Am I a stalker?
August 9, 2006 10:25 PM   Subscribe

Is it morally or ethically wrong of me (or just creepy) to read my ex's blog?

My ex has a blog. I used to read it sometimes. We still talk occasionally, and the other day I mentioned in conversation something I knew about my ex's life from reading my ex's blog, and my ex freaked. Granted, this person does have a history of having been stalked (many years ago) by their first relationship partner, so it makes sense that my ex would be sensitive about such things, but it's a publically available blog! Either way, I've stopped reading it, since it seems to be a big deal to my ex, but I am still curious-- was it wrong to read it in the first place?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (55 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
If someone has a public blog, it is not wrong to read it. Period.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:28 PM on August 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

posted by mr_roboto at 10:32 PM on August 9, 2006

"but it's a publically available blog!"
posted by pompomtom at 10:35 PM on August 9, 2006

I agree with the others. Blogs are public spaces. Unless there was a previous agreement that you wouldn't - then do not fret.

Pour your voyeuristic heart out!
posted by ifranzen at 10:35 PM on August 9, 2006

It may not be wrong to do read your ex's writing, but it might be unwise. Are you feeling guilty over it because you aren't comfortable with your motives for doing so?
posted by EatTheWeek at 10:37 PM on August 9, 2006 [2 favorites]

Tell your ex that the tubes led to your truck, and that she needs to reroute her tubes to the trucks of people who haven't dated her.

Seriously, if your ex is even a little web savvy, she must know that her blogging is out there for all the world to see, including you, unless she has an account that requires a password.
posted by maryh at 10:40 PM on August 9, 2006

Morally or ethically wrong? No.
Tacky? Yes.
posted by madajb at 10:47 PM on August 9, 2006

You've done nothing wrong, nothing creepy either. It is perfectly normal to be curious about ex's. It is also prefectly normal to read a friend's blog. Since your ex is still a friend of yours, how could reading his/her blog be interpreted as weird or wrong? You're fine.

Read it or don't, that's up to you. But don't worry about it, you're in the clear whatever you decide.
posted by oddman at 10:47 PM on August 9, 2006

"Blog", in this case, is insufficiently specific. There are some types of blogs (LiveJournal, Xanga) where, despite being obviously publicly available, the social convention is to treat the blog as a semi-private space. And then there's the high-traffic "i like readers" blogs about, say, politics or food or technology, where the entire intent is to communicate to the public.

I'm assuming you're talking about the former type of blog, in which case it's silly of her to overreact in that way, but probably insensitive of you to not realize you were intruding. (The lobby of her apartment building is a public space, but that'd clearly be creepy if you were hanging out there.) If she's writing a blog that's for a general audience, then she's just being stupid and fussy complaining about your reading it.

You weren't wrong, but her reaction's understandable in context. She needs to get a thicker skin, and you can probably find more interesting blogs to read anyway. Feel free pass along my opinion to her; I do get paid to talk about exactly these sorts of things.
posted by anildash at 10:52 PM on August 9, 2006 [6 favorites]

the act of reading the blog is not morally or ethically wrong

It is what one chooses to do with the infomation you learn that will determining factor.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 10:57 PM on August 9, 2006

Not remotely wrong. Your ex is an idiot for expecting privacy on a public blog.
posted by Dasein at 11:06 PM on August 9, 2006

The fact that it upset your ex, in itself, doesn't mean that you did something ethically questionable, and I can't see any other reason to think you did.
posted by clockzero at 11:56 PM on August 9, 2006

Uhh... it's a blog.

Unless you're reading it for naughty reasons, that's totally fine!
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 11:58 PM on August 9, 2006

There are some types of blogs where ... the social convention is to treat the blog as a semi-private space.

I have to disagree somewhat, here. The people I know who treat their livejournals as semi-private spaces have been explicit about what sorts of behavior they expect from their readers. And when they post things they wouldn't want their exes or stalkers knowing, they friends-lock the post. I don't know if spaces like Xanga and Diaryland have a "friends" concept, but if they're going to be used for journals whose authors have some privacy requirements, they should.

