It's almost a seasonal thing, lately. A "big-name" mommy blogger will start to sigh over how much time her virtual life is taking away from her real life; another will link to the first post on her Facebook account while agreeing with it on her wall; a third will tweet about the whole thing, and link to her own blog post on the subject on her Twitter deck. A fourth will write about how she's ruthlessly paring down her list of blogs on Google reader; and a fifth will decide to start a topic about the "IRL/Virtual Life Balance" on two or three of the Catholic homeschooling mommy forums she visits daily.
From this clique of well-known, inner-circle mommy bloggers the meme spreads with virus-like (real or virtual) rapidity; other mommy bloggers whose blogs are small and whose readership is modest begin to worry. Am I stealing time from my children? frets one such blogger, thinking of the fifteen minutes she spent uploading pictures of Baby instead of playing with Baby. Am I shutting myself off from the real-life community? frets another, whose "community" is a suburban ghost town during the week. Am I wasting time that I should be spending making my home a better place? worries a third, even though her house is already clean enough for her mother-in-law to drop in at a moment's notice. We women are like that, you know; all it takes is for some highly-regarded person to question something we like doing (or reading, or watching, etc.) for us to start worrying that perhaps this hobby or pastime is unworthy of our vocation, and to resolve, with tears perhaps, to pare it down to nothing, or cut it out of our lives altogether.
Which is why I have very little tolerance, and even some anger, when the big-name bloggers wittingly or unwittingly launch a meme like this.
Because if they were really worried about spending too much time on the Internet, then they would focus on shrinking their own presence on the Internet, not on ignoring everyone else's.
Sorry if that seems harsh--but my observation of the phenomenon has shown that very rarely does an "important" blogger say, in effect, "You know, this Internet stuff is taking me away from my family too much lately. So, I'm going to put my blog on sabbatical. I'm setting my email account to give an auto-reply. I'm suspending my Facebook and/or Twitter accounts. Those of you who really need to reach me probably have my phone number or private email, but I've got to be honest--I need a break."
That I could respect, and even admire. But what is usually said really means something like this: "My virtual life is taking too much time from my real-life obligations. So, I'm going to disable comments on my blog--while I keep posting (can't let that stat count slip). I'm going to reserve the right to ignore your emails--but keep sending 'em anyway. I'm going to stop reading your blogs (unless you're a fellow click-cliquer) but you'd better keep reading mine. I'll still be your friend on Facebook and Twitter, but for heaven's sake, don't expect me to respond to any of your tweets or postings--I need thousands of followers, but let's be real, here, about how many of you I actually care enough about to pay any attention to."
(And you thought I was harsh before.)
The thing is, sometimes real people, in real life, get hurt by this. It's not all that hard to understand why, either. They've developed a kind of relationship with the bloggers they read--a virtual one, perhaps, but a relationship nonetheless. It may only be the relationship of a "fan" to a "celebrity," but in real life decent celebrities are appreciative of their fans, and will go out of their way to sign an autograph or wave and smile at the throngs of people who turn out to see them. We've all heard about the other kind of celebrity, the boorish kind who can't be bothered to be gracious to the very people who make his celebrity status possible--but we don't much like it when that happens. So why should we ignore the same situation when the "fans" are devoted readers, and the "celebrities" are bloggers who have, like it or not, become just a little famous?
I'm not in the position of having a thousand daily readers or so many emails in a week that I can't possibly respond to all of them. But if that were to happen, and if I were to start to think that the Internet was occupying far too much of my time and attention, I would put this blog on a hiatus for as long as it took me to figure out how to maintain the proper balance. I already avoid Facebook and Twitter--while I can see the draw of using one of these to keep up with real-life friends and family, I don't get at all the rush to sign up friends and followers you've never met in person, and don't understand why those accounts wouldn't be the first things to go in the life of a truly stressed blogger. The main point is that if I were to be stressed out by my time on the Internet, I would do the one thing guaranteed to lessen that stress--shrink my own Internet profile.
What I would not do is complain that all my readers and commenters and e-mailers were keeping me from my real life. I can't imagine ever being so mind-bogglingly ungrateful as that.