Spaces and Expression

Every once in a while, I feel the urge to write about my life. Not just about my life in the way that I do on, say, this Posterous, which is really just a space for my life and observations as it relates to some particular subject I like to think people might possibly find interesting, but actually my life. Insecurities, worries, neuroses, all those things, that, incidentally, one might not actually want to share with a stranger, and even less so my complete list of “friends.” So I usually go back to the same place I've been going for this type of writing for the last ten years - my Livejournal.

There is something bizarrely comforting about this service. It's not just the privacy features, which are thoughtful and make sense, or at least, made sense for the era and user group it was created for. But, it's also the fact that the space feels like a user's own. The layout, the text, the colors, the user pictures that I so painstakingly picked out and set up are all there. When I enter it, it has all the concreteness of my old diaries. It evokes all the same emotions as cracking open my Moleskine today or that cardboard box that houses my old journals.

At the same time, I am aware of the past tense nature of the service - it's not just that it's passed its prime, but more that, my relationship with the space has passed its prime. I increasingly feel like a guest in this space. While my thoughts are accommodated like any good host would, it is no longer my space, but a sort of relic. Like the look and feel that clearly resembles that of someone much younger than myself, the pseudonym is a quiet one that I haven't used in years. The friends and connections that seem to knock quietly at the walls are people who have faded from my present-day life, and while I don't have any ill memories of them, they are still, for the most part, no longer a part of my life.

It seems like some of the modern-day services might be able to solve this problem: that they might be able to create a space for me, and my thoughts. Google%2B and Facebook, however, have not created a space for me. I exist within the narrow confines of a UI, struggling to express myself and maintain an identity against these static, stark white pages. Google%2B and Facebook are increasingly brands, no more or less expressive than giant Times Square "interactive" billboards that let you display a photo you took against a backdrop designed explicitly by an agency for this purpose.

It isn't so much what Google%2B, Facebook and Twitter have gotten so good at, a space to declare, "This is my life," but rather, something different, "This is my life and here's what I think about it." This might very well be why this mythical sense of "space" is so important - while most of Facebook is part of a bizarre dystopia where everything is yours and nothing really is. All of this is blending together under the stark rectangular borders of The Facebook, its not-quite-navy-nor-royal-nor-periwinkle-nor-anything-really blue marking it's territory. Efficiency is key, here. Explain yourself quickly and compellingly, because Facebook the experience is about Facebook the brand, which is about you the brand and "friends," not "friendship" or even "friend," singular. A few seconds is all you have, before those blinking bars serve up more - content, friends, glimpses. Expression, however, implies something a bit more obtuse. I need the luxury of time, but more importantly, thought, thought that is uninterrupted by somebody else's space asking you to shift attention elsewhere. Expression is artistry, the interpretation of what we see and it's careful construction into a physical manifestation - "This is my life and here's what I think about it." Sharing seems to be more like branding at best, "This is my life."

Bring me into your space, or come to mine, and I will know you are giving me more than that - you are giving me thought, and all the compassion and generosity that implies. These spaces are disappearing from the online world, and possibly the set of emotions that convey more than just consumption of information with it. I'd like to build more of them, but for now, I'm borrowing space from an old friend.