I think it's less like hanging out in the lobby of an apartment complex, and more like hanging out in a city park. If you were hanging out in the lobby of her apartment (and you didn't also live there) that would be creepy. But hanging out in a public park is fair game, and it would be silly of her to expect you to stay out.

Of course, I don't get paid to think about this sort of thing, and the new media class I took where we talked about MUDs and Habitat was over ten years ago now.
posted by hades at 12:02 AM on August 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

"I think it's less like hanging out in the lobby of an apartment complex, and more like hanging out in a city park."

Yeah, this can definitely be true, depending on the norms of the community of bloggers you're participating in, but I guess analogies are problematic because of their inexactitude. Also, reading your last line made me realize what an arrogant bastard I sound like in that last line, my intent was more to point out that these distinctions aren't always obvious if you're a normal person who doesn't spend all day thinking about blog behaviors.
posted by anildash at 12:28 AM on August 10, 2006

I don't think it's wrong of you to have read the blog from a privacy perspective. A lot of people forget that the internet is accessible to the entire world. It's a sort of Ravenous Bugblatter Beast fallacy: if you can't see the people reading your blog, they must not exist. If she had a password protected journal or a friends-only LJ, that would be different (assuming you weren't officially on the access list). In this case the blog is public; anyone could read it. A good rule of thumb is that you shouldn't post anything on the internet that you wouldn't want your grandmother/ex/employer/next-door neighbor to read, so if she's upset about an "unwanted" reader, she should reconsider the kinds of things she writes about.

I think it does make it harder for you to move on if you're reading your ex's blog, though. It's easy to maintain an illusion of "closeness" if you're privy to details of their life on a regular basis, and that can be difficult in the context of a breakup. It can also be painful if you read the ex's musings about loneliness or (the other side of the coin) their latest crush. Now that you've stopped reading it, it's probably best to stay that way for your own sake.
posted by Aster at 12:43 AM on August 10, 2006

It's a sort of Ravenous Bugblatter Beast fallacy: if you can't see the people reading your blog, they must not exist.

Change that to "they must not see you;" it's a little more accurate.
posted by Aster at 12:45 AM on August 10, 2006

There are some types of blogs (...) where ... the social convention is to treat the blog as a semi-private space.

Which is exactly the sort of things stalkers get off on - getting inside the stalkee's (semi)private space. If your ex really does worry about being stalked again, they've got rocks in their head having a publicly-accesable blog.

Even if posts can be friend-locked - how many of these OL friends do people generally know IRL? My experience (not from a stalkers POV, mind you ;-) is that it's remarkably easy to get onto someone's friend list without ever knowing them.

As for your question: Tacky? Maybe. Wrong? Nope.

(And the unasked question: dumb of your ex to have a blog if they get freaked out when you read it? Yup...)
posted by Pinback at 12:48 AM on August 10, 2006

I guess it's also a question of appropriate frequency. How often do you read the blog, compared to how often you talk? If you talk to each other once or twice a month, and you're checking the blog every half hour, yeah, that's fairly creepy. But if the ex is on your livejournal friends page, where you don't have to do anything special to read their posts, or if they've got an rss feed that you subscribe to... eh.

As for community norms, I dunno. Some norms are just stupid. I mean, how many times does someone have to have their myspace page splashed across the evening news after they've committed some crime before myspace users learn not to talk about what crimes they've committed in their communally-agreed-to-be-private-but-not-actually-private myspace blog?

(And, sorry about the snark, Anil. I didn't exactly mean for it to come across that harshly.)
posted by hades at 1:11 AM on August 10, 2006

Read the blog. It's a public space, and given that "you still talk sometimes", then the blog is just an extention of that dialogue. Irrespective of whether it's a LJ or something lovingly handcrafted in raw code, it's still published in the most public of all media. Once its out there, it's free for anyone to read.

