Online diaries provide students with anonymous outlets for expression and friendship
After a seemingly endless barrage of news about the horrific events of Sept 11, junior Jenny Yuan needed an outlet for her emotions. So she logged onto the Internet and wrote in her online diary, or weblog. Across the world, thousands of teens did the same, and within minutes, the healing process began.
Yuan was awed by the feeling of community she found online. "It was amazing to see that people from around here—California, Canada, Hong Kong—all responded to it,” she says.
According to Cherie McGinn, head of the social studies department, communication devices like online diaries comfort teens by providing access to groups of people similar to them. "It allows you to realize that your fears and your anger are not singular, that it's not just you that's frightened or angry. And there's a sense of safety and continuity in knowing there's a community that shares your feelings and your concerns,” she explains.
Yuan and her peers used their weblogs to find solace from the
day's tragic happenings. But beyond using them to heal, many teens update their logs on a regular basis—to gossip, reflect upon their lives and keep in touch with the close friends they have made through their diaries.
A growing trend
By February of this year, almost 118,000 users had registered with Blogger, a popular weblog host. Livejournal, another commonly used host, currently houses more than 353,000 diarists.
Yuan began maintaining her weblog in May of this year. Against a colorful backdrop featuring a popular Korean singer, she writes about Chinese School and homecoming and plugs her Internet friends' sites, commenting on their entries and layouts. The column on the left side lists general information about Yuan—favorite songs, weblog archives, websites, web cliques and weblogs that she reads.
Many aspects of blogging, keeping an online diary, appealed to Yuan initially, especially the universal accessibility of the Internet. "I started writing in my weblog because it was an easy way to put my thoughts somewhere where I could look back at them, and I just think that it's so much easier to update than a written journal,” she explains.
Yuan also incorporates her passion for creating websites into her weblog, designing and changing her intricate layouts regularly. ”I love doing web design, so it's a nice creative outlet,” she says. Yuan spends about one and a half hours building and uploading each layout.
Sophomore Sweezi Sethi had a more conventional motive when she
started her web diary more than two years ago. ”I couldn't tell everything to everybody, so I just write it down there,” she says.
Others see weblogs as valuable tools for gaining publicity. Junior Jimmy Taing updates the web diary for his band, Allusian, to help fans keep track of the group's progress. ”People go to our website to see our updates, and they can know when we perform,” Taing explains.
However, some teens still prefer to keep their diaries to themselves. ”I don't want everyone to know my business,” says senior Michelle Rawlinson.
To students like Rawlinson, the term ”online diary” seems a contradiction, since the Internet is a forum open to anyone with a web browser. Yuan hastens to explain this phenomenon by saying that the anonymity of the Internet plays a key factor. "A lot of times you can just write about what you want, people can read it and no one will know who you are,” she says. Yuan only uses her first name when posting in her weblog, as do most of her friends.
According to social studies teacher Jeff Newby, who used to teach psychology, the turbulence of adolescence makes many teens uncomfortable with expressing their feelings. ”I think that a lot of people don't feel comfortable about talking to people in person. Getting it out online provides them with an outlet without the fear of being laughed at or called stupid,” he says.
A community of cliques
Yuan admits that people do tend to become immersed in their life online. "A lot of people meet through forums, usually weblogs, and then they start making plans to meet each other. Sometimes they live across the country, and they're like, ’Okay, I'll meet you at Thanksgiving,’” she says. "People get really caught up in it.”
The weblogging community is so foreign to those unfamiliar with it that they sometimes do not even understand the esoteric terminology. "There's plugging, which is when you talk about other people's weblogs in your weblog. There's flaming, which is when you trash other people. There are sister sites, which are supposed to be really close communities. You call each other ‘web sisters,'” says Yuan.
Online friendships tend to work the way they do in real life, Yuan adds. "People do talk about web design cliques, and you can't help that they naturally exist,” she says. "I keep in touch with my online friends through our weblogs and through [AOL Instant Messenger].”
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