The Joy of Self-Exposure 

If the craziest thing happens to you in the forest, and there's no high-speed connection by which you can document it ...

Kristy from San Francisco replaced her boyfriend with a blog. Myrna from Venice, California, started one when flirty e-mails with a faraway friend became more of a public writing exercise than a way to communicate with a single person. Matt from Tampa targets "my friends and cute girls" with his Myspace profile, photos, and blogs. Julie, another Tampa Myspacer, says posting bulletins and blog entries is "like having everyone in the room with me, and broadcasting it so I don't have to repeat myself."

Simply doing cool stuff is no longer enough. Nowadays you need to present documentary evidence in the form of detailed public recollections, preferably with photos. But how honest can people really be about all the fun they're having if they're taking the time to type it up and upload it afterward, or even during?

Various Web platforms offer tiers of intimacy, like the layers of an onion. The outer layer consists of surveys filled out and posted to bulletin boards on online social networks such as Myspace, Friendster, Tribe, and the new Hi5. These put your public persona into manageable compartments. What are the last five albums you listened to? Which of the following sexual acts have you done, or had done to you? Which Napoleon Dynamite character are you? "Narcissism should be somewhat fun," Matt explains.

Beyond these surveys are more official posts, in which you ask your online community to come see your band or art show, sponsor you in a triathlon or, um, answer questions for an article you're working on. This alerts folks to all the good stuff you've been up to.

Myrna, who is very aware of how perceptions are formed on social networking spaces, shares her fun and funny side exclusively. "I don't want to air my dirty laundry," she says. "I want to foster positive rather than negative. Not whiny or woebegone. Myspace is a public forum and we're all actors. I guess I just want to star in comedies, action flicks, and thrillers."

Her blogs represent the third stratum of cyberintimacy -- writing about your world for an exclusive online social network. These are similar to certain entries on LiveJournal, Blogger, Blogspot, and the like, whose authors have locked them down for their acquaintances' eyes only. Esperanza, a Berkeley teacher and writer, claims she never censors herself, but limits her blog's readership.

Others invite everybody in. Raygonne of Oakland keeps all posts on his Internal Exile journal ( wide open, mainly because it's a writing blog, not a dishy one. "Talking at parties is alright," he says. "But I have a better time staying in on a Friday or Saturday, having a few beers, and writing about what I'm thinking ... without the self-consciousness of holding court at a party. The fun I'm describing is the pleasure of writing about something and chasing my train of thought."

Raygonne also posts entries about good shows and memorable nights out, such as this June 15 bit about SF's Buddha Bar: "There was a crew of drunk 20-somethings in the bar celebrating the tsunami that was supposed to swallow sf yesterday, and one super-inebriated girl named haley announced that we had stepped into the ultimate party. woo. we decided to play upstairs at the back of the tiny buddha. i have photos which i should figure out how to post. i really wished i had a videocamera, b/c it would have made a riveting documentary."

The blogger still masks his public musings, however: Internal Exile has a split personality consisting of Ray Gonne and Henry Crush. "Ray's the guy who blogs for fun, gets trashed at home, and rambles in his posts," he explains. "Henry's more of a sweetheart who tells people how he feels about things, is very affectionate with his blog friends, and who looks after Ray."

At the potent center of the onion are those completely public blogs that hide little. Kristy's She Just Walks Around with It ( caught the attention of strangers after one of her Craigslist postings made its popular "Best Of" page. Her blog details the results of her decision to lose weight and get in shape since turning thirty, among other topics, and includes a clear photo and details about her true identity. "I joked once that I used to tell my boyfriend about my everyday goings-on," she says. "Now that he's dumped me, I tell my blog. This would seem to indicate that my blog equals my boyfriend. Oh, well, what's a girl to do?" Why, write about knitting and drinking and the worst kisses ever, of course. Kristy's entries are charming and sometimes hilarious: Her July 9 recollection of an inebriated comic mishap was illustrated with a photo of her own badly bruised buttocks.

Why blog instead of just scribbling in a diary? Because saying things out loud, or broadcasting them over the Internet, gives them a concrete form, and makes them easier to laugh at. Just as you can't take someone completely seriously once you've seen him or her naked, so can you mock something painful once you've stripped it of the protective barrier of your head.

So, if absolutely, positively the coolest thing ever happens to you in the forest, and there's no wireless connection available, did you really have any fun? "Of course. There is life beyond cyberspace," Matt says. "Someday I'll look back on Myspace and wonder how I ever could have spent so much time on there."



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