It’s the mid-noughties. I’m at university, London is blowing my mind, and I’m tapping away on my LiveJournal like my life depends on it. I’m documenting all of my experiences, preserving them through writing, and reading the blog posts of strangers around the world doing the same. I’m reading (and writing) about breakups, sex, mixtapes, road trips, family drama, and beautiful vignettes about places visited, or wild nights out, or a feeling.
I treated my LiveJournal as a kind of late night confessional, a place to process and unpick and get things off my chest. There was no Twitter, no Instagram, no Snapchat back then. Facebook was just taking off, the wifi connection in our halls of residence was patchy at best, and everyone still spent hours creating MySpace layouts. People didn’t think about ‘managing’ their online presence. Anonymity still had value on the internet, in fact it was the norm.
Skip to 2017 and almost all of that is gone. Reddit is the only mainstream site that springs to mind when I try to think of an online community that has anonymity at its core. Everywhere you look now people are creating glossy narratives about their lives on myriad social media accounts, and the kind of unfiltered ramblings that were the norm on sites like LiveJournal are just a dim memory. Selfie-consciousness reigns supreme.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what all this means for writers, and for me as a writer. My writing developed through the act of ‘journaling’, particularly online journaling; it’s the kind of writing I know best and am most comfortable with. As I’ve got older I’ve journaled less and less (something I’m trying to remedy with this blog), mostly, I suppose, because of time restraints and the fact that life becomes kind of routine with age. But the changing landscape of blogging and the relentless rise of social media has also had a huge impact.
The move from long-form writing to ‘micro-expression’ on sites like Twitter was the beginning of the end for the traditional personal blog. No one wanted to read a page of text anymore, why would you when everything can be neatly expressed in 140 characters? I fell into the habit of tweeting and found that I wrote – and wanted to write – less and less. After a while this left me feeling kind of empty. I can’t help but think that in the process of cutting down the amount we write we’re forgetting how to meaningfully write about ourselves and our lives.
Perhaps even more damaging than the micro-expression exodus has been the move towards almost total non-anonymity online, a change which has radically altered how people write about and present themselves on the internet. We have lost something in this merging of our online and offline selves. Anonymous blogs (even anonymous social media accounts, trolls aside) can be very engaging because there is less of a tendency to present yourself or your life as a ‘brand’. You’re completely free to be honest and vulnerable. This is what lies at the heart of good writing, and so by extension good blogging.
I miss the abundance of thoughtful, honest, creative writing that was around in those LiveJournal years. Yes, there was a lot of guff in the mix, a lot of badly written, ‘I’m bored so I guess I’ll write this post’ posts, but when it was good it was really good because people really opened up. The combination of anonymity and long-form writing being the norm created something beautiful and real. Thankfully, this fragile thing still exists in various corners of the internet, not least here on WordPress (LiveJournal has long since become a blog graveyard). For that, at least, I am grateful. I look forward to reading about your messy, imperfect lives soon.