I used to be a lurker.
You know who they are: those surfers of the web who revel in dark, unknown corners. Who consume but don’t reciprocate. Whose existence is known to none but themselves, whose presence we are never aware of as anything more than a number on our blog stats that might pique our curiosity. They lurk and disappear back into cyberspace, and no one ever has to know; no trace of them is left behind.
I knew the ups and downs of Penelope’s divorce, Ryan’s workaholism; but until recently I had never so much as left a single comment on any of their blogs. Your first reaction might be: creep! But something like 90% of blog readers are equally creepy lurkers. Chances are, you are lurking right now and will read, digest, and move along without ever saying a thing to me (including you, email subscribers – I know who you are!). You’ll never voice your opinion. So before you call me a creep, don’t forget what you’re doing right now: creeping.
Daring to commit your opinions and your intellectual thoughts down in words, permanently etched into pixels in cyberspace, is unnerving. It takes balls that most people don’t have, and that is why the vast majority of users of the Web are what we so affectionately refer to as lurkers. They’re afraid to voice their opinion and let anyone who Googles them find them; afraid that someone will disagree and criticize them.
I was one of those, and I was hiding. And for a long time that was a theme in my life: hiding. I have about 4 drafts of blog posts I have written over the years, saved in my archives, about how I hide different parts of my life from everyone. But, in my typical fashion, I never posted one of them. Because it takes courage to even blog in the first place. It makes you an outlier, it makes you different, and that opens you up to a whole new level of scrutiny.
Blogging is at once intensely personal, yet unnervingly public. And it connects people in the most individual, human, personal way. Of my college-age friends, I have very few who have blogs. And when one of them first started her blog, she proceeded to get mocked and made fun of behind her back, constantly. Her blog is a joke to the rest of them, constantly bantered about; every new post is gossip fodder, eagerly devoured. Spending so much time around people like that had left me paralyzed, afraid to just be who I am; and prancing around in that living charade was exceptionally tiring. Why did I care about these people again? It was illogical and irrational.
The difference between me pre-blog and me post-blog is simple: I went from an invisible, hiding lurker to a real person, and an outlier. Seems simple, but that transformation is empowering in a way you’d never expect. I went from letting others define me to defining myself. Instead of always having to hide what I do from people, I can just…be. I have something to say that is worth saying, and I actively contribute to the conversation.
It’s no longer a simple matter of writing a blog and hoping someone reads: it overflows into every other area of my life. Now, I want to have more conversations and put out my opinion on everything. I want to seek out new people and new perspectives and constantly learn from everyone around me. I want to explore new ideas, challenge them, and be challenged. I want to do something worth doing, instead of just what everyone else is doing. And sadly, though perhaps not surprisingly, most people aren’t willing to do that. But blogger are.
The mockers matter less and less, because, really, I’d rather drop them from my life now. When one of my favorite writers, who is far, far more successful than me, emailed me out of the blue and told me she loved a piece I wrote, the game changed a little. When my work started to get noticed by some others, the game changed a little. I no longer care to be just one of millions of college kids that are exactly the same. Who wants to blend in?
I realized I am different from them, but instead of continuing to try to hide it I started to reluctantly embrace it. I constantly strive to be an outlier, to be above and beyond, to put myself out there and be someone who challenges the status quo — and not someone who maintains it. I no longer want to be part of the norm. As one blogger said, that’s fifth place, when I know I want first. But if your presence is never known, how will you make an impact? How will you leave your mark? The simple act of voicing your opinion and expressing yourself means you are challenging the status quo, however insignificant you feel. But if you aren’t visible, to the world you don’t exist. If you’re just lurking and not participating, you’re outdated, obsolete, last year’s season. That’s not even fifth place; that’s invisibility.
Now, I’m no longer letting things happen to me. I don’t let others tell me what to do. I don’t believe in destiny; I just go out and make things happen. And I tend to brazenly defy everyone who doesn’t believe me. I realized that the way I defined myself and my life had to change. And in doing so, I won the inner battle that has been raging inside of me for twenty years. I killed the inner critic, the voice that stops so many people from doing great things. I stopped living for what other people think, and started living solely to create an impact and a difference.
And blogging, and everything and everyone that came with it, are what forced that change.
So when I sat down to write a post about how blogging has changed my life, many things came to mind. I wanted to write something as flawless as Andrew Sullivan’s brilliant essay, “Why I Blog.” But I am not Andrew Sullivan, so I can’t. Instead I thought of all the things I had learned, the advice I had gained, the opportunities I’ve received, the people I had interviewed and the late night discussions I’ve had when I could have been studying. And those have all been amazing things. But to this day, nothing compares to the surprising rush of empowerment that comes in that moment when you hold your breath and hit the ‘Publish’ button. It’s your blog, and no one can fuck with you there.
It’s something those legions of lurkers will never understand.
(Hat tip to BC – what a challenge. This is probably the hardest thing I have ever written!)
And an update: this post just won me a free ticket to SXSW Interactive in March!