Betwixt being and non-being
An ontologically altered perception through the personal blog platform

In developing an individual identity and its consequential representations, a human being, as a cultural, social, and psychological entity, interprets, uses, and garners information from its surrounding environments. In the process, contexts are synthesized and associations are established. The management of these intuitive processes leads to the creation of personal thoughts, views and perspectives which are later shared through various forms of exchange.

The emergence of social networking sites, instant messaging platforms, discussion forums, email, collaborative online games, digital worlds, and particularly blogs, have transmuted the nature of these exchanges. Introspection has now become projection. Private realities have now expanded into contemporary shared conditions of public life. These outlets of personality provide versatile ways of sharing internal, and beforehand private anecdotal information with others.

The introduction of online blogging platforms during the late 1990’s made it easier than ever to share, communicate and contrast one’s individuality with the ideas of others in similar techno-social realities. As of March 2008, Technorati This service, probably the most cited online resource for tracking blogs, also estimated that an average of 175,000 new blogs were being published daily. Wether or not these numbers are exact is strongly debated, but what is of interest is that there is no doubt the blog, as a platform of communication, was enthusiastically accepted by individuals using the online language. calculated an estimated 112.8 million online blogs worldwide, a datum that needs to be pruned carefully since online does not equal active. There maybe that many blogs, but that does not mean there are exactly that same amount of active content generators behind them. There is no precise quantitative data on how many abandoned blogs exist, yet the available data does suggest a parallel growth between that of new blogs being published and those being simultaneously abandoned. Due to the free-of-charge nature of the majority of blog hosting domains, most of the blogs, even after being abandoned, remain online indefinitely.

I will try to make that case that through this ever-lasting online presence, contemporary communication platforms, such as the blog, can extend our sense of being, even after we become non-being.

Debates exist over when the first blog was published, but it can be said with some certainty, thanks to contemporary tools such as the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, that such a feat took place sometime between 1997 and 1999. The personal blog, as a medium for expression, closely mimics the behaviors of a diary or journal, where content is added through chronological texts (posts), which are sometimes annotated with visual media. Online, these posts are tagged by thematic relevance, archived for later reference and customizable searching. Consistent users thus create, as they participate in the activity of blogging, a chronological summary of their lives. Subsequently these are then shared with others, hoping that in return, they will read, comment, link-to and refer the posts. Garnering an audience relies on regular postings which refresh the content that lures in exchanges.

For those who think positively of the blogosphere, the relationship mediated between the author and the audience closely resembles similar tensions between private and public authorities in the public sphere. Those in-line with this perspective observe the larger voice composed from the multitude of blogs, and praise the landscape for establishing a framework which has re-opened public discussion and moved away from the commercial domination of contemporary media. Some of the best examples in stories which achieved national attention and recognition and that began in the blog environment. As Jürgen Habermas writes in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: “The bourgeois public sphere may be conceived above all as the sphere of private people coming together as a public; they soon claimed the public sphere regulated from above against the public authorities themselves, to engage them in a debate over the general rules governing relations in the basically privatized but publicly relevant sphere of commodity exchange and social labor.” [27]

Others, in a contrasting manner, such as web writer and critic Andrew Keen, believe the blogosphere has cluttered public discussions with inconsequential information that not only blurs the line between what is good and bad, but does not allow for the clear exposition of true ideas. He states: In the digital world’s never-ending stream of unfiltered, user-generated content, things are indeed often not what they seem. Without editors, fact-checkers, administrators, or regulators to monitor what is being posted, we have no one to vouch for the reliability of credibility of the content we see… There are no gatekeepers to filter truth from fiction, genuine content from advertising, legitimate information from errors or outright deceit. Who is to point out the lies on the blogosphere that attempt to rewrite our history and spread rumors as fact? When we are all authors, and some of us are writing fiction, whom can we trust? [Keen 64-65]

