Back in the day of corduroy jackets with patched elbows, teachers scoffed at first person narratives. They shook their heads and tsk tsk-tsked the idea of interjecting personal experiences, memories and reflections into critical writing; the me, myself and I technique was juvenile and self-indulgent; it was sloppy and amateurish. Expert writers, they said, would never use first person.
Feminists reclaimed the “I” in the 1970s, using it as a means of identity, strength and empowerment. First person became a gender narrative employed to give women a voice and set them apart from the male dominated academia. The first person became a rallying cry, a democratic protest, a resilient piece of literary armor used to keep the male gaze at bay.
& Changed Again
Blogs and social media have hijacked the first person narrative, manipulated it, and run amuck. One could argue that blogs support democracy and that everyone in the technological age has now been empowered, or at least given the tools for their voice to be heard. Bloggers can challenge conventional wisdom; they can start spirited debates and engage in virtual forums where their ideas and opinions can be expressed and heard. Furthermore, they can spread their ideas and messages on social media (Twitter played a pivotal role in the Arab Spring).
At the same time, however, one could also argue that the deeply personal nature of blogs hurts and detracts from democracy. Blogging has been a catalyst for the steady rise in single issue campaigning. Moreover, while confronting conventional wisdom has been a cornerstone of democratic life since the days of Thomas Paine, those free thinkers were chewing over the issues of the day in tangible forums, not sitting behind the isolationism of computers, tablets and smartphones.
Blogging and Expertise
Has the democratic structure of the Internet made expertise a thing of the past? If everyone has a blog, does anybody have expertise on a subject matter, or has the Internet become an all-inclusive and ever-expanding echo chamber? Do concepts like amateur and expert really matter anymore? These are questions that have no easy or clear-cut answers. In the end, the universe of blogging, like America itself, is a free marketplace of ideas; some ideas are good, others are not so good. It’s as simple as that.
The death of the professional, or expert, and the rise of the amateur is simply a redistribution of power and an extension of the struggle field. Feminists reclaimed the “I” from tweedy, Oxford professors, then bloggers hijacked it and reshaped it, posting, liking and commenting along the way. However, a first person narrative is only effective if the person writing it has skill, craft, style, and most importantly, something interesting or compelling to say.
Damon H is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.