Do You Fear Context Collapse?

I was just being interviewed about my blog and the interviewer asked me the following very unexpected question:

“Do you sometimes worry that, through your blog,  people from different parts of your life will gain access to the information about you that is not aimed at them? Your colleagues might find out things about your personal life, old boyfriends will read about your current life, your relatives will read stories about your dating experiences, etc.?”

“Erm. . . no,” I said. “Do other people worry about it?”

“Yes,” the interviewer said. “This is what we refer to as “context collapse.” Many bloggers worry that different compartments of their life will comingle.”

“Huh. Not me,” was all I could respond.

It has never even occurred to me that people can see their lives in this way. I’m not being in any way critical, mind you. I’m just very surprised. This must totally be an autistic thing, don’t you think? I never considered that different contexts might call for different behaviors or a different way of relating to others. It doesn’t bother me that I never thought about it because I’m doing fine just the way I am (and even getting interviewed about my blog for the third week in a row).

It seems quite a strain to maintain all those personas for all those different contexts, don’t you think? I’m kind of glad I’m not doing it.

People never cease to surprise me.

25 thoughts on “Do You Fear Context Collapse?”

  1. I’m afraid of it, I’ll admit. But only sporadically. I find that writers often have a tendency to inflate the way people perceive of them. And by this I mean that most people don’t think as deeply about us as we think about ourselves. Self-analysis, in all its permutations, is part of the craft.

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    1. My god, that was exactly what I was going to say. Ok, not exactly ver batum, but you said it so much more concisely that I’m just going to agree wholeheartedly. I don’t care what the world knows, just as long as my parents don’t find it…

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  2. “Do You Fear Context Collapse?” I would, yes. Not every workplace is as good as yours, and having boss read your blog may not be a good thing. Ditto about co-workers. The idea that an obsessive ex may keep tabs is unpleasant too. Personally, I don’t have secrets from close relatives, so wouldn’t mind them reading a personal blog, but other people who know me in RL? Unpleasant and would prevent me from freely saying what I think. Most people blog under pseudonyms for a good reason: to prevent work discrimination, f.e. Atheists are often vilified, and Dear Prudence in 21st century “advises a mother worried about the influence of her young daughter’s single, pregnant teacher.”

    http://www.slate.com/articles/life/dear_prudence/2012/02/knocked_up_single_teacher_will_she_corrupt_my_daughter_.single.html

    Imagine having your blog as a HS teacher in a conservative part of US.

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    1. “ot every workplace is as good as yours, and having boss read your blog may not be a good thing. Ditto about co-workers. The idea that an obsessive ex may keep tabs is unpleasant too. Personally, I don’t have secrets from close relatives, so wouldn’t mind them reading a personal blog, but other people who know me in RL? Unpleasant and would prevent me from freely saying what I think.”

      – Doesn’t this sound like such a person’s RL is a total fake?

      “Imagine having your blog as a HS teacher in a conservative part of US.”

      – We are not concentrating on the right thing here. If this is a person who is so out of tune with her environment that she is terrified of making her thoughts known, she will not have a very happy life. I suggest moving, blog or no blog.

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      1. //Doesn’t this sound like such a person’s RL is a total fake?

        No, it sounds like such a person prefers not close friends not getting very private info. Keeping not close people at distance. With boss & co-workers there is a professional relationship, in which there is no need to start talking at length RE politics or RE one’s exes. Kellen said below:
        anything “weird” is not good in accounting
        And it isn’t only true for her job or for conservative parts of US, so moving isn’t a solution.

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  3. I didn’t know that it had a name – but I would hate for people who know me in real life to read my blog for some reason. There are a few people that I know in real life that I’m totally comfortable with them reading it, but mostly I just don’t want the people I know seeing how I write/think.

    Definitely would be a problem at work if they knew I had a blog – anything “weird” is not good in accounting, and anything that your coworkers don’t all participate in is considered “weird.” I have, in the past, longed for a job where I could just be myself, but my current firm is not the place.

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  4. I am very sensitive about this context collapse (I didn’t know it had a name though). Things are thankfully better for me now, but there was a time when I faced a lot of discrimination at work because of my marital status.

    The experience has made me extremely sensitive to sharing any details of my personal life with anybody at work, or anybody I don’t know well at all. I am not talking about TMI details here; I am so reserved that many of my close collaborators at other institutions do not even know that I am married.

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  5. I don’t worry about this. I guard my privacy in certain matters, though., as well as the privacy of people who would prefer not to be mentioned by name on my blog. I don’t have any trouble distinguishing between me and not-me; I don’t have unlimited rights to say anything I want on my blog, for various reasons. I gather making these distinctions is a problem for some.
    These are matters that are quite clear to me. This is not the same as compartmentalization. It’s me making decisions about my life and my world.

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  6. I guess it boils down to whether or not you fear the possibility of being hurt. When you think about it, that pretty much happens any time you decide to share some of yourself with a new person or person’s. For the most part Im past being afraid of the boogeyman, though every once in a while I think of my family but then quickly return to reality and go back to being who I am.

