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The Outsider: why high school never ends

March 26th, 2005 · 12 Comments

Although my name has been mentioned (kindly) in the discussions on diversity and gender in blogs, I was reluctant to post my opinion. I hesitate because I often understand and experience both sides of an issue. I also would rather write and do what I can to promote others in an organic way than blog about blogging. However Rebecca Blood’s post has motivated me. I thought she made excellent points including the following excerpts:

  • Truth is, whichever weblog you first find will lead you to other, similar, weblogs (all of which link to others like them) and from that you will come to a completely erroneous conclusion about the composition of the weblog universe.
  • But I still wonder whether the way some women write–whatever their approach–might not create an unconscious perception that they are personal, not political, writers.
  • The equation might look something like this: Unlimited information + limited time + (the illusion of) a complete view = A (Self-selecting) Closed System.
  • What surprised me the most from Rebecca Blood’s post was the fact that she felt like an outsider.

    I feel this frustration–often–myself, and over the years I’ve heard it at least as much from men as from women. I was one of the first bloggers to post regularly on political issues, but in recent years I have given up trying to take part in the larger political cross-blog discussions–I’m just not included.

    The woman who wrote one of the first books on blogging, if not the book on blogging, who has been pursuing and posting for years, one of the original webloggers said: I have given up…I’m just not included.

    The next day Dave Winer (I apologize but I can’t access archive links at the moment) described himself as an outsider:

    First, why aren’t I an insider? I feel like I’ve earned the respect of the people who put on the conferences, and the people who participate. And the second emotion, harder to find with the first one swirling, is wait a minute, why should I accept the premise that there are two levels?

    Here again is someone who has been blogging from the beginning – The Beginning – and yet does not feel included.

    That same day Richard linked to Makiko Itoh’s response to Rebecca Blood and others.

    Growing up, I’ve always been one of the “other”: not white, not “really” American, not even African American, not a man, certainly not Swiss, and not even “really” Japanese. Therefore, I suppose that my tolerence level for being excluded, intentionally or not, is rather high. Now, I admit that I used to care a lot more about this, and so I pushed myself to participate a lot more in the mainstream of at least the Web Design Community. Nowadays because my focus has changed, both professionally and personally, I don’t care nearly as much, and I write whatever I feel like, especially on this site. I can certainly understand the frustration of feeling excluded from something. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling uncomfortable with the sometimes strident clamour about these issues, and for creating more and more groups and subgroups of “what’s in” as defined by a few.

    Last but not least: it’s rather rare that I read something that has me nodding in agreement with every line, but this entry by Rebecca Blood was one of these. The Web, and in particular the blogosphere is sort of like New York City. You think it’s a big, indiscriminate melting pot, but it’s really a collection of small, self-absorbed little neighborhoods.

    All this talk about being “in” or “out” reminded me of the social dynamics of educational systems. I remembered a conversation I had with one of my high school teachers when I was feeling lonely and rejected. This teacher told me that the popular kids were just as miserable as I was. I didn’t believe him. How could those girls who had it all be unhappy? They certainly seemed content with their cute clothes and cute guys. And I wouldn’t be miserable any more if I could trade places with them. Or so I thought at sixteen.

    How I hoped to escape. Graduation would find my freedom. Yet again and again in this grown-up world outside the school system, I find myself struggling with some of the same feelings. Blogging has brought me to tears at times. So have other experiences. Exclusion hurts. Discrimination and rejection are painful at any age. As I’m older though I am appreciating more what I was told years ago.

    My teacher revealed truth to me. In his simple but unbelievable statement, he told me that everyone feels like an outsider. Everyone has moments of loneliness. Everyone worries whether she fits or whether he is odd. “In” and “out” are illusions. Inside, we are all outsiders.


    It’s probably a fair statement that a large minority (possibly even a majority) of bloggers are outsiders to the subjects they discuss.

    Thursday Dave Winer linked to Deborah Branscum’s comparison of High School and the Blogosphere. I had already been planning this post so I was curious to see her comments. I disagree with her specific points but I liked the quote from Doc Searls she linked:

    This isn’t high school here. We don’t have to suck up to the popular kids, or try to be like them. If we want our blogs valued, if we want Google juice, we only have to try to say something worthwhile — meaning worth a link. It’s not a lot more complicated than that. Just a lot harder to understand than a popularity contest.

    Actually I disagree with Doc. Maybe this isn’t high school. But it can sure feel like it. And high school didn’t have search engines and feeds to display the power of popularity.

    Doc is right too. We don’t have to be like anyone else. The more we try to be like others, the less worth we have. Diversity is beauty.

    Instead of looking for “in” and “out” we should try to see ourselves as we are.

    The truth is we are all outsiders. Our secret fears are real and revealed. We are each random points, outliers, misfits, rejects and strangers. We are alone. We are all different. Yet we are all the same.

    Tags: blog

    12 responses so far ↓

    • 1 Dave Winer // Mar 26, 2005 at 8:05 am

      Julie, here’s the link you were looking for (sorry my server was down).

      And thanks for including me!

      I know what Rebecca is saying, but if she wants to be heard in the political discussion, I recommend be pushy, and ask for links. I’ve had to do it, and savor every little victory. For example, I noticed a page at MSNBC in my referer log, and it turned out to be Chris Matthew’s Hardblogger blog. My site is in his blogroll, along with a lot of others from our circle. ANd of course he’s part of the larger political debate in our country.

      I think it takes hard work and diligence and self-examination to not be exclusive, and there shouldn’t be exceptions to the rule. Conferences about blogging aren’t really about blogging if some points of view are not given equal consideration with others. But more and more conferences about blogging are doing just that. I haven’t gotten an invite to one of these in a very long time, but I am included in general media conversations, so ironic because I played some kind of role in *creating* the blogging environment.

