etiquette


In May, this blog got 1,082 “views,” which means that many of its pages showed up on other people’s computer screens for some amount of time in 31 days. That’s my new record, and my first 4-digit month. I got quite excited as the number approached. I was checking my stats page several times a day. It was exciting and uncomfortable. I almost decided that I would not let myself check my stats for all of June. It’s not that I was wasting a lot of time on it, it’s just that I started feeling embarrassed about it.

NME Stats at May 31, 2010

I started this blog as a way of letting my friends and family know what I’m doing and thinking about, as a way of attracting Reanna’s attention (or someone else just like her), as a way of staying connected with friends and family and recording my history as I made it, they way I used to do with a yearly zine of the same name. I knew that writing my ideas publicly made me think more critically about them, and I liked the idea of living out loud, being the same person to everyone.

I’ve accomplished all these things, and this blog has been my most consistent source of inspiration for the last coming-up-on two years. It’s been great. My excitement over breaking 1,000, though, has got me thinking. Am I also trying to be famous?

To be clear, I don’t think I’m getting famous by writing this blog. It’s just making me think and feel about it. Even if I keep this pace up, 1,082 views is only about 34 per day, and I posted almost every day this month. I get a few people I don’t know finding the blog with search engine terms that I’ve written about, like “schizophrenia diagnostic criteria” or “are anti-inflammatories bad for you,” but most of my traffic comes directly here, on purpose. I imagine that means that there are maybe 40 folks who read this fairly regularly, and that’s easily accounted for by family and friends from school and Not Back to School Camp.

Still, 1,000 views means a lot more people are reading my writing  than they were two years ago, and that number could keep going up. My friend Jeannie recently beat 6,000 views and I thought, “Wow, that would be cool!” But there’s no way 6,000 views are all friends and family. A blog with 6,000 views is beginning to hit the public sphere–almost 200 a day. That’s not fame either, of course, but I bet those numbers keep going up, and maybe I could get there too, and I’m feeling a little tension about it.

Part of the tension is aesthetic. My aesthetic ideal of fame is from my music and record production career: I’d like to become just famous enough that fans of my kind of music are waiting for my next project, but not famous enough to get recognized on the street.

I’ve always felt comfortable with that picture, but now I’m becoming a therapist, and it appears that the therapist-fame aesthetic is different. My supervisors tell me that I should be unfindable–no public phone numbers, websites, etc. Clients should not be able to contact me except through the clinic, and they definitely shouldn’t be able to find out about my personal life. I can see the wisdom in that, but I don’t want to do it. I can make my phone, myspace, and facebook private, but I’ve got this blog and my band’s website, plus I show up on other websites that I prefer to be publicly affiliated with, like Not Back To School Camp, my swing dance group ELLA, and my family‘s music sites.

Another part of the aesthetic tension is about transparency. I have to be one person to everyone on this blog. Being the same person to everyone is an ideal for me but makes me uncomfortable. I have psychology-research friends, therapy friends, and co-counseling friends, all of whom would be distressed to some degree to learn how deeply involved I am in each field. My atheist friends can see that when I say I am agnostic, I really mean it. I’m not a hedging-my-bet atheist. I think about God a lot and take the idea seriously. My religious friends will see that I mock fundamentalism pretty regularly. And so on. The more well-known I get, the less I get to show people the parts of me I think they will like and hide the parts I think they won’t like.

And then there is the ethical aspect of fame. In a way, the better known I am, the better off my friends and family are–the more traffic I can drive to our businesses by mentioning them, the bigger audience I’ll have built for books I write or records I make. I can also bring more attention to worthy causes, potential problems, things like my Headlines From Psychology, that people would be better off knowing. The more fame, the more impact. A famous Nathen would be a stronger force for good. If I do say so.

On the other hand, the extent of my fame also forces transparency onto my friends and family, and they don’t all share my aesthetic preference for transparency. I didn’t really get this as an ethical issue until Reanna asked me not to use her last name on the internet. She wants to control what people can find out about her, and who doesn’t? I regularly tell people who video me dancing, “No YouTube!” But it didn’t even occur to me to ask the friends and family I’ve written about whether I could use their full names, or even post their photos. I’ve been considering starting that project soon. I like using full names, talking about real, specific people. So and so said such and such. This, however, a big reason Kerouac died friendless. I guess ethics trumps aesthetics.

