Amelia Veneziano, a junior at Washington State University, has a weakness when it comes time to do her homework. When she settles in to her Pullman apartment and turns on her computer, instead of researching a paper or e-mailing a professor, she keys into her personal reflections and posts them on her blog.
Veneziano, “a virgo and a journalism student at wonderful wazzu” according to her internet Web-log page, spends at least five minutes writing about her latest crush, her deeds for the day, the results of the “What are you looking for in a relationship?” quiz she got from a friend, and, of course, how much homework she has.
Then, with a click of a button, she sends her story into cyberspace, where her friends, her parents, and just about anyone anywhere else can simply tap a few keys and peer into her college life.
Blogs, short for “Web logs”, are the new, big, and perhaps most popular, extracurricular activity on campus. About 20 percent of Americans aged 18 to 28 create and use them, and about 41 percent read them, according to a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
It’s a technological version of a social network for this age group, says Steve Jones, a senior research fellow at the Pew project and a professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “It’s just the novelty of it,” Jones says. “It’s a natural thing you want to do. You go to college, meet new people and this [blogging] is a great way to meet people.”
Students at WSU are no exception. Whether it’s posting their class schedules on Facebook or building a blog of their own through any number of Web-log sites, they’re out there sharing their personal details, favorite songs, dating habits, hobbies, pictures, and politics.
Leah Dauer, an M.B.A. student, used her site on blogger.com to write about her summer job as a revenue management intern at the Princeville Resort in Kauai. The blog, which she originally planned to use as a weekly journal but seems to update daily, is part of the school requirement for the position. In it, she raves about the resort, the food, and the locals. Her blog is riddled with pictures of geckos, birds, and beaches, as well as details of working in departments like sales, catering, revenue management, and the front desk at a luxury resort.
At the same time, a group of Rogers Hall residents used a Facebook Website to keep in touch over the summer. Through it they offered links to their blogs and shared details about their summer jobs, being back home in places like Bellevue, southern California, Spokane, and Denver, their adventures, and their recollections of the past year at school.
Erin Mellon (’09, Pol. Sci.) says keeping a blog is as easy as e-mailing and allows her friends to catch up on what she’s doing without having to track her down and talk to her in person. “I don’t have to take significant effort to know what is going on with my friends or tell them news about myself,” Mellon says. “I don’t have to make six phone calls.” Mellon uses her blog to talk about her weekly activities, and sometimes will post a news story to stir debate among her friends.
“I’ll post an article from the New York Times, and all my conservative friends will jump all over,” says Mellon, whose views are liberal. “It’s a good forum for discussion, a good view of what others are thinking.”
Mellon thinks carefully about her postings. She has a policy of not erasing any of her blog entries, and defends controversial entries by saying it was just what she was feeling at the time. About 10 to 15 people read Mellon’s blog regularly, with one as far away as Maryland.
However, students sometimes forget that whatever they post is accessible to everyone, not just friends, Jones says, and that can have consequences. “By and large, what they post feels private,” he says. “It is usually for people at school, a circle of friends, your social network to view [what you write]. So it doesn’t feel like you are posting publicly. But you are.”
Even though students may get very personal, the point of online journals is that the blogger knows someone out there will read it. Adam Clark (’07 Mech. Engr.) used a blog as an outlet when he was struggling with loneliness his sophomore year. Blogging allows people to write out emotions they may not have another way to express, he says. Back then only one person read his blog, but knowing that was enough for him to feel better. “It’s a pity tactic,” Clark admits. “If you write something sad, people will write something encouraging. It’s a good way to get people to think about what is happening.”
Most students agree that being so open about their lives isn’t a problem. But Mellon says people should know the consequences of posting their thoughts and emotions online for everyone to view. “I’m not ashamed of what I write up there,” Mellon says. “If they don’t like it, then they don’t have to read it.”
But for most students, the blog is just one more way for them socialize, and to write and think about, and possibly enrich, their college experience.