Does your ex post identifying material on the blog? If there's been a stalker in the past, this stalker may well find the blog. I'd tell your ex of the dangers, since they clearly haven't been spotted already.
posted by Jilder at 1:12 AM on August 10, 2006

I think it's less like hanging out in the lobby of an apartment complex, and more like hanging out in a city park. If you were hanging out in the lobby of her apartment (and you didn't also live there) that would be creepy. But hanging out in a public park is fair game, and it would be silly of her to expect you to stay out.

Her expecting him to stay out of the park is silly because there are plenty of reasons to be in a park that have nothing to do with her. Reading her blog entries is different. He's clearly there because she's involved.

I'm with anildash on this. Just because something has been put out in the public domain doesn't automatically make it acceptable to indulge in. I can think of plenty of reasons that someone might put something on the internet but would expect certain individuals to have the decency to avert their eyes.

I'm not saying that this is one of these cases. We don't know what the relationship is like, what type of blog it is, the content of the blog, etc. Actually, I doubt that the poster has done anything wrong at all. But the "It's on the web! Read away, buddy!" argument that everyone is giving makes me think of some guy who lurks around an ex-girlfriend's old haunts, and when confronted by the the ex, stomps his foot and whines, "this is public property! I have a right to be here!" Having a good relationship with someone means tacitly restricting your own freedoms.
posted by painquale at 1:14 AM on August 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Yea, and the kind of person who has a publicly available blog and freaks when an ex reads it (when they are in touch enough to have friendly conversations with the ex) is the kind of person who will expect their ex to instantly quit going to any kind of park or bar that they used to frequent together, and accuse them of stalking if they do turn up, even though the ex frequented that bar for years before they hooked up.

painquale, I can think of plenty of reasons people do dumb things, but that doesn't make it any less dumb. Expecting content on the web to remain 'semi-private' falls squarely into that 'dumb' category, in my opinion. So there was nothing wrong with reading it.
posted by jacalata at 1:44 AM on August 10, 2006

Patient: Doctor, it hurts when I do that.
Doctor: Well, don't do that!

Ahem, quietly reading someone's blog is not remotely close to standing near someone's house and stalking them. Please don't make them sound similar.

People have a choice about what they blog. They are not compelled to write about their personal lives and put it out there for the world to see. This person freaks out over her ex reading the blog, but is perfectly fine with random stranger finding it on Google and reading it? You'd think someone who had been stalked previously would know better.

IMO, it is not "wrong" to read the ex's blog. If you're trying to cut off ties with the ex, perhaps you might not want to keep in touch and remind yourself of him/her, but seeing that you are still on talking terms, I don't see why reading a public blog is any different from asking, "so, what's happening in your life?" in person.

(I notice that you have not mentioned the gender of the ex in your question.)
posted by madman at 1:59 AM on August 10, 2006

There are some types of blogs (LiveJournal, Xanga) where, despite being obviously publicly available, the social convention is to treat the blog as a semi-private space.

I've been on livejournal for years and have never heard of this social convention. It's a totally public space unless you make your entries private. If you don't want people to read it, don't publish it online. I don't think there's anything wrong with reading your ex's blog and it's not tacky. If they think this is any type of stalking behavior they need to get a clue.
posted by Melsky at 2:46 AM on August 10, 2006

Not wrong, not creepy, not tacky. If you were to continue to read it now, after your ex has asked you not to, that would be a little tacky, but still neither wrong nor creepy.
posted by equalpants at 3:21 AM on August 10, 2006

Just because something has been put out in the public domain doesn't automatically make it acceptable to indulge in.

Of course it makes it acceptable! If someone I know looks up my username on google they are going to have a laugh at my expense and I'll probably be a bit embarrassed at some of the crap I've written over the years. But I wrote it, and posted it publicly - that's my problem, not the person reading it.

the public domain is exacly that, public. Tell your ex to password protect his blog if he has a problem with people reading it.
posted by twistedonion at 3:40 AM on August 10, 2006

I've had a weblog for about seven years now. In the early days, I would be surprised each time I discovered that someone I knew in real life was reading it - my parents, an exboyfriend, a coworker, etc. Gradually, though, I came to assume the presence of this audience and self-censored accordingly.