[Oh! Here’s my opportunity to make that project easier for myself. If I’ve used your name (or if it seems likely that I will) in NME, please email me your preference: last name or no last name.]

I wrote most of this in early June, not knowing if I my views would continue spiking. It turns out they did not. At the end of June I’m almost exactly where I was at the end of May. I suppose it’s possible that staying level is an achievement, though, since I posted almost every day in May but only every other day in June. I’ve also lost a good deal of my both excitement and tension about my stats, though I still check them every day. Maybe it’s having watched them level off again. I’m tempted to start posting every day again to see if I can get another spike, but I think I’d rather post even less frequently and give myself time for more thoughtful essays. I’ll keep you updated.

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A guy who works in my social cognition lab, Adam Kramer, worked at Google recently and had access to their database and developed this way of sorting the words people use in blogs–a huge sample, as you might imagine. He found that blogging exists in a five dimensional space: melancholy, social, ranty, metaphysical, and work. These are apparently real and parsimonious dimensions. Since his presentation, I’ve often wondered where my blog fit in that space. I asked him about writing a blog widget that measured individual blogs–or posts, even. Posts might be better. I’d like to have a little bar graph at the top of each post indicating the level of rantiness, etc. He seemed to think it was a good idea but didn’t seem to be in a big hurry to write it. He’s working on his dissertation, about delayed decision making.

Anyway, that was just to set up my little rant. Ahem.

It pisses me off when my fellow students are on the internet during lectures. I can’t stand it. I have to move to the front row or something so I can’t see. Many of them are also using their computers to take some notes on what the professor is saying but that’s about 15% of what I see, and I’ve never seen a student with a laptop in a lecture who completely abstained from the net. The lure of Facebook is too strong. I’m not sure why it gets my goat so much, but it does. It may be that I relate to the professors more than I do to the students in most cases, especially these cases. If I was teaching a college class, I don’t think I would allow laptops. Check them at the door. I’ll buy you some ice for your poor, aching, handwriting hand. Oh, and your phones, too, thanks. Texting is just as bad.

I have a cell phone for the first time in years. I like being able to talk to my family for ‘free’ (that is, for the cost of the monthly service) since we are on the same monopoly. When I travel, I like being able to update people who are trying to pick me up at the airport and who would otherwise be inconvenienced. I like how it reduces the psychological barrier to calling my friends, especially those who are spread around the country. If I’m thinking about Danielle, I can call and tell her I miss her while I’m walking between classes. Or if I have a Pro Tools meltdown in a recording session, I can call John to bail me out. It’s great! I think it strengthens my relationships and community.

On the other hand, it’s embarrassing to have my phone ring during a ‘live’ conversation. Sometimes I forget to turn the ringer off and even the vibrate function is audible. I wish it wasn’t. I want to be fully present with anyone I’m talking to. I know I can just keep it turned all the way off, but I do want to be available for my friends and family calling much of the time, and it’s been too much to keep track of so far. If I’m expecting an important call, I try to remember to tell anyone I’m in a conversation with that I may need to answer a call and that I’m sorry in advance. I don’t expect anyone else to behave like that, but I do sometimes wish that people didn’t just automatically answer their phones—that there was some commonly held etiquette to consider.

My friend Anna Fritz pays a lot of attention to social and environmental issues and has decided against having a cell phone because they use this substance called coltan, which is mostly mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the economics of which is perpetuating violent conflict there and displacing people. The mining process is also infringing on gorilla habitat. I haven’t looked into it much, but Wikipedia supports her claims. Ah, the moral ambiguity of leading a modern human life! It may be that if I witnessed what was going on in the DRC first hand, I would be so ashamed to be part of it that I would throw my phone away. It seems like that would just be a waste of this dearly-come-by resource, so I’ll keep it until I find out otherwise. Maybe there’s a business opportunity there—cell phones made with recycled coltan for the ethically sensitive.