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In continuing to read about identity, as I have recently been doing, and to try to write reasonably often in blogs, I have continued to be intrigued by the notion that writing (and playing with words) is both therapeutic, and quintessentially English. I have previously noted that the English are known for their writing rather than their painting or music; and The Times crossword is a well-known example of the English fondness for wordplay.
The concept of creative writing as an integral part of therapy for those with depression or people wishing to make significant changes to their lives is new to me. Philips et al, (1999) identify at least six areas where creative writing can be used to support the therapeutic environment:
- as an opportunity to externalise feelings;
- as a means of promoting trust and building a sense of community;
- as a way to prompt memories in a manageable form;
- as a way to develop concentration and awareness of time;
- as a way to promote awareness of others and the world;
- and as a way to develop self-esteem.
In a similar project, Caspar Walsh was recently reported as starting a new project to support young offenders against re-offending through the use of writing and story-telling.
These examples depend upon writing in a group and sharing the results in a supportive atmosphere, but are close enough to suggest to me that blogging is good for you.
When I decided to follow up that thought, I discovered that the researchers Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne also had been thinking along the same lines and had published (in March 2008) results which demonstrate a positive outcome from blogging for many people.
Yet the English are also well-known for being cold and unfriendly (we might say “calm” and “polite”). Kate Fox, in her book “Watching the English” suggests that we generally hide our social incompetence behind a plethora of rules and a strong desire for privacy. The English sensitivity to words may also be related to these complex and finely nuanced rules – such as making clear distinctions between “solemn” and “serious”, or “sincere” and “earnest”. According to Fox, we are more prone to distinguish between these words than most, if not all, other nations, with seriousness and sincerity being acceptable, but solemnity and earnestness not.
So given our propensity for penmanship (generally speaking), and our notorious national neuroticism (again, to be clear, I generalise), does blogging hold a position dear to the English heart? Or might it represent an un-English desire to be the centre of attention and to reveal personal information?
According to Technorati’s “State of the Blogosphere 2008”, 43% of bloggers live in the US, and 27% of bloggers are European. Among the European blogs, 34 different languages were tracked. This implies at most a representation of English bloggers in the global blogging population of no more than 25% and probably considerably less. In November 2007, Hitspace Experian ranked the most popular social websites in the UK as Facebook, Bebo and My Space, representing 84% of social network traffic – with Livejournal at 14th position overall with 0.53%. Ofcom research shows that about 22% of adult Internet users in the UK have profiles on one or more of these sites. The data therefore shows that usage of social network sites, where blogging occurs, is still a minority sport, despite two-thirds of households in the nation having access to the Internet (broadband accounting for most of these).
Key aspects of the English character are the desire for privacy, self-effacement and the wish not to make a fuss. This may make blogging rather a stretch for people seeking effective invisibility. The concept of invisibility has a strong literary tradition – see H G Wells, “The Invisible Man”; G K Chesterton, “The Invisible Man”; Chris Priest, “The Glamour” to name a few.
In fact, we are now close to making invisibility a genuine possibility, so it is conceivable that a future generation of English people may simply choose to vanish altogether so as not to be a bother. We could certainly appreciate the views more easily, but would get rather bruised bumping into everyone.
So, how to reconcile blogging and Englishness? For me, blogging is a bit like thinking aloud, and given the size of the Internet, it is unlikely to interfere much with anyone if I do so. Furthermore, the reader has a choice, and if my ramblings are of no interest, they can depart largely unscathed. Blogging is light touch. I have plenty of room to go my way without impeding others while remaining as true to myself as possible. All of which suits me fine.