding Mitchell.) Seriously though, I think when it gets to be a chore, a writer ought to start asking for money, as many already do, although I have no idea why anyone would pay to read a blog.

Lately I have been encountering even greater weirdness in the blogosphere. For instance, I’ve had people contact me about other bloggers, either asking for personal information about them, or offering information they found online about this or that blogger. As if I would publish it or include the information in a dishy post. Tempting as it may be, I definitely do not like that kind of thing, although many of us would be surprised at how much information there is about all of us online; data we give away for free. There are even sites that will gather all the personal information for you into one file – stuff you wrote, he wrote, your comment, his comment, along with job history, addresses, Google shots of your house, and so on.

Nevertheless, I find it creepy that a stranger would bother to elucidate information about another web personality, emailing it around, most likely with the intent of discrediting the subject’s integrity, or as in the case of Catholic bloggers, to call into question a person’s orthodoxy or fidelity. Of course what that amounts to is cyber gossip, detraction, and calumny – happens all the time in real life – the difference online is that it stays there – somewhere - forever. (I know – I’ve tried to take down cache containing some of the regrettable things I’ve published.)

Recently I got myself in a bit of trouble over copyright and intellectual property boundaries. Nothing serious of course. I used a Portuguese artist’s work on a post, mainly because I liked his work, but also to introduce him to readers. I praised his skill, provided his name and the title of the exhibited piece, and also linked to the original site holding his complete portfolio and information on how to purchase his work. Perhaps it was the language barrier, but the guy was not at all happy that I used his work without permission. That is his right of course, but I thought he was a little over the top in his emails… Yeah. He found out this dog bites. And I learned to be more careful about copyright in the future.

On another occasion I wrote a post – one of my lame political/religious opinion-or-not pieces that leave people wondering what my point was – and I linked to another post which inspired mine. I borrowed a couple sentences from the post I believed pertinent to my own reflection on my subject. I quoted, I linked. I believed that by linking to the original source, the reader could refer to my friend’s post and read the quotes I used in context. I did not use the entire post of course, just the sentences responsible for my line of thought. My blogger-friend was quite annoyed. Yet once again, I learned another very valuable lesson; one must respect the intellectual property of another… and remember other dogs bite too.

The other lesson here? Online friendships are virtual friendships – and quite a bit different from normal friendships – normal friendships are usually real. Or how about this one: Online friendships may not be forever, but what we write is. Or: Don’t trust anyone online. Or this: Life online is not real. No, I got it, what about this one: Some people may not want to be associated with you or your blog. Ouch! That one hurt.

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