I think your ex needs to do the same thing. If he or she is publishing things on the web that certain people aren't supposed to read, they need to be protected in some way (as in the "friends only" functionality of LiveJournal), or they shouldn't be published at all. I can't wrap my head around Anil's suggestion - my weblog has always been personal, but it's on the web! There's nothing semi-private about it unless one goes to the trouble of hiding or altering relevant details to preserve anonymity.
posted by emmastory at 3:52 AM on August 10, 2006

She obviously doesn't want you to read it. Therefore, if you value her happiness at all you should respect her wishes, whether or not it is strictly wrong or not.
posted by Lucie at 3:53 AM on August 10, 2006

Bloggers blog in public because that's how they communicate with the wider world, but they get specific visitors they don't want for one reason or another, some of them quite valid. Even if blogging is like hanging out in a public space (park, pub) where you can't expect general privacy, it would be intrusive of you to regularly and purposely sit on the same park bench as (or two bar stools down from) your ex and listen in as your ex talked with a circle of friends. A bit off-putting, distasteful, and certainly a wet blanket for your ex. Your ex could choose not to blog because you're reading it, but that would mean you've shut down something that your ex valued -- maybe a bit like taking all the enjoyment out of going down to the pub or the park with friends, maybe causing your ex to lose contact with a certain circle of friends. In that way, reading your ex's blog would be wrong.
posted by pracowity at 4:02 AM on August 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Read the blog if you want and don't feel guilty. Why any former stalkee would want to post an online journal is beyond me. Sadly, she may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer. ;)
posted by bim at 4:16 AM on August 10, 2006

Are you a stalker? No. I agree with what is the overwhelming consensus here; blogs are public. Anything your ex dosen't want you to read should be a private entry. End of story.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:41 AM on August 10, 2006

If you commented regularly on the blog that might be intrusive. Otherwise, she's nuts.
posted by footnote at 5:41 AM on August 10, 2006

Let's stop making "public space" analogies like parks and building lobbies. They don't really apply here.

Instead, suppose your ex had a radio show, or a newspaper column. Would it be inappropriate for you to listen/read?

Of course not. It's not just conversation in a public space, it's a BROADCAST. If you expect to talk on the radio, or on a blog, and still control who can hear you, you're in for a world of hurt.
posted by mmoncur at 5:51 AM on August 10, 2006

There's nothing morally/ethically wrong with reading it, but I wouldn't do it if I were you, simply because I have no desire to be entangled in any way with my exes. I don't mean I hate them, and I have exchanged e-mails, but reading a blog implies an unbroken connection with their daily life that (it seems to me) is detrimental to getting on with yours. Do you have a new partner? If so, do they know you're reading your ex's blog? If not, do you think this level of involvement with your ex might be hindering your getting one? No, I'm not saying you're a crazed obsessive, it's just that I know how easy it is to be sucked into thinking more than is healthy about one's ex, and if I were you I'd be looking to pull away, not draw closer.
posted by languagehat at 5:58 AM on August 10, 2006

I'm with anildash and painquale here. While you certainly have the right to read whatever blogs you want, there are sometimes when exerting a right may be a morally wrong thing to do (you have the right to have consensual sex with any adult you like, but I take the bold position that it is morally wrong to have sex with your wife's sister, f'rinstance). I think this specific case depends on many particulars (what type/style of a blog it is, what the dynamic of your post-breakup relationship is, etc.), but I disagree with the majority that it is automatically OK.

That said, I don't think it was OK for your ex to "freak" upon hearing of you reading his/her public blog, and I commend you for not doing so since he/she raised the issue.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:09 AM on August 10, 2006

If she's politely requested that you not read it, or has freaked out and you still respect her opinion, then don't go to the blog. Actually, if she's mentioned that she finds it uncomfortable, I really don't see a reason why you'd want to anyway -- especially if you want to have some sort of ongoing dialogue. It's a reasonable request.