    F-false
    E-evidence
    A-appearing
    R-real

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  7. I think the worst thing that has happened to me is people taking terms I use in a very specialised and academic sense, along with my own very particular tweaking of them, as if they were common, everyday expressions. They read my blog and understand it in a shockingly unsophisticated manner.

    For instance, they read “masculine” as “male”.

    Or they read things in the context of their own experiences, which may be middle class and affluent, and then decide that others who are not middle class and buffered from certain kinds of hardships in the way they are must be “actin’ crazy”.

    These are things to watch out for.

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  8. Titfortat :
    They read my blog and understand it in a shockingly unsophisticated manner.(scratchy)
    Would that mean if they understood you they would be sophisticated?

    If their thinking is illogical and binary, then no, certainly not. If hunger causes me to eat chicken, would hunger cause me to eat babies, too? If it is possible for someone to make a mistake by thinking black is white, do they become sophisticated by realising it isn’t?

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  9. Well, my point in starting a pseudonymous blog was not so that people wouldn’t find out who I was IRL but so as to reclaim my voice – to write as my private persona, not as my public or professional one.

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  10. I am afraid of it somewhat. I always think of what George Costanza says in “Seinfeld”: I don’t like it when worlds collide. Especially considering that my blog has personal information that I’m afraid could bother my family even though it’s not meant to. My blog is meant to portray facets of my mental health, and they figure in it. In general, I find it nerve-wracking when any different aspects of my life intersect. I like to keep all of my spheres separate, and from what I gather, I actually do this to a much more pronounced degree than most people.

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  11. Not everyone has the ability to live in an ideal environment. In an environment where being feminist and pro-legalized abortion, being gay or gay friendly, being anti-war, being pro-Democratic can get you fired or harm one’s job prospects, net anonymity becomes a protection. Plausible deniability is a good thing to have. I don’t think that one’s employers are entitled to every aspect of one’s political, religious, social opinions or personal life. Employers and potential employers do routinely search Facebook and other social media and “Google” employees or potential employees. There is no legal protection against being fired for non-job-performance-related matters, and even when there is good evidence of discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or religion, it is extraordinarily difficult to prove such discrimination in court, given the gutting of equal opportunity law in the last decade.

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    1. Also: if I ever do set up a website in my own name – well actually, I do have one for work already, but if I got my own domain name and all that, in my own name – it would be to promote work done under that name, or a business under that name, or something like that.

      I don’t see why having blogs, or rooms for that matter, for specific purposes is a sign of “compartmentalization,” “fragmentation,” etc.

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      1. “I don’t see why having blogs, or rooms for that matter, for specific purposes is a sign of “compartmentalization,” “fragmentation,” etc.”

        – No, it isn’t, of course. The question was about whether I compartmentalize and the blog would be just one of the manifestations.

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  12. It has never even occurred to me that people can see their lives in this way. I’m not being in any way critical, mind you. I’m just very surprised. This must totally be an autistic thing, don’t you think? I never considered that different contexts might call for different behaviors or a different way of relating to others.

    I think of this stuff ALL the time!

    Yeah, I have changed a lot of my blog commentary since going on local radio. Some of the more theoretical stuff would seem arcane or bizarre to regular working class people (radio is free, the internet is not, a particular class of people listen to AM radio), so I am writing much more for a “mass audience”–with a southern emphasis. I write more theoretical stuff on other blogs… some of that gets saved on Disqus and Intense Debate, so I feel like it isn’t all lost.

    What would be weird is if local folks read my Disqus and ID comments, where I say things like “whiteness needs to be abolished”–I would have to spend a good hour explaining exactly what I mean by such a controversial statement (i.e. that I don’t mean WHITE PEOPLE, of which I am one, but *whiteness* as a category and class).

    So far, I am not that famous, so not a lot of snooping into my comments, but I have prepared myself for the eventuality.

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  13. Clarissa, you have said that you behave differently when you are with students, even in non teaching venues. Does this contradict your statement:

    “It has never even occurred to me that people can see their lives in this way. I’m not being in any way critical, mind you. I’m just very surprised. This must totally be an autistic thing, don’t you think? I never considered that different contexts might call for different behaviors or a different way of relating to others. It doesn’t bother me that I never thought about it because I’m doing fine just the way I am (and even getting interviewed about my blog for the third week in a row).”

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    1. Oh, right! I do have a teaching persona that turns on whenever I’m around a student. And I love the teaching persona because it’s very liberating. It’s like even autism falls away when it switches on. This is why I enjoy teaching so much. I don’t know why it turns on yet and I only vaguely understand why it’s so liberating. This is why students are the only people I mind reading the blog. I want them to know only the teaching persona. I’m working on this in analysis right now, so there is still a way to go before I figure it out.

      Thank you for being willing to discuss this with me!

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