Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Blogs as therapy

A recent article at described how people use their blogs as a kind of cathartic therapy. It gave the example of people writing about medical problems, and forming a community with other bloggers who shared that problem.

When discussing with colleagues this idea of "blogging as therapy," a common reply was that this really is nothing new. For as long as people have been writing, they have used it as a form of cathartic self-expression. Personal diaries and journals are a good example. Psychologists and other mental health professionals also have long noted the value of "bibliotherapy" in which people specifically use writing exercises to address and resolve problems in their lives, or simply to enhance their personal growth.

But there's an important difference between blogs and bibliotherapeutic writing. Blog communities actually combine features of personal journaling and support groups. People write to express themselves and their problems, but they also read and react to others who are doing the same. The blog enables much more social interaction than a diary, which traditionally is a strictly private, self-reflective affair.

Given that these types of blogs are a blend between personal writing and social support, an interesting question arises concerning "perceived audience." Do bloggers consider who might be reading their work? Are they writing, both consciously and unconsciously, to someone in particular? The Washington Post article pointed to some examples of bloggers being unpleasantly surprised by who in fact found their way to reading their inner thoughts, almost as if in their own minds the bloggers had lost track of the distinction between a private and public space.

It would be interesting to study how people experience the creation of their blogs. Do they perceive themselves as writing for themselves, as writing for an audience, or as a combination of both? From a psychoanalytic perspective, therapeutic blogging might be conceptualized as a type of "transitional space" in which the person simultaneously experiences the blog as "my space" (private journaling) and "our space" (support group).

Monday, October 10, 2005

Defining the Digital Divide

A recent survey of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, reported in a article, has led some to propose a new definition of the "digital divide" - those who do and don't have a broadband connection to the Internet. The report said that 53 percent of home Internet users have residential high-speed connections, up from 21 percent in 2002. Education was the most important factor in determining whether someone would have high-speed access.

Surely there are some merits to this new definition. High-speed means more multimedia resources, so any online businesses that use such resources will want to know who is jumping the divide to enter their market. Educational institutions offering online courses will begin to thrive with multimedia communication. Who will have access and who won't will be an important issue.

The merit to these new definitions is in understanding exactly what some people will have access to that others don't. And will that enhanced access be a significant resource over and above the text information and communication, as well as basic imaging capabilities, that are already available to almost everyone online? Is faster and more better, or is this our Type-A cultural belief?

One problem is that if if we accept this new definition of the digital divide, we probably will find ourselves continually revising it as new and better technology rolls our way. Who has ultra-broadband and who doesn't? Who has an integrated domestic internet/entertainment system and who doesn't? Who has holographic projection? We might consider how these revised definitions of the digital divide could become an expression of technology competitiveness and the pressure to keep up with the Jones's.

There also is a measure of digital egocentrism in such new definitions. It's almost as if we who are online are becoming so preoccupied with who has what in cyberspace that we forget that some people don't have any kind of access, or even a computer, and perhaps don't even know what cyberspace is - the people on the other side of that very clear and broad digital divide as traditionally defined.