Most of my adolescent life was spent on the internet, reading blogs. Beginning from about 2002, when I was 13 going on 24, I’d read blogs of friends, strangers and strangers who ended up becoming my friends, some of whom are still my friends today. I’d wake up a few extra hours earlier, before school, so I could catch some of my friends from other countries online as they came home from their own days at school. During the day, I lived among my peers and formed tangible friendships. After I got home from school, my world opened up beyond physical borders, as I read about what life was like in the Netherlands, or Michigan, or London, or Quebec, or Singapore, or Helsinki. Back then, “I met them on the internet” was a sure way to land a guesting on To Catch a Predator.
I’d read mundane hour-to-hour documentations of people in the suburbs, too, and often wished that I, a sheltered girl who went to Catholic school, could somehow inhabit their bodies and drive to emo shows or skate parks. What I did and kept doing was read a lot, instead of doing my homework, even if it was about my friends evading homework, too. It felt imperative to note what the writer’s “current mood” was and what music this or that post was written to. To make my blog “look nice,” I learned how to code, a little. Most of what I read were just everyday observations or fandom “squeeing,” injected with a little bit of teen drama, though sometimes the actual drama turned up to a full 100, where people plagiarized and extorted their audiences, were apparently catfishing, or faked their own deaths.
There’s a certain appeal of the then-anonymous confessional. Without the ties to “real world” social media accounts like Facebook, blogging was a lot like whispering your own dirty or silly secrets without fear of judgment, or thinking out loud and candidly to an audience who listened to listen. One of the first “confessional” blogs that gained a fair amount of traction was dooce.com, launched in 2001 by Heather B. Armstrong (then Hamilton). Her blunt, honest musings, which partly involved people from work, led to her termination a year later. Right now, it certainly feels as though people only ever read so they can look for mistakes and point them out to you and make you feel like sh*t, though of course, trolls and hateful readers existed even then. But, saying shortsighted things — of which I’ve said many, as young people are wont to do — rarely ever cemented you, permanently, as a pariah, as seems to be the case these days.
I admit to romanticizing this time in my life. I remember it as something more profound and more obviously life-altering, but reading through my posts, from 2002 to about 2008, is at (rare) best, illuminating, and at worst, mind-numbingly dull or worrying.
Today, though, the internet is full of calculated, manicured blogs often used for business instead of a very personal invitation into one’s life. Artist Nan Goldin took a slew of very revealing photographs of her life and times, often teetering on the line of discomfort. “‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ is the diary I let people read,” she wrote. “The diary is my form of control over my life. It allows me to obsessively record every detail. It enables me to remember.” This is what I miss about what I like to think of as “old-world blogging.” I still keep a blog, but even with me, it’s a struggle to keep the intimate and honest parts present, lest they could be used as something against you, nestled in the back of your mind.
This, I guess, is where TinyLetter comes in. An offshoot of MailChimp, a mailing list service mostly utilized by brands for newsletters, TinyLetter takes a more personal approach, in that it’s more about sharing stories and less about selling people anything. Long deprived of personal confessionals, TinyLetter has filled the void in my heart that defunct personal blogs and LiveJournal inactivity have left behind. Although most of the letters I’m subscribed to are personal and, indeed, sad, there are a few that are funny and informative, beautiful and poetic.
A friend wrote that, instead of receiving fun letters penned by friends, it just felt like we were all exchanging sad stories. Although true, I still find it preferable to reading more about things I probably don’t need. Product and restaurant reviews do serve their purpose — I constantly refer to them before purchasing anything — but I still do miss earnest candidness and personal longform musings on obscure things, or ubiquitous things. And while they rarely ever exist on blogs anymore, I’m happy I can find them in my inbox.