Science

Bloggers living in a virtual reality, professor says

Bloggers are living in a world where emotions may be real but everything else is make-believe, says a University of Calgary professor in a new book.

Bloggers are living in a world where emotions may be real but everything else is make-believe, says a University of Calgary professor in a new book.

Blogs, short for web logs, are everywhere on the internet these days and often reveal the innermost feelings of individuals who hate their jobs, activists with a political cause or even angst-ridden teenagers in the throes of first love. The popularity of sites such as MySpace.com, which contains thousands of blogs, is a testament to the world of self-expression.

But Michael Keren, who has written Blogosphere: The New Political Arena, suggests individuals who bare their souls in blogs are isolated and lonely, living in a virtual reality instead of forming real relationships or helping to change the world.

"Bloggers think of themselves as rebels against mainstream society, but that rebellion is mostly confined to cyberspace, which makes blogging as melancholic and illusionary as Don Quixote tilting at windmills," the author said.

Unrealistic expectations

Keren, who teaches in the faculty of communication and culture, spoke to reporters Tuesday at The Loft, a student cybercafe at the university, where many students were busily typing away on laptops— perhaps updating blogs of their own.

"In this world of blogging, which the whole world can read, you have a personal expectation about a readership that's just not there for the millions of bloggers who are writing their personal feelings," he said.

Keren praised the internet as a great place for self-expression, but he also suggested that blogs often create feelings of loneliness for those who aren't lucky enough to reach "celebrity" status.

"Many of us end up like Father McKenzie in the Eleanor Rigby Beatles song, who is writing a sermon that no one is going to hear," he suggested. "Some of us are going to be embraced by the mainstream media, but the majority of us remain in the dark, remain in the loneliness."

In his book, Keren follows the blogs of nine individuals, including a Canadian woman living in the woods in a cabin in Quebec. She discusses her identity through stories about her two cats.

"One day one of the cats dies and the whole blogosphere becomes crazy about the death of this cat, and what happens is she gets a community of support which is not real," Keren said. "These are people with nicknames who express enormous support, but they can disappear in the next minute and they are not real, and she remains lonely in the end."

Controversial views

Keren's view of the blogosphere is not shared by everyone.

"That's harsh," declared Arian Hopkins, 36, of Calgary, who has a spot on MySpace.com.

Hopkins said the web, along with community portals and blogsites, has become a great tool for Generation Y to spout on everything from "how much they hate their mom to the best show that is out there."

Saying bloggers are lonely and living in a make-believe world is unfair, she said.

"I don't think it's based on these poor people who are so lonely and sad. I don't think that's really fair, because it's being used in all sorts of mediums," said Hopkins, a business analyst for TransCanada Pipelines.

Living in a make-believe world can help some people deal with loneliness, she suggested.

"There are these crazy relationships that are happening online from people getting to know people through their blogs. Who cares if they're not real people?" the mother of three said. "Bloggers tend to be a little more extroverted. They say, 'I have a story and want you to hear it.' It's kind of like my story is as important as everybody else's."

Fellow blogger Peter Leveque agreed.

"I would disagree with anyone whose thesis is that people who blog are lonely outcasts," the Calgary lawyer wrote in an e-mail."I expect bloggers are like everyone else and come from all walks of life with all sorts of different interests.

"But what do I know?Not much, likely."

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