This rhetoric over trust and truth is not blog specific, but consistent in conversations about the platform. On a philosophical level, Martin Heidegger, while talking about technology in general, address the importance truth plays in bringing us into a free relationship with that which concerns us. He says: “The correct always fixes upon something pertinent in whatever is under consideration. However, in order to be correct, this fixing by no means needs to uncover the thing in question in its essence. Only at the point where such an uncovering happens does the true come to pass. For that reason the merely correct is not yet the true. Only the true brings us into a free relationship with that which concerns us from out of its essence.” [Heidegger 6]

These contrasting perspectives on the blogosphere go from side to side, yet, what happens to these ideas when faced by a graveyard of digital information? What happens when, for example, one considers abandoned blogs? Could the blogging platform, as a framework, serve human beings who are subconsciously trying to express their most personal anxieties in hopes of providing some extension to their physical lives? I say yes. These sites are extending their authors’ sense of being long after they are gone. In a way these sites grant them immortality.

Before moving on, let us consider that for centuries, classical philosophy has talked about four causes: the causa materialis, the material, the matter out of which something is made; the causa formalis, the form, the shape into which the material enters; the causa finalis, the end; the causa efficiens, which brings about the effect that is the finished. [Heidegger 6] Would the causa efficiens subconsciously motivate authors to publish in blogs in order achieve this immortality that we are talking about?

“I want to talk about the unique vital problem, that which dwells inside of us the most, that problem of our individual and personal destiny, of the immortality of the soul.” [24] So said Miguel de Unamuno, a late 19th Century and early 20th Century Spanish philosopher, thinker and writer who believed that inside each and every one of us there is a sentiment which, above all, desires immortality. Unamuno’s written legacy reveals a struggle between the ideas of reason and faith, where reason undoubtedly asserts that our life will undeniably come to an end and faith maneuvers within the feelings and hopes of one becoming eternal. “When doubt invades us and casts a shadow on our faith of the immortality of our soul, our determination for perpetuating our name and fame increases, with the hopes of achieving the slightest shade of any kind of immortality. And from here comes the incredible fight to identify as unique, to survive in some way in the memory of others and those to come… Everyone wants to affirm themselves, even if in appearance.” [Unamuno 70] For him, feelings cannot conceive of the self not in existence, yet the rational side asserts that there is no more being after death.

Bringing back the discussion to Heidegger who said: “Technology is a mode of revealing. Technology comes to presence in the realm where revealing and unconcealment take place, where…truth, happens.” [13] Would have Unamuno thought differently if he had been exposed to contemporary technologies where one’s representation can now outlive our physical condition? Would technology have revealed something to him?

This inescapable wait for the end of existence motivates explorations to try and overcome this fate. But what defines existence?

For 20th Century theologian Paul Tillich, it intrinsically involves both being and non-being. For him, “being has non-being ‘within’ itself” [Tillich 34]. Being, alone, “could not be the ground of life without non-being” [Tillich 179]. We just need a hint towards the possibility of non-being to affirm our self. Our true existence can only be uncovered by acknowledging the non-being that serves as a challenge to our self-affirmation: “being includes non-being and that through non-being it reveals itself” [Tillich 160]. Tillich also talks about how this relationship between being and non-being brings about anxiety in human beings. He says: “The anxiety of fate and death is most basic, most universal, and inescapable. All attempts to argue it away are futile. Even if the so-called arguments for the “immortality of the soul” had argumentative power (which they do not have) they would not convince existentially. For existentially everybody is aware of the complete loss of self which biological extinction implies. The unsophisticated mind knows instinctively what sophisticated ontology formulates: that reality has the basic structure of self-world correlation and that with the disappearance of the one side the world, the other side, the self, also disappears, and what remains is their common ground but not their structural correlation.” [Tillich 42] Yet again, mortality generates an anxiety that cannot be escaped and must be dealt with. In this digital age, the online realm, particularly the blogging platform, may provide an output to this feeling.