My personal experience is that it can be emotionally trying to read that sort of thing, anyway. She may be a little naive to keep up a public blog if she has a history of stalkers, but that doesn't make her dumb or a moron as others have posted. It just means that she thinks that others will respect her personal space. Reading an ex's blog is more like asking a shared friend how she's doing every once in a while, only without the filters that you'd get from an intermediary. The filtering is good.
posted by mikeh at 6:13 AM on August 10, 2006

I read my ex's lj. And his friends list. The worst thing that ever came of it was a disturbing image in my head of his current girlfriend wearing nothing but an "old man shirt" ... which is an image I'd really rather not have.... I stopped for a while after that, but curiousity got the better of me and I started readong it again.

Of course, I see how women can be more easily intimidated, but it's her fault for putting it out in public.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:27 AM on August 10, 2006

I'm guessing she wouldn't post her credit card information online and expect people not use it. Why does she post personal details online and expect people not to look?
posted by malp at 6:44 AM on August 10, 2006

Anil: FWIW, I didn't think your observation that you get paid for this sort of thinking sounded the least bit arrogant.
posted by baylink at 6:50 AM on August 10, 2006

Freaking out when someone reads your blog is equivalent to freaking out when someone reads the giant billboard you put up in the middle of town. Your ex needs to understand what a "blog" is.

And no, it's not creepy, unless you have your own blog that you use only to post commentary on items on your ex's blog. And if you include candid pictures taken from the bushes outside their house.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:51 AM on August 10, 2006

Regardless of what people here think, what're you going to do, go back to her and tell her you're going to keep reading it because a bunch of people on the Internet told you it was OK?

It's not about you reading her blog, it's about the impression she's getting from you right now. You need to decide whether you want to continue giving that impression or not.
posted by mendel at 7:07 AM on August 10, 2006

I agree wtih pracowity. I've been in much the same position as the anonymous poster, and I've had the discretion to use an anonymizer to read the ex's blog. At least she doesn't know I'm reading (wait, is that more creepy, or less?). This has, however, put me in the awkward position of seeing some rather unflattering things said about myself, things I don't think she would have written if she'd known I was reading.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:21 AM on August 10, 2006

"was it wrong to read it in the first place?"

No. Others here have explain why quite well.

Now that your ex has requested you don't read it, good on you for respecting that. That's the decent friendly thing to do. If you ignored this request THEN you would become kind of creepy / assholish.

PS: to other commenters in the thread, anon was doing the pronoun dance - very careful not to specify the genders of the people involved. The poster & the ex could be any combination of genders. Stop assuming.
posted by raedyn at 7:31 AM on August 10, 2006

More creepy, Moonpie.

I also had the thought: This person freaks out over her ex reading the blog, but is perfectly fine with random stranger finding it on Google and reading it? I'm picturing Dick Cheney reading her blog at the moment she's telling Anon not to.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:38 AM on August 10, 2006

I have a blog, and an ex-wife. If she wants to check in without my knowledge, she's more than welcome. My ex-girlfriends over the years are more than welcome too. Actually come to think of it it's not a matter of welcome or not, but, well, what am I gonna do? Padlock it?

Anyone with an online blog has no place to complain when having an online blog causes embarrassment or discomfort regarding friends and family. If they anticipate a problem, they should take down the blog if they are worried about it. If they discover a problem, they should take it down. If my blog ever becomes a problem, I'll probably take it down. duh.

Take it from me, we have a right to be surprised when it happens, but it's our own darn fault. So we've no excuse to complain. ...We probably WILL complain, I mean what would you do? It's frustrating when it happens, but we've no excuse.

If your ex requests that you don't read it? Then your ex needs to stop being a blogger. Simple as that. Can't stand the heat? Get out of the fire.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:14 AM on August 10, 2006

Of course not. It's not just conversation in a public space, it's a BROADCAST.

exactly. If you want to record things privately, keep a diary. If you want to share things with particular people, send them an email or something. A public broadcast is available to anyone who wants to find it, and it should be assumed that people you know will come across it.

