Justin Hall's personal site growing & breaking down since 1994

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january 24

mark from wired wrote in for an interview for wired news. the piece ran thursday, and here's what i answered fully.

ahh the e-mail interview - so complete. like an article written.
this one, on the subject of "scribe tribes" - online diarists.

thank you mark. good chance for a lil' reflection.

Date: Tue, 20 Jan 1998 01:38:30 -0500
To: Mark Frauenfelder
From: justin
Subject: scribe tribe response

mark -

thanks for writing. i have more to say than i expected. call for any clarifications.

thanks for the chance to spout. lemme know when it comes out.

scribe tribe, i like the name. i don't always feel so much a part of the intensely self-identified scribe tribe online, but i definitely feel a part of the rough and ready web writers: coming and going constantly with a dozen personal web pages published tonight with corel draw graphics and 1994 html that are expressing a side of human emotion we forgot we knew. no frames, no server push, no awards. tomorrow they might disappear, but for now, and

"in the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people," said my friend kathleen, considering the personal diary phenomenon.

what are the motives?
i feel like sharing intense wisdom gleaned from my daily interactions, versus having the light of anonymous attention shone in on my sense of self-loathing. sometimes i want that too. but i hope to admit it and try to talk about something useful.

my diary site is not just what i ate and shat and talked about that day, it's linked into recipes, books, authors, friends, family, pages and pages of background. people who drop in, and feel like wasting the time, can be clued in on what i'm talking about. and maybe get exposed to something they hadn't before. and then maybe send me something similar, or different. i like learning.

i love being able to make a literal creation of my worldview. to interlink the recalled pieces of my life and memory. proust would have loved this, if he could have ever stopped surfing. i think he could have.

there's people who want to create a community online of personal diarist/artists. i think they're out there. ripe for the picking. they want to be part of something. they've got so much energy. they're writing about themselves, and i think many of them serve as examples for the rest of us. realtime developing examples. autonomous agents acting in similar worlds and sharing their results for lurkers.

for the most part, these are people who believe their works and words have some worth. i think many people lack the sense that the minutae of their life are worth spit. that someone else can publish a telephone conversation with their mother like literature gives them something to connect their lives to.

is that healthy? if it's honest, i think it can be empowering. if it's not completely self-absorbed, it can serve to open up people's sense of what's worthwhile. i firmly believe that an elevated sense of the worth of daily interactions is healthy. i think online diaries can contribute to this sense.

another phenomenon: many/most people who write these diaries make web pages on the side, for other businesses. this is high velocity self-expression, and i think it continues to mark the web as a place for people to make their own medium.

Mark Frauenfelder sez at 18:02 -0800 1/19/98,
>Dear Justin
>I write a weekly column about interesting cultures on the Net, and I
>would like to interview you for a column I'm writing about "Scribe

i'm honoured, thank you mark.

i think about you sometimes, i'm glad you're up to interesting things. i see your smiley spike-haired mug on wired news when i check in for my bi-daily info fix.

>Would you please answer the following questions? I will be happy to link
>to your site in my piece. If you could answer as soon as possible, I
>would appreciate it, because I'm on a deadline.

>1. Tell me a bit about yourself and the diary you keep.

i am justin hall. 23 years old, finishing swarthmore college this year, special major in "meaning context and media." i haven't decided yet, but i think i will have a 100 page thesis done by the end of the semester studying change.

i'm an extrovert who publishes as much online as i do in person, with my mouth.

>2. Why do choose to publish your journal, rather than keeping a private
>one? Does it ever feel more like performance? Have you compromised your
>honesty because your diary is public.

i like to challenge myself - what would i want to keep secret? those are points of weakness. those things that are the hardest to share about myself are the points that make for the most interesting writing. what comprimises my sense of myself? why am i so attached? so to publish that is to lose that sensitivity and share it and grow stronger. those things often end up being things that people are uncomfortable talking about themselves, so i find they stimulate people who read my pages. we have thoughts or conversations about sex death and relationships like most commercial media doesn't touch.

i am honoured that there are people dropping by, and i enjoy their feedback, but i also very much enjoy the craft of making daily web pages; aligning the pictures, crafting my words, describing my life. i wouldn't do it otherwise.

changing my words for the public is intense - it's one thing to protect people, my relations, it's another to be afraid of saying something for fear of giving the wrong impression. i antidote that with more words - explaining my fear or apprehension about the paragraph above, and then analyzing it in the context of other previous apprehensions, or possible prejudices, or fears. if it's not protecting someone else's privacy, i think i look at much privacy as fear. it doesn't mean publishing my address or social security number, but it does mean opening up about stuff that might seem repugnant, the ugliness of mind.

i have been through therapy before, so that sense of looking at one's behaviour might come more readily to me. when i'm away from dear ones who soothe me, i find publishing online to be consoling. and then if i'm suffering, people who read my pages often write in with similar stories and sympathy, and i feel better. weird magic.