“The lesson of history is that there will be change in the fundamental realities of our lives associated with the transformation of the language apparatus, but this change is not determined in advance, and the specifics of equipment, institutionalization, and behaviors remain to be invented,” [xii] said English professor Gregory L. Ulmer who has written on how the online platform allows for a different and changing experience of private and public information. “The purpose of an [online page or portal] peripheral to an existing monument [human being] is to open to further thought the relation between private and public experience, individual and collective actions, events, behaviors. The premise of a conventional memorial is that the loss it commemorates is recognized as a sacrifice on behalf of a public, collective value.” We need to then: “inquire into this question of why some losses are recognized as sacrifices on behalf of the community while other, often much greater losses, are not granted collective status, so that their cumulative totals never register in the record of group identity as a price paid for the maintenance of a certain lifeworld.” [Ulmer 131]

Ulmer’s approach provides a framework to understand that there have been media in the past which have allowed for people to extend their being into contemporary times. Journals, diaries, maps, newspapers, letters, photo albums, and even art have always existed in relation to some existing monument, yet blogging’s success lies in that the infrastructure has been built for hyper-linking, sharing, commenting, exchanging and a never ending life. A blog’s presence on the world wide web instantly provides access to its content on a global scale, but what does it mean to have an online presence?

From a first impression, one could argue that in order for one’s online existence to be validated, all one needs to do is post content online which aids in the representation of the self behind the words. Having content online would be the equivalent of existing in the digital realm, of being. In the same line of thought, not posting any information could be observed as non-being. On a deeper look though, the behaviors of the online realm, as expected, articulate themselves differently from that of the analog world, especially when it comes to blogs. In the blogosphere, having online content does not equal presence. At the same time, presence does not equal existence. Participation here becomes the key. Posting, commenting, linking and referencing grant you life. Going back to Unamuno, blogs can be considered canvases where conversations between the rational self and the emotional condition can be harnessed. If we believe, like Unamuno, that we cannot conceive of the self not in existence, the activities on a personal blog help in defining a personal identity. Participation and interaction provide a sense of existence.

Going along with Unamuno, the rational self knows that after death there will be nothing more, yet the never ending nature of a blog challenges physical and natural destiny by granting eternal life after the author’s demise or abandonment. At this point, an author’s non-existence still can be interpreted as presence. The page keeps the author alive in the eyes of the spectators who come to the site. Borrowing from Tillich, being and non-being come into a conversation, but since non-being is within being, the lack of the author in a page that was once active rebuilds the author in the mind of those who visit the site again, granting them eternal existence. This behavior is nothing new. Previous physical media mentioned have similar effects. The key is the access and availability brought forth by the online environment and the intrinsic relationship to the built blogging platform and the exchanges promoted by it.

It may seem that there is an apparent contradiction in place about what it means to have presence online. Is it just having content or having to undergo participation? Consider the example of Theresa Duncanhttp://theresalduncan.typepad.com/, an artist and dedicated blogger. She committed suicide in July of 2007, but before undergoing the act, she left two posts programmed to automatically come live on her blog once she was goneOne of them did on the following October and the second one on New Year’s Eve of the same year.. The reasons for her taking her own life are not certain, yet the public myth is that both she and her boyfriend were being harassed and stalked by a known religious group. Wether or not this is true or not, through the blog platform she was able, even after her death, to continue being and build on this myth. Even with her non-being, her presence persevered and outlasted the physical and biological nature of her human condition. Of course a debate could be made on the meaning of these later posts in relationship to the previous literature available on the site, but the overall impact shows how she refused, even after death, to dismiss her presence. She fought mortality even after her mortal reality had been proven. Another example, a case where ex-partners of a deceased person did not want the families to cancel online journals and social networking profiles so that they could post messages for the person to read from the afterlife. Remembrance is here furthered into a new way of extension. Through the presence of the previous posts, ex-partners can relieve the experience of the person, and through the new comments they are also externally extending her being. From the case shown in these examples, both participation or just static online content can mean presence to viewers of the sites depending on their relation to the subject behind the written word. Whichever the case you may be more inclined to, presence seems to extend beyond the physical constraints of the living.

