No More SarahLacy TM
I spent part of this week at a mini-blogger retreat in Manhattan Beach, hosted by JR Johnson, the founder of Lunch.com. Lunch.com has a broader mission of finding commonalities between people online and a hope that over time that can make the Internet and the world a nicer place, filled with more empathy, not less. There's a huge gulf that's emerging around people who spend a good deal of their lives online about whether the social Web is making the world a better place or a worse place-- and this was the centerpiece of a two-day debate between the Lunch folks and bloggers like Robert Scoble, Paul Carr, Julia Allison and me.
Of those four, I'm really the only one who doesn't make a living by being me. I make a living writing about business and technology, mostly for pretty serious publications. But somehow-- with the exception of Julia-- I get more personally attacked than the others. And it's not just online and not just anonymously. Aside from a few very close friends and my husband, no one knows the more disturbing things that have happened to me, not even my parents or my various employers. For the first time in my life, I don't know if I'll still be in this career five or ten years from now, not because I won't have a job, but because I just don't know if it'll be worth it anymore. My husband has already asked me-- in certain very desperate moments-- to quit it all and do something else.
Lots of people I know and don't know have debated why I get so much shit all the time. Is it because I don't punctuate my sentences the way Katie Hafner would like? Is it because I'm inherently just hate-able? Is it professional jealousy? Is it because I'm a woman? Or simply because it tends to drive traffic? I don't know, and likely I never will. But after two years of hate being slung at me nearly constantly and watching the toll it's taken on my loved ones, I've reluctantly made some changes.
There's always been a limit to how much I've put myself out there. Before I had a book to promote, you couldn't even find a photo of me online. I never write anything revealing about people in my personal life and anything I write about me is about me as a reporter and author in this world. That's my job as a columnist. There are about five first person pronouns in my last book. The one exception is this blog, which is aptly named SarahLacy.com and has a tiny readership. I've never had a Google Alert on my name, and I've never added people on Facebook who I don't know.
Increasingly, I've stopped replying to any comments on the blogs or sites I write for, with the exception of this one. I've recently stopped @-replying people on Twitter. I've stopped responding in any way to personal attacks. I've turned down scores of speaking gigs that aren't paid-keynotes for serious business or tech conferences. And I grant far fewer interviews than I used to. And since work on my new book has forced me to step down from day-to-day work on TechTicker, I'm not even on camera that much anymore.
I decided today I'm going to take that a step further. For the foreseeable future, Twitter is a professional tool for me, not a personal one. I just can't put myself or my loved ones through it anymore. In fact, I'm not even Twittering the link to this post.
It's sad that it's come to this. As someone who's been a reporter for nearly 13 years, I loved the early days of the social Web when blogging and Twitter and Facebook allowed me to interact with readers in a way I never could before. I loved getting to be a real, flawed human being, not just an anonymous, cold byline.
And, on a professional and financial level, it was hugely effective. I sold more books, I got a wave of speaking gig invitations, and far more spots on national TV and radio. When the New York Times repeatedly and publicly trashes you, you've gotten under their skin and you matter. I've not only side-stepped the volatility that nearly every other traditional journalist I know has gotten mired in-- I've actually profited from it. I have no doubt if I continued in this vein, I'd make more money. But money isn't what motivates me. I like writing about companies, and over the last six months I've realized how much I love going to countries where no one knows who I am, they just know BusinessWeek or TechCrunch or in some cases, my book.
Let me be clear-- I'll continue to be just as controversial, abrasive and outspoken in my analysis about companies and the industry as I always have been. That'll mean more trolls and more haters. If I didn't have people taking issue with my work, frankly, I wouldn't be doing it very well. And people will still lob personal attacks at me, because, well, that's just my life. But I have to believe in a world where millions are vying for personal attention online, if I'm doing everything I can not to get personal attention, things will get better on some level.
I had an argument with someone at Twiistup about Ben Mezrich's Facebook book and whether Mark Zuckerberg starting a company meant he'd "put himself out there" and hence it was somehow "less wrong" for an author to write an imagined series of things Zuckerberg had done and label it as non-fiction. I've long thought that was a bullshit argument akin to saying a woman who dresses provocatively deserves to be raped. But it's especially pronounced these days when anyone on the Web has effectively "put themselves out there." None of us deserve to have lies published about us. None of us deserve to be verbally or physically attacked. And no matter what people say, it doesn't really get easier, and it hurts on a deeply human level every time. (See kangaroo above. It's not quite that bad...)
Is this post an indictment about a lot of what I've said and written about why the social Web is so powerful? A little bit, yeah. I've always been an optimist and some of the things I said at this two-day blogger retreat shocked me. Two years ago, I would have heartily agreed with Johnson's rosy statements about the good in humanity. Not anymore. As I wrote in my book, the Web isn't good or bad, it's just a medium for channeling raw human nature. What I wrote about the Web wasn't untrue-- I just gave human nature too much credit.
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