As for this being creepy, I have idly googled the names of random people I once knew or know now for no other reason than boredom and mild curiosity; if the internet weren't here in front of me, it would be one of those passing thoughts, "i wonder what so-and-so is up to..." - but since the internet is here, it becomes a 2 minute instead of 10 second indulgence. That's not obsession or stalking or anything unhealthy - it's just vague human curiosity (not even necessarily specific to the individual as anything beyond 'another topic') combined with a little too much unfocused time. I absolutely would never assume that someone looking me up online or reading my blog was indicative of anything beyond that.

It sounds to me like your ex has two misconceptions: that she ought to be able to control who thinks about her, and that someone thinking of her automatically means anything significant.
posted by mdn at 8:46 AM on August 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Agree with everyone. The blog is public. Anything goes. If you were trying to view it in a protected area, then that would be wrong in some way.
posted by zek at 8:52 AM on August 10, 2006

I think it's a very interesting question. Lots of people nowadays seem to be keeping blogs just because their friends are there and can read and comment on it. The fact that it's available to the whole world, while it's clearly part of the original design, is to them more of a side-effect that they don't really dwell on. Which is how you end up with these situations.
posted by reklaw at 9:07 AM on August 10, 2006

"Freaking out when someone reads your blog is equivalent to freaking out when someone reads the giant billboard you put up in the middle of town. Your ex needs to understand what a 'blog' is."

You're talking about the technology, but this is more about its social impacts. reklaw nails it: "The fact that it's available to the whole world, while it's clearly part of the original design, is to them more of a side-effect that they don't really dwell on."

This is especially true of the younger generation online -- the assumption is *everything* is googleable if you just try hard enough, but that doesn't mean it's not intrusive to read something you're not supposed to. You see this in the poor judgement some kids show about the information they reveal on MySpace or Facebook. There are many times when information is readily accessible to us but it's still considered rude to actually look at it.
posted by anildash at 9:15 AM on August 10, 2006

the assumption is *everything* is googleable if you just try hard enough, but that doesn't mean it's not intrusive to read something you're not supposed to.

Right. I know where my friends live, and I go there often, occasionally without prior invitation. If I were to go there and look in their windows at night just to see what they were up to, I don't think many would say, "Hey, they're living their life right out in the open. If they don't want us watching, put up shutters." Someone recently posted to the green about hanging out on their porch, which became problematic when a developmentally disabled neighbor decided he could just hang out with them anytime he saw them out there (I'd love to get an update on that one, BTW - lots of good advice given).

All of these analogies are not all that useful, because blogs are their own thing, but the bottom line to me is, just because something exists in the world, and you have the right/ability to view it, that doesn't mean you should.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:29 AM on August 10, 2006

Tell her that since it bothers her, you won't read it anymore. Tell her that if you had one you would be OK with it and you assumed she would too because she put it on the internet, but that you will respect her wishes regarding the blog. Don't read it anymore.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:30 AM on August 10, 2006

This immediately reminded me of the following treatise of sorts I wrote a few years back about "perceived online stalking," a.k.a. "why people stupidly accuse others of stalking" or "what you should know before looking up long-lost friends online."


As it turns out, the grand conversations I imagine having with long-lost friends rarely manifest themselves particularly well via instant messenger. But I can't blame the technology; it's a social problem.

I had a long train of thought earlier about when exactly it becomes problematic to, y'know, think about other people. The problem seems to lie in the telling. You spend years having imaginary conversations with people who for whatever reason you can't talk to in real life—people you lost touch with after high school, people you lost touch with over the course of college, etc. These aren't the kind of unhealthy imaginary conversations where you actually perceive the person to be in your presence—they're just thoughts you have about things you'd like to say to someone, and how that person might respond. It's sort of like "l'esprit d'escalier"—the witty comebacks you think of only after you've reached the stairs to leave—only there may be many things you want to tell the person, not just your incredible bon mot.