I have tried to make that case that through an ever-lasting online presence, contemporary communication platforms can extend our sense of being, even after we are gone. Blogs are places where unique content can be deposited by the author, and according to German theorist Walter Benjamin, the aura of such content is precisely what gives it quality of authenticity, which cannot be reproduced. I speculate that such quality leads to a sense of being in the authors. As it was seen, human beings have an intrinsic need to question their mortality and are constantly in this search for a sense of being. In today’s digital world, biological and physical conditions may not be the major cause which determine the end of a living being’s presence. An online representation of physical selves can continue to survive through a person’s own very actions or from others that have stayed behind and still interact with the platform. No matter the case, blogging has affected the fundamental realities of our lives in just a mere ten years, and has, without ever intending, provided us an apparent extension of our lives. •

BIBLIOGRAPHY : main references : read all

de Unamuno, Miguel, Anthony Kerrigan, and Martin Nozick. The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and Nations. Vol. 429. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977.

Kline, David, et al. Blog! : How the Newest Media Revolution is Changing Politics, Business, and Culture. New York: CDS Books, 2005.

Layder, Derek. Social and Personal Identity : Understanding Yourself. London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 2004.

Rodzvilla, John, and Perseus Publishing. We’Ve Got Blog : How Weblogs are Changing our Culture. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Pub., 2002.

Tillich, Paul. The Courage to be. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952.

BIBLIOGRAPHY : secondary references : read parts

Bausch, Paul, Matthew Haughey, and Meg Hourihan. We Blog : Publishing Online with Weblogs. Indianapolis: Wiley, 2002.

Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere : An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. 1st MIT Press pbk. ed. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991.

Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays. New York: Garland Pub., 1977.

Keen, Andrew. The Cult of the Amateur : How Today’s Internet is Killing our Culture. New York: Doubleday/Currency, 2007.

Keren, Michael. Blogosphere : The New Political Arena. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2006.

Riegler, Alexander, Markus F. Peschl, and Astrid von Stein. Understanding Representation in the Cognitive Sciences : Does Representation Need Reality?. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 1999.

Riverbend. Baghdad Burning : Girl Blog from Iraq. 1st Feminist Press ed. New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2005.

Serfaty, Viviane. The Mirror and the Veil : An Overview of American Online Diaries and Blogs. Vol. 11. Amsterdam ; New York: Rodopi, 2004.

Smokler, Kevin. Bookmark Now : Writing in Unreaderly Times. New York: Basic Books, 2005.

Stone, Biz. Who Let the Blogs Out? : A Hyperconnected Peek at the World of Weblogs. 1st ed. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2004.

Ulmer, Gregory L. Electronic Monuments. Vol. 15. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

Walsh, Bob. Clear Blogging : How People Blogging are Changing the World and how You can Join them. Berkeley, CA; New York: Apress; Distributed to the book trade worldwide by Springer-Verlag New York, 2007.

BIBLIOGRAPHY : terciary references : read or glanced at few segments

Burden, Matthew Currier. The Blog of War : Front-Line Dispatches from Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. 1st Simon & Schuster pbk. ed. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2006.

Dawes, Brendan. Analog in, Digital Out : Brendan Dawes on Interaction Design. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2007.

Harris, Frances Jacobson. I found it on the Internet : Coming of Age Online. Chicago: American Library Association, 2005.

Hewitt, Hugh. Blog : Understanding the Information Reformation that’s Changing Your World. Nashville, Tenn.: T. Nelson Publishers, 2005.

Holmes, Ashley Joyce. Web Logs in the Post-Secondary Writing Classroom., 2005.

Riverbend. Baghdad Burning II : More Girl Blog from Iraq. 1st Feminist Press ed. New York: Feminist Press, 2006.

Scoble, Robert, and Shel Israel. Naked Conversations : How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley, 2006.

Tremayne, Mark. Blogging, Citizenship, and the Future of Media. London: Routledge, 2007.
White, Michele. The Body and the Screen : Theories of Internet Spectatorship. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2006.

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