Shout Into the Wind, and It Shouts Back: Identity and interactional tensions on LiveJournal
by Lori Kendall
[Kendall, Lori. 2007. “‘Shout Into the Wind and It Shouts Back’: Identity and Interactional Tensions on LiveJournal.” First Monday 12 (9). http://www.firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2004/1879.%5D
based on two years of participant observation research on Live Journal w/ 26 interviewees
found they LiveJournal communication causes certain online-specific tensions, four in particular:
- private journal vs. public performance—the diary-like format of LiveJournal conflicts with the fact that posts are public, but attention to audience concerns can make posts seem less genuine
- efficiency vs. audience management—LJ users find the platform a convenient and efficient way to get information to people, however, it becomes necessary to control their presentation of self to different groups, undermining any of the efficiency gained
- control vs. connection—the posting model leads to a type of communication that is more declamation than dialogue
- autonomy vs. the desire for comments—When posts that represent their users’ live fail to get enough comments, users are tempted to post things that would get comments, rather than post what they would like
One interviewee mentions being Otherkin, but the topic is not addressed in the piece
The use of LiveJournal to create personal journal–style weblogs exposes issues concerning identity management and audience control. Tensions exist between (1) notions of diaries as personal and private vs. the recognition of online journals as public and performative; (2) the efficiency of blending one’s social contacts into one audience vs. the ability to provide different self–presentations to different groups; (3) the desire for personal control of discourse vs. the desire for connection to others; and (4) values of individualism and autonomy vs. the desire for feedback and attention.
Annotation Summary for: Kendall – Shout into the Wind and it Shouts Back
Page 1, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” 2007″
Page 1, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Introduction”
Page 1, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In this article, I explore identity and information management strategies of individuals on LiveJournal.Several tensions inherent in LiveJournal participation remain unresolved, pointing to some significant contradictions in people’s understandings of identity and relationships”
Page 1, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The model of a private diary conflicts with the reality of public performance. The convenience of the blended audience on LiveJournal, often consisting of friends, family, and coworkers, conflicts with desires to manage and partition that audience. The desire for control of discourse, interaction, and relationships conflicts with the desire for increased connection and closeness. The desire for autonomy and the belief in discrete, individual selves conflicts with the desire for feedback and approval from others. These tensions exist in social interactions more generally, but are particularly highlighted and even exacerbated by the particular technological and social features of LiveJournal. ”
Page 1, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Previous research on blogs has considered how to characterize them (boyd, 2006; Herring, et al., 2004), what kinds of communication they contain (Herring and Paolillo, 2006; Herring, et al., 2006),what motivates people to contribute to them (Nardi, et al., 2004b; Nardi, et al., 2004a), and actions performed through blogs, such as gift exchange (Pearson, 2007) and information management (Raynes–Goldie, 2004). ”
While political blogging has received the most attention in both the popular and academic press, Herring, et al., (2004) point out that filter blogs, of which political blogs are an example, constitute a relatively small portion of blogs. Most blogs are instead more personal “journal“–style blogs
two years of participant observation research on LiveJournal
Statistically, LiveJournal is dominated by teenagers but most of my 26 interviewees are in their late 20s to late 30s. Most have at least a bachelor’s degree.
Private journal vs. public performance
Many of my interviewees distinguish between blogs and LiveJournal. Their definition of a blog focuses on the technological difference, with the expectation that blogging requires more skill with html and is housed on a personally controlled Web site.
Tessa: There’s much more of an entertainment focus in my LiveJournal because I’m aware of an audience.
LiveJournal “cut tags” allow users to create a link to parts of their post. The portion hidden behind the cut tag will not appear until the link is clicked. LiveJournal participants often use this feature when they post large graphics, long excerpts from outside sources, or detailed information that might be considered “too much information.”
Vivian: [LiveJournal] really is this huge project in self–expression on the part of people who would not normally get to talk to a sort of wide semi–anonymous public.
different aspects of LiveJournal use sometimes come into conflict. Private expressions risk exposure to the public world of the Internet. Attention to audience desires can make self–expression feel less genuine. Maintaining control over one’s own diary can interfere with the desire to connect with others. LiveJournal users employ a variety of social and technological techniques to attempt to manage these tensions.
Efficiency vs. audience management
many interviewees identified communication efficiency as a key advantage to LiveJournal.
Praising LiveJournal for its efficiency additionally positions LiveJournal users as effective, successful adults, utilizing new tools to communicate with others. This utilitarian stance deflects attention from the more emotional side of LiveJournal participation.
