This is the full interview for a story published on Health24 on 12 May 2008.
1: As we are a health website, the article is mostly focused on the psychology of blogging. Why do you think people blog and why do you think it’s so popular?
People have an inherent desire to express themselves. The mainstream media is controlled by a few companies and bloggers, who tend to more educated, better access to the Internet, realise they don’t have to play by society’s rules to say what they want to say, when they want to say it and how they want to say it. It is popular because it gives the author complete freedom. So you have everything from blogging about what cereal you ate this morning to campaigning for the release of political prisoners across Africa. The fact that it is an open medium makes more transparent than any publishing medium in the history of the world.
2. Do you have a blog? If so, what is the sort of information you share on it?
Yes, I have multiple blogs:
www.netucation.co.za where I blog about the psychological impact of technology and specifically about how to supports or detracts from personal relationships between parents and children, between teachers and learners, between spouses and couples, and between management and employees or teams.
www.ramonthomas.com where I have been blogging about personal development and dating in the 21st century for South Africans. This started out as a personal blog but now I take it seriously as a way to spread the good news that you can take control of your life. You can change habits one at a time, and you don’t have a choice when it comes to dating and not rely on fate or destiny.
There are a few others that are more esoteric like www.credomutwa.com which is about Credo Mutwa, a zulu sangoma and a national treasure to this country that most people don’t even know about.
3. Many psychologists are concerned that too much personal information is shared under the perceived veil of anonymity; what is your experience of this? Are people sharing too much? How much is too much?
People are sharing information on blogs wilfully. What I mean is they understand to a large extent the consequences. It is more in the realm of social networks that they DO NOT understand the risk of the vastly increased amount of personal information being exposed to the world. The biggest crises in the future of the Web will be the loss of personal privacy. In a very weird way people are submitting to (George) Orwellian -1984 like society where every movement can be monitored and for the most part they know this. Website usually have a button saying something like “confirm if you want to proceed” and people still do. So in one way you can say it has to be ignorance and another perspective may be that people just do not care that much about personal privacy. I believe it’s the later that’s the real underlying motivation for this behaviour. There is a voyeuristic element to reading blogs or social networking profiles (Facebook, MySpace) that is filled with personal titbits.
4. Psychologically, how are our blogging habits affecting our social lives and our ability to interact with others, and do you have any suggestions for combating this?
The latest research confirms that blogging helps you expand your social life. So it comes full circle from the self-expression mentioned earlier to lifting your mood. When you are in a remote part of the world, or South Africa, you can tell you story and allow interested people to find you, and interact with you. So the only suggestion I would make is for people to meet people face to face, as soon as possible and not fall into a online relationship, which can raise expectations, only to be disappointed because of that elusive element in relationships called “chemistry.” You can never get to know people as quickly as when you meet and socialise with them in-person.
5. Why do you think blogging is such a phenomenon in SA in particular?
It ties in with this post-Apartheid mindset. South African for the most part are upbeat, besides crime, besides Eskom, etc. Blogs mostly focus on what’s good and a few drool on the negative like the SA Male Prostitute blog, which has been taken offline after the guilty party was apprehended. It is important to note that bloggers helped track down this person, because he abused the implicit bloggers code of ethics.
6. Do you have any advice for people who want to start their own blog, but not fall into the trap of turning it into a daily diary of their lives?
Yes, this should be easy if you know yourself. What I mean is if you have an awareness about things you are passionate about. For my girlfriend that is beauty and skincare and for others it may be Reiki and meditation. What I mean here is hobbies and interests make the perfect topics for blogging. Now if you do not have hobbies or interests, the chances are you are overworked or depressed. And once again blogging can help you find your voice. Before I forget I want to emphasise the explotion of podcasting (audio) and video blogging. I personally use my Sony Ericsson W880i to record both audio and video podcasts from time to time. A brilliant example of this is Khaya, a South Africa, with over 10,000 subscribers on Youtube.