In any case, when you finally talk to them again, you have all of this in your head, all these things you'd like to tell them—but if you have any sense, you halt, realizing, "Oh crap, it was all in my head." They don't know you were thinking about them. They lack the shared context that would result from being inside your head. "There was this one time a few years ago when I was thinking about you saying blah, and I wanted to tell you blah, but I couldn't..." Yeah, hello tin-foil hat. They didn't know you cared—and perhaps they were happy not knowing. It's a violation, somehow, to realize that someone's been—gasp!—thinking about you. You wanna "freak out the normals"? Tell them you've been thinking about them. They immediately clutch at themselves, fearful for their very souls, lest ye somehow tamper with them. (Or, well, lest ye bring up some long, drawn-out train of thought that they had nothing to do with in the first place and will now have to deal with.) You must proceed cautiously. For a number of reasons, it's a trespass to care about—or even maintain curiosity about—someone who doesn't care back.

After all, to think about someone without actually talking to them is rather abstract. I think people used to find it odd that I spent so much time thinking, especially about people who weren't around. People get uncomfortable when you're not living life in the moment. But I don't just think about what's immediately in front of me or what I'm doing at the moment or what I'm going to do a week from now—I'm also curious about what happens to people and what makes people act as they do. I speculate about what people are going to do with themselves as they get older, and what they're thinking when this, that or the other thing occurs. I wonder about people who I haven't seen in years—how they've changed, how they've stayed the same, how they've held up in the melee of life. I read things and think, "Say, maybe so-and-so would be interested in this." (My parents do the same thing, so perhaps it's a learned behavior.)

But the impression I get is that most other people don't engage in thinking of that sort very much outside of the romantic arena—or if they do, they have sense enough not to talk about it. That may be why declaring a "crush" on someone is often enough to send a woman into paroxysms of joy—because then and only then does she have license to talk about that person as though she knows him/her. Talking about someone as though you know them when you don't is in more juvenile circles considered "stalking"—and maybe that explains why simply expressing the fact that you were thinking about someone can be enough to garner you the label of "stalker." Everyone wants to be thought about and cared for—but when the thoughts come from someone unexpected, we react in defensive ways.

(Side note: gossips do the same thing, sharing juicy details and talking about people they may not know particularly well—but this is more accepted, for a number of reasons. People like to be "in the loop," and thus they're often too busy gleaning precious tidbits from the gossip to realize that the gossip is busy gleaning tidbits from them in return. Further, the gossip gains social acceptance by sharing information s/he knows is in demand, whereas both the woman with a crush and the stalker will wear out their welcome talking about the objects of their obsession.)

As it stands, people's simultaneous needs for social connection and social acceptance spawn such phenomena as chain e-mails and blog quizzes and memes—ways of soliciting people to tell you what they're really thinking. Because while they're desperate to know what others think about them, there's no way in hell those others will risk venturing an unsolicited opinion under the prevailing conditions. If you outright ask, "What do you think of me?" you'll usually get some stammered stock line that really means, "I don't." After all, communication is dangerous.

Enter the blog quiz, a set of questions about all aspects of one's life, from the type of toothpaste one uses to whether one currently harbors a secret love interest. (The latter usually being the more salient question, which the quiz-writer oh-so-cleverly hides amidst the noise of other über-personal questions.) Unfortunately, though, most of us see through these quizzes. If someone's determined to put themselves on the line, they'll do so, quiz or no quiz—and if they're not, then they won't give the subtle and sly answer you're looking for in response to a "Who do u liek?!" question.

The upshot? Communication must be cultivated. Rarely can you just walk up to someone (or instant-message someone) you haven't talked to in months or years and hammer them with your honest theory of life. Too often it turns out that while you were busy thinking, they were busy living life—and the two pursuits aren't always compatible. Ultimately, while it hurts to allow words to languish unsaid for lack of trying, that's sometimes exactly what needs to be done.
posted by limeonaire at 10:43 AM on August 10, 2006 [9 favorites]

It's not just the technologically naive who can have hissy fits about the "wrong" people reading their blogs. My girlfriend's ex is a very technically astute man. He has a LiveJournal. He embeds in certain of his posts a 1px transparent gif hosted on his web server, so that he can see who's reading his journal. He became very agitated over the fact that "someone from $largetelecomcompanywhereIwork" was reading his journal, and made several public remarks about it.