      Anyway, please keep writing Julie. You have a very powerful voice.

    • 2 Dave Winer // Mar 26, 2005 at 8:08 am

      Oops, the link got filtered out…


    • 3 RoGeR // Mar 26, 2005 at 8:59 am

      This seems right on target in the current world of blogging… especially since blogging is getting so much attention right now in the mainstream media.

      It is easy to think of blogging along the same lines as television, or newspapers. In those worlds, the few prosper while the fringe voices fall away.

      But the real power of blogging is in the diversity of voices that are “out there”. We should remember why we blog in the first place. And for each of us, I imagine the reasons are as unique as we are.

      Blogging can be powerful when you consider your voice is available to anyone in the world who can go online and search your words out.

      It can be equally disconcerting when you consider that with any medium only the top few percent of the “streams” become the most consumed.

      With all of the visual forms of entertainment and information in the world – none are consumed by as many people as network television. It is almost odd when a network executive laments that a show *only* gets 3 million viewers or the like.

      By comparison, blogging costs next to nothing. It stays “out there” as long as you like, if not longer… and is immediate and personal.

      The power is not in the numbers of links or readers, not in any one voice, but in participating in a global conversation.

    • 4 Bud Gibson // Mar 26, 2005 at 12:01 pm

      I’ve heard a lot about you, for instance the talk at Northern Voice, but never read your blog. Winer’s link brought me here. I really appreciate your perspective on diversity. I remarked on Shelley Winter’s blog last week that from where I sat, the complaints about lack of diversity at eTech vs. SXSW sounded remarkably like one set of titans complaining that the other set of titans did not like them. As you point out, everyone is just in their own walled communities.

      The point I would make back to you is this. Unlike high school, we can to some extent sashay about between communities in the blogosphere. Sometimes we can wander into communities by accident. That’s how I got to Shelley’s blog in the first place.

      So, oddly for an extreme information consumer like myself, the blogosphere is breeding diversity.

    • 5 Seth Finkelstein // Mar 26, 2005 at 6:55 pm

      “I have given up…I’m just not included.”

      I would think this is strong confirmation of the problem of imbalances of power, not that “”In” and “out” are illusions”.

      You seem to be saying, as much as I can make out your chain of reasoning:
      “This great person, who I *think* should be “in”, feels “out” – THEREFORE, there’s no such thing as “in or “out”, BECAUSE I assume she would be “in”, so the concept must be meaningless”.

      I suggest to you that the concept is quite meaningful. Rather, the flaw in your reasoning is in the assumption that she would be “in”. Being first does not necessarily guarantee success – just ask Netscape. For any subject, there’s a tiny, tiny, handful of position of power, so in fact almost *everyone* discussing the subject is indeed an outsider in that sense.

      And if someone wants to be heard beyond chatting to their small circle of friends, they almost certainly *do* have to suck up to the cool kids. Otherwise, they’ll be told how wonderful it is that an extensive search might someday turn up their page.

    • 6 Pete Prodoehl // Mar 27, 2005 at 7:59 am

      “I have given up…I’m just not included.”

      For every person who thinks they are not “in” or “included” there is someone else who thinks that that person is “in” or “included” and they are the one who is not “in” or “included”

      Perceptions are weird that way…

    • 7 Derek // Mar 27, 2005 at 11:24 am

      Blogs just reflect that humans are tribal—we are social animals who prefer the company of relatively small, like-minded groups, just as when we were hunting and gathering on the African savannah a million years ago.

      Weblogs are still new, and I think Anil Dash’s analysis of the blog cycle shows it:


      But in the end, weblogs are just another way for people to communicate, and when we communicate, we include and exclude—or perceive inclusion and exclusion even when it’s not quite what we think.

    • 8 mary // Mar 27, 2005 at 7:45 pm


      I loved this thread; actually, all of my recent thoughts have mirrored yours…or are yours mirroring mine? This is part of the circuitous, female nature of blogs, maybe. We think, therefore I blog, as it were.


    • 9 Julie // Mar 28, 2005 at 2:32 am

      Thanks, everyone, for the rich insights posted here in the comments. I appreciate the many ideas revealed, enough to fill several more posts. Thanks for sharing and creating conversation.

    • 10 Scott // Mar 29, 2005 at 8:43 pm

      If you’re in it to be “in”, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. If you worry about whether or not you’re “in”, your writing will most likely suffer. That’s the nice thing about blogging; you can, and should, do your own thing. Other people be damned. Who cares if they decide to go in one direction when you want to go in another. Who says you have to follow the “in” crowd? If anything, not being in the “in” crowd will give you more cred. The days of a small group of people deciding the direction of things on the internet are over. Nothing interesting happens at the big parties, just at the little gathering.

      (not you Julie, just bloggers in general)

    • 11 Alison // Mar 30, 2005 at 10:09 pm

      Its always fun to read an insider talk about what an outsider they are.

      I’ve always been such an outsider that I’ve been forced over time to enumerate benefits of outsiderdom, and I think I prefer it. Outsiders can be incognito, sneak in and out of places and up to people. Outsiders get to observe without becoming observed. Outsiders get to be more innovative, often out of necessity, but also because they have less to lose (as Avis says “#2 tries harder.”)

      It helps that I love to be where the action is but hate hate HATE being the center of attention. YeeeUCK. There could be a self-sabatoge effect of preferring outsider status, I should probably look into that.

    • 12 Courtney Gidts // Nov 14, 2005 at 2:06 pm

      I’ve managed to save up roughly $25132 in my bank account, but I’m not sure if I should buy a house or not. Do you think the market is stable or do you think that home prices will decrease by a lot?

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