The Topic of This Piece Has Been Censored

Hummingbird's picture

It’s ironic that the first topic I thought of when considering whether I’d ever felt silenced was a topic I’ve silenced myself from sharing on this blog. When Anne spoke to our class about the use of the blog, she said she hoped that by the end of the class we could each take responsibility for our words and use our given names in our blog posts. My silencing is less about taking responsibility for my words, and more about how willing I am to open myself up to others. And though my own name is slightly obscured on this blog, my posts all show up in a search of my full name on Google. For me, that’s terrifying.

What I’ve come to learn about interactions on the Internet is that nothing goes away.  Last year, I wrote a post about the MTV debate that was occurring here at Bryn Mawr. Recently, I searched “MTV” and “napkin notes” on Google to see what came up and was surprised to find a blog citing my post from someone at the University of Texas. That’s not a problem – it’s exciting to realize that perfect strangers can be interested by what I have to say. In addition, because I still stand by what I said in those posts, I’m fine with them being associated with me.

However, what I find scary is the fact that our prompts for these new blog posts are more personal in nature. As I mentioned before, I decided to silence myself from discussing my original topic because I felt it was too personal to be published. This was something about myself that I didn’t want perfect strangers knowing. To start, it’s none of their business. The world of the Internet doesn’t need to know about my personal life or my own emotional struggles. But I also didn’t want to share something with strangers that I haven’t shared yet with many of the people I interact with on a daily basis.

I understand Anne’s desire that we take responsibility for our words and writing. I also understand that by writing on a public blog, we are forced to think very carefully about what we want to be associated with us – and that makes the very nature of our posts much more thoughtful than they might have otherwise been. But the fact that these posts are more thoughtful due to their openness means that every post we write is a practice in self-silencing, or censorship. Things we might feel comfortable sharing with one another in our close-knit classroom or on a paper printout with our professor get held back when we turn to our online postings.

Another reason these public blog posts are so silencing for me is the fact that there will always be a trace. I might be allowed to change my opinion on hot issues and I’m definitely allowed to write about the new opinion I’ve come to, but all of these thoughts ­– old and new – stay online. This is scary for me because it makes it so easy for strangers reading the posts to form an incomplete picture of who I am. When I wrote my original MTV piece last year, I also wrote an update on it to track my changing thoughts on the issue. I know, however, that far more people are aware of the original posting than they are of the second piece – which means a number of people only know one part of my opinion on the matter. I now feel silenced on posting about future topics because I worry people reading my posts will get a misleading picture of me.

I suppose this is one of the problems with the Internet in general. Everything has the potential to be taken out of context and I’m not comfortable with that. I like to have control over what I produce, but once it’s in this public forum, I lose that control.

Even the image I began my paper with has been taken out of its original context – starting as a work of art called Bouquet of Eyes (by Hannah Hoch) and shifting to be a representation of silence for jhunter. Now, for me, it symbolizes the many eyes that could view anything we decide to put online and the lack of context each of these disjointed segments has. It also symbolizes the scrutiny placed on things we put into the public sphere and the silencing that comes from that.

For those Bryn Mawr students who wish to know what my original topic was going to be, come find me. I appreciate the control I have over my own spoken word and I’m willing to share in that space. In this forum, though, I’d like to be a little more careful about what I say. Who knows how it might be read or misread and by whom?

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Anne Dalke's picture

Silencing the Self

Hummingbird--
you've already traveled some distance from when you first posted this story, w/ your name only "slightly obscured"; now, having assumed a much clearer pseudonym, you may feel freer to say what you are really thinking, really experiencing, about a range of things...

interesting, eh, that in "silencing" your name you may feel free to speak more loudly? That in taking out the fear of presenting "a misleading picture of me," your thoughts might become freer? Because freed from association with your particular self?

I think the deepest thing you say here--and I highlighted this in class last week-- is that, since "these posts are more thoughtful due to their openness," every one "is a practice in self-silencing." I'd like to go on thinking about this w/ you: in being thoughtful, in editing our thoughts, in re-thinking and re-phrasing them, in re-writing our essays--are we actually "silencing" ourselves? In refining what we think, surrounding it w/ silence in a way that makes what's really important come clear?

When jhunter first posted this image, she said that it puts the self in the position of the object, giving time for self-reflection. That's not bad, eh?

Be sure to see, too, the meditations on this image by Sarah and HSBurke, who have stories both like-and-different from your own. And perhaps to reflect on the distance you've traveled (already!) from your first image of silence as snow--it's become a MUCH more complicated idea for you since! Can't wait to hear next steps in this direction....

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