>3. Is their a clique of well known journalists who have sort of become
>celebrities? from poiking around, it seems like there is a bit of
>competition and animosity amongst the camraderie of online diarists.

i'd be interested to hear what you've found here mark. i only have a sense of a slight clique - there's a few cool site of the year contestants who have ramped their sites up to the framiest height of bandwidth-intensive media, and work on these sorts of projects together. i admire what they do with the medium, but my current fourteen inch monitor and 100mhz processor has little tolerance for their technologies. i perfer a deluge of delightful, difficult verbiage and a few choice graphics.

but i'm kind of an old timer i guess. my site will be four years old this january, and i haven't progressed much with the web technology. i think i'm more interested in speaking to people with lynx than people with netscape 7.

>4. What are some of the good things about keeping an online journal?

a ritual of self reflection, timely advice (when i get sick people send me good soup recipes), an archive of composed memories.

>5. Bad things? What's the worst thing that happened to you from keeping
>on online diary?

developing fairly severe repetitive stress injury from typing too much.

my relatives and familiars occasionally feel compromised by my writing my affairs, but it's nothing that wasn't happening with my online autobiography before i started my diary. the diary brings immediacy to it. but then soon the entry is buried, and it's a done deal. very few toe-steppings, i think. i'm flexible on that, and i think my friends have learned that. or they guard stuff from me. i might never know. but i enjoy myself.

>6. Is there any interesting jargon about online diary keeping?

none that i know of. RSI?

>7. What have you learned about yourself from keeping an online journal?

that i enjoy writing. that i can write every day. that every day is a lesson or something worth reflecting on and sharing. that people respond to updated content. if i could, i would update my site with hourly reflections. i don't have it in me now - i'm looking for technology solutions to the hand problem. i've learned there's an audience. i've learned that my writing style changes, and now i can observe the change in the way i express myself. it's so casual, and still prepared.

also, when i travel, and take a digital camera, people pay more attention to me. some people like that best (nebraska mothers), some people like my reflections on college more (recent graduates), and some people like my san francisco wanderings best (isolated folks).

about myself? that i can find something to think about, and compose about. i appreciate the little stories in my life. it makes me impatient to write; it gives everything subject-validity.

>8. What advice would you give to somebody who is considering keeping an
>online journal?

pace yourself. keeping up daily is wonderful, but somehow it's like a tidal wave that never stops growing until it's swept you under and it takes all your willpower and strength to keep from being sucked into the undertoe of stress and cessitation. it's okay to publish only when it's interesting - i have resigned myself to once every few days. accumulate interesting things. write down quotes, and then relax. better to keep going than to burn out, right? listen to neil young and decide.

one thing i just love is logging in from foreign terminals (honduras; kansas) and changing my page on the road. on the spot reporting away from the friendly confines of my personal computer. personal journalism. straight up html storytelling.

many online diarists, including myself, use forms of freeverse and often lower case letters. so advice: bear in mind this robert frost quote: "free verse is like playing tennis with the net down." reject it after you've thought about it for a while, but remind yourself and try something more formal once in a while. polish your writing for a change. make it rhyme maybe. maybe make a song. maybe write an essay. if you're writing every day, it's a great chance to develop your mastery of different vocabularies and styles.

>9. Can you tell me an interesting story related to your diarist activities?

my girlfriend, amy, was informed by her friends, who read my web page, how i felt about her right after we first met (check november 8 1996 i think). "he likes you" they would tell her, based on my wondering after her online. so i had people i didn't directly contact acting as my messengers.

since we are in a long distance relationship, my writing about my life, and writing about us keeps me more in her immediate environment; folks who read my page and go to her school ask her about me, and so i am a kind of current affair where i can not be. useful reminder for a distant girlfriend. a little odd perhaps. probably thoroughly modern.


thank you mark.

take care,

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