Lost in Cyberspace
Online Diaries
© 1999 by H.B. Koplowitz

When I was a teenager I kept a diary. Making those late night entries, I would imagine one day being so famous that my journals would get published. Then one day came, and I realized it was better that I wasn't that famous, because my writings chronicled a dreary tale of unrequited loves and unrelenting whining and minutia. Nowadays, however, you don't have to be famous to publish your memoirs, as thousands of diarists are posting the mundane details of their lives online.

It's easy to belittle online diarists, but after spending several days browsing cyber journals, my heart's no longer in it. Boring, pathetic, juvenile and self-absorbed as they may be, they can also be funny, piquant, brilliant, stark and intimate. Far from being timid and withdrawn, online diarists have banded together into Web rings, providing support for each other's efforts and making it easy for total strangers to follow their lives as if they were soap operas. There are even online journals or e-zines devoted to the world of online journals.

For the exhibitionist -- and the voyeur -- the cyber diary presents far more possibilities than the conventional kind. Diary Web sites often come with photographs, background information, "plot" summaries, descriptions of recurring "characters" and searchable archives. Many have "guest books," allowing cyber meddlers to offer unsolicited advice or words of encouragement. Some diary Web sites even link to webcams so you can observe the diarist live at work or at home. 

For links to online journals, plus interviews with diarists and tips on starting your own Web diary, there's "Metajournals" <www.metajournals.com>. A recent article discusses ways to avoid the two main pitfalls of online journals -- people you know reading your diary, and people you don't know tracking you down.

"Diarist.Net" <www.diarist.net> describes itself as "a comprehensive starting-point for both writers and readers of online journals," and it reviews people's personal diaries like they were books or movies. It also has a registry of some 900 online journals, which can be searched by diary title, author's name or alias, geographic location, age, sex and even birthday.

Online diary central may be "The Open Diary Project" <www.opendiary.com>, which claims to be "the first interactive online diary community" and archive for more than 3,600 diaries worldwide. You can search the diaries by author's alias, age or location, or you can start your own diary. The Web site also encourages participants to comment on each other's diaries. "The Open Diary" is a "totally anonymous diary community," meaning the diarists are not supposed to reveal their identities. Racist, sexist and "otherwise derogatory or defaming language" is also discouraged, as is sexually explicit language.

Not so with the 50 Web sites in "The Gay Diary Ring" <bigsun.wbs.net/homepages/x/x/i/xxile/gdr>, which includes "Realm of the Shtupman" <www.geocities.com/westhollywood/park/6180>, "just a place where I, the huge and significant SHTUPMAN babble on and on about my life, loves and miseries," and "Diary of a Lesbian FagHag Diva" <www.pitt.edu/~rapst25/diario.html>, "the weird and wacky adventures and thoughts of a narcissistic and borderline grrl who is in love with a gay boy but INSISTS that she is a lesbian."

"Living in the Bonus Round" <www.bonusround.com> is the online diary of Steve Schalchin, a 43-year-old Los Angeles songwriter who has turned his battle with AIDS into both a Web site and an off-Broadway musical, "The Last Session." Launched in March 1996 to keep his family updated about his health, the Web site has become, as a New York Times reporter described it, a "gritty chronicle" of his battle with AIDS, as well as a billboard for his musical, where you can view lyrics, download audio clips from the show's songs, compare Schalchlin's personal history to his musical and buy a T-shirt.

Another diary Webring is "The Journal Ring" <www.baddgrrl.com/JournalRing.htm>, with 75 sites including such upbeat titles as "A Bleak Outlook" <members.xoom.com/bleakoutlook>, "I Tend to Ramble" <www.geocities.com/SouthBeach/Shores/6427> and "Cabin Fever" <www.digisys.net/users/aceyt/cabfev.html>, the daily journal of Ace Toscano, a Montana cabin dweller.

"The Journal Ring" was created by "BaddGrrl" <www.baddgrrl.com>, otherwise known as Lorraine, who says she created her online journal to "share a little about myself, just as most people do with their Home Pages." But Lorraine went slightly beyond the "my name is ________ and my interests are________ motif," installing webcams at her office and home, where you can watch her day or night. She says the technology is what motivated her to set up webcams. As for whether she ever gets self-conscious, she says: "I was at first. It can be unnerving as you would imagine, having strangers from all over the world watching me ... But as they say, some people have their 15 minutes of fame, these are my 15 Megabytes of fame."

copyright 1999 by H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.