[Dylan: It’s been overall good, but it’s been/I don’t know if the right word is a paradigm shift, but until LiveJournal, I’d had separate areas of my life. People I knew from work, my real life social group, my mush group, my social group from another area of the country where I lived; and over time they’ve all blended. … at this point there really isn’t a clear separation between any of them and that’s taken some getting used to. … It’s getting to the point where everyone I know knows everyone else I know. …
Lori: But you say that takes some getting used to. Why is that? Why is it a little uncomfortable at first?
Dylan: It’s kind of comfortable having these different social groups to be in where you can be a different person around them.]
Goffman (1959) analyzes these aspects of the presentation of self as pertaining to different “regions” of interaction, and particularly identifies the existence of “backstage” regions within which people may break “out of character” from the performance they have been accomplishing in a nearby region . In face–to–face situations, divisions between regions are often quite clear.
LiveJournal provides a virtual region complete with the potential to create backstage areas.
four levels of privacy
“public,” meaning that they are readable even by people who do not have LiveJournal accounts
“friends–locked,” which restricts viewing to the list of people with LiveJournal accounts designated as “friends” by the user
Filters designate a specific list of people from the user’s friends list, enabling people to tailor entries to specific groups of friends
“private,” enabling only the journal author to read the entry. Most of my interviewees said they used this final feature only rarely, and many not at all.
|Keith: I’ve also got [a filter] for geeks … there’s one for Occults, one for Otherkin, one for Otherkin friendly. So the Occult is if I want to post about such and so Pagan ritual thing that I did the other night or just musing on the relation between such and so goddess and such and so tarot card. No need to bother the geeks with it because half of them are raging materialists who will be like “why are you wasting my time with this, you superstitious weirdo?”|
|Keith: I’ve also got one friends group titled “I’m Insecure.” That’s for the times when I’m just feeling really insecure and want to post my insecurity and only display it to the people I’m okay with reading that.|
interviewees recognized that while they might lock entries to specific groups, they needed the cooperation of the people within those groups to contain the information to just that specific audience.
LiveJournal participants appreciate the efficiency involved in having all of their social contacts connected to one forum. However, this advantage is in tension with their desire to manage different areas of their lives and to control their presentation of self among different groups of people.
Control vs. connection
Most of my interviewees have significant experience with other types of online forums, including muds, chat spaces, e–mail listservs, etc.
George: LiveJournal is not very dialectical. There’s not a lot of dialogue. … I do read the comments and often I can see it happen, but it’s like super slow mo. It’s not an actual conversation.
LiveJournal focuses attention on the individual, rather than the audience or group interaction. Posts are more declamation than conversation.
LiveJournal participants enjoy the glimpses they get into other lives. As George notes, sometimes the broadcast model itself provides for greater insight into those lives.
Autonomy vs. the desire for comments
Participants recognize that their comments constitute a form of performance in front of an audience of uncertain composition that they cannot completely control.
Just as participants understand their own journals to be a performance, they know that when they post comments in another participants’ journal, they are also performing, and in a forum in which they have less knowledge and control of the audience.
In other online forums, posts that merely agree with a previous post or repeat other comments are often perceived as a waste of bandwidth. In addition, these “me too” posts contain little information, and function in a more emotional way.
The diary format evokes an expectation of spontaneity and genuineness. This is in tension with pressures to write well and provide an entertaining performance. The control people have over their self–presentation in this text–based, asynchronous medium means that all information is what Goffman terms “given” rather than “given off.”  We are used to relying, in face–to–face situations on “given off” information — information that is less controllable by social actors — to provide clues to sincerity or its lack. All LiveJournal performances thus carry a slight cloud of suspicion as to their honest depiction of the self.
Keith: I’d like to get a few more comments in my journal. It would just make me feel like (a) more people were reading, and (b) more people care. It’s the standard narcissism thing that I think everybody has at least a little of. … I try to adopt the stance that really I should be writing my journal for me and not to get more comments.
Keith: There was one time back around Decemberish, November somewhere around there when I tried posting a few things … I was kind of thinking, these should get some interesting comments and they got hardly anything and then I posted this one other thing — oh yeah, it was the rat in the pipes. … That one I was just posting because it was a thing that happened and I thought it was kind of funny. And two days later, like twenty–two comments on it. … I’ve got this interesting philosophical, intellectual pondering and nobody cares. But the rat in the pipes, okay, they really want that.
LiveJournal evokes, highlights, and sometimes exacerbates tensions inherent in social interaction. The model of the intimate personal diary conflicts with the reality of posting to a wide online audience. This performative nature of LiveJournal further complicates people’s ability to see themselves as sincere and genuine. Their desire for feedback in the form of comments also conflicts with valued notions of an autonomous, individualistic self.
Many of these tensions exist in other forms of interaction. but the particular technological features and social conventions on LiveJournal increase people’s awareness of them.
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Erving Goffman, 1959. The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor Books.
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