Living In Public

My friend Thomas Kriese pointed me to a piece by a NY-based VC named Fred Wilson. It’s about “living publicly.” There are a lot of ways you might take that term — in this case it describes the state that it seems many of my friends experience these days. With all the blogging, Twitter, FaceBook, FriendFeed, and whatnot, it seems like we are living on display, out there in public for all to see.

Fred bases his post on an email message from Jason Calacanis that outlines a number of the negative consequences that one faces when one is a blogger. One such observation: “At some point, a participant, or more typically his or her thinking, will be compared to the Nazis.”

That seems a pretty steep price to pay, just because one writes a blog. But I can tell you, the negative feedback inherent in living in public is real. While you may take great care over each specific blog post, the sad truth is that most people who are moved to comment do so becuase they disagree with you, and they only rarely take as much care with their comments as you did in the first place. The result, for many bloggers, is a constant, low-grade irritation. Any given post will generate resentful comments or emails. It adds up and eventually you just become inured.

Still, it’s disconcerting. “But, this is what you asked for,” some might say. After all, aren’t you seeking fame? The thing is . . . no. Most bloggers I know actually want to connect, to hold a meaningful dialogue, or have a forum within which to flesh out their thoughts. (That’s typically what I am after in my various online fora.) They aren’t seeking celebrity. So it seems an unfair thing to say that they somehow “deserve” negative attention for having the courage to speak up.

Nevertheless, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, at least in my view. I feel a greater sense of connection, encounter a greater diversity of ideas, and connect with a wider range of people than I would otherwise, all through online social media.

Fred Wilson has been living publicly in this way for some years, and his post ends with a series of useful rules for doing so and keeping a smile:

1) Keep your family out of it until they want to be in it
2) Be nice.
3) Demand that others are nice back.
4) Encourage the community to police the comments. Early on Jackson was my “bouncer” and now Kid Mercury has assumed that role.
5) Take the nasty comments lightly and use humor to defuse them.
6) Do not delete comments unless they are hateful to others, porn, or spam.
7) Ignore the trolls even though it kills you
8) Be careful with photos. They greatest lesson I got was when I posted a photo of me on vacation looking smug. Bad move that I learned a lot from.
9) Give more than you take.
10) Enjoy yourself. Talking, discussing, and debating is fun. Keep it that way.

Great advice.

Published by

Brad Rourke

Executive editor of issue guides and program officer at the Kettering Foundation.

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