I finally got sick of it and sent him a lengthy email regarding the fact that he's posting in a public space, me reading what he writes is only effecting him because he's going out of his way to see evidence of me in his life, and that I had absolutely no intentions of not reading his journal now and then -- my girlfriend reads my ex's, I read his, it's no big deal for either of us -- so if there was anything he didn't want me to read, he should do the smart thing and make it a private entry. He may or may not have started using private entires. I don't know.

I was rather taken aback by the inability of someone who works in IT to grasp the fundamentally public nature of an open LiveJournal. But... I attribute it to emotional pain, more than anything else. Hopefully, he'll get over it. Hopefully, your ex will too. It's certainly not an uncommong feeling, but I don't think you're doing anything wrong.
posted by jammer at 11:15 AM on August 10, 2006

Imagine that some guy starts a sex blog (or a sex column in a student newspaper, for that matter) "broadcasting" about his sex life. He writes about how horrified they would be if his mother found out about it, but doesn't think that would ever come to pass because she's old and doesn't know how to use the internet. Nonetheless, his mother finds out about the blog and starts reading it. Is it wrong for her to read it, even though it's in the public domain? Yes. Even though it's legal for her to read it, there are clear warning signs up to show that she is not the intended audience and that he doesn't want her reading. She should, out of respect for her son, not read the blog.

I think it's pretty clear that there are a lot of cases in which a single sort of personal relationship can make it wrong to read stuff in the public domain. Anildash was coming at it from the other side: some sites have a diffuse and tacit sort of warning sign saying that "this is for a certain sort of reader; others aren't wanted." If there are signs like this strewn about, then the good thing to do is to respect them. No, you can't expect people you don't want to read it not to read it, but that's because you can't expect people to do the right thing.

But again, without knowing the details of the situation, I think the asker was probably in the right on this one. I only think that the "it's perfectly fine to read anything in the public domain" argument is bad. Putting something in the public domain doesn't mean that the author wants all possible readers to read it, and there are plenty of reasons to respect the author's wishes. Just because you're legally allowed to do something doesn't mean that you should. That's all.

(I didn't catch the pronoun dance. Sorry for assuming.)
posted by painquale at 11:26 AM on August 10, 2006

No, you're fine.
The ex is dumb.
Buuut he/she is so dumb, that I would leave his/her blog alone.

"... his mother finds out about the blog and starts reading it. Is it wrong for her to read it, even though it's in the public domain? Yes."

No! I don't agree at all with Painquale. To wit:

Saturday, July 22, 2006
The only people who could be presumed to read this on purpose are the people who know me in real life. If they knew about it, that is. Am I going to send them a link? Fuck no I am not going to send them a link. I want ...list of names.. anybody I know to read this? Well, no, I don't -- not this.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006
I think he is skeeved beyond recovery. He and I were talking about the things we do all day, and I told him that I was writing on this blog. You have a blog? Am I on there? Can I read it? (D'oh!) If you want, I said, thinking, whatever, he'll forget. "I'll send you the link" (Heh) Nope. Made me write it down. I thought -- huh. This'll be interesting.

If I cared deeply that this guy or anyone never read my blog -- it wouldn't be on the Internets!

And how on Earth would the OP have learned that the blog existed if he/she were not allowed to read it at some time in the past?

Thursday, August 03, 2006
Here's this new dynamic -- he reacts in real life to things I have said only here. Or I think he is, or some fucking thing. Anyway it confuses-and-enrages me.

Who's fault is that? The blogger's! Duh.
There is a reason those old diaries came with locks.

Conversely, the drama and feeling of exposure is kinda fun for the blogger too, which is why I counsel the OP to put down the bookmark and slowly back away.
posted by Methylviolet at 7:49 PM on August 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

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