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Friday, January 12, 2007

Teens vent on online diaries for the world to read

I Want to Subscribe Journey to Blogging, Now

Miss Emily Butler used to keep a pen-and-paper diary. But after her mother found it, the Arlington, Virginia, teenager started pouring out her feelings online. 'When there were days when I just needed to rant, it felt good,' said Emily, 16, a second-year student at Yorktown High School who started a blog on the site Xanga a couple of years ago.

'Once I discovered, like, posting online, it definitely became, 'Why would I write it in a book?' '

Online diaries have become a well-known phenomenon in recent years, with teenagers and young adults attracted to the genre in huge numbers.

Parents, teachers and police constantly urge young people not to reveal too much about themselves online. They warn that disclosures might be read by university admissions officers and potential employers, not to mention stalkers and paedophiles. But a review of major blogging and social-networking websites shows that online diaries remain popular for teenagers, and interviews with experts and young diarists such as Emily help explain the psychology behind going public with what used to be private thoughts.

Of course, it is hard to know how many of these diary entries represent truth, fantasy or something in between.

Ms Rochelle Gurstein, author of The Repeal Of Reticence, a book about the erosion of privacy in the United States, said the blogs seem to reflect an 'unprecedented change' in teenagers' sense of modesty.

'The teenage girl that used to be the most vulnerable, protected member of society is now unsupervised, left to her own devices, with access to the Internet, and what does she do?

'Broadcasts to the whole world to see her in her most vulnerable moments.'

Many young bloggers say they do not think people other than friends are reading their journals.

Professor Gerald Goodman, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles, said young bloggers are following a deep human impulse. 'This is practically genetic, this need to be known by another human,' he said.

Emily acknowledged that relating online provides a social buffer.

But that is part of the appeal. 'Saying, like, 'Hey, do you like me?' ' she said. 'In person it would be the most awkward thing in the world.'

Breaking up online is also OK, she said. Then she reconsidered: 'Breaking up online is so sixth grade. Like, by eighth grade you should at least call them.'

- The Washington Post

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