Millions of people are sharing their immediate thoughts, feelings and secrets online through digital art projects and microblogs, which encourage brevity of expression. They've found an outlet for their stories, profound, trivial and downright inane. They're empathising with strangers and connecting with friends, being privy to other people's lives in a way that's never before been possible.
Microblogs require users to pare down to the essentials. Sometimes this makes contributors stop and think because words are precious; on the other hand, it can encourage the sharing of any old kack because it’s easy.
The context of the website tends to dictate the sort of material submitted. Twitter is the place to splurge random thoughts and much of the content is banal. Onesentence, which is more oriented to storytelling, seems to encourage greater deliberation.
But even the quotidian can be of interest. Knowing that Molly is having trouble sleeping may be irrelevant to most, but important to her mum, illuminating to her teacher and a leveler for insomniacs everywhere. And, whether or not we know the person, in a way it’s reassuring to know that other people suffer the same boredom and annoyances. As much as the interesting stuff, this reminds us that other humans are like us. They're not somehow more switched on, they're just as rubbish as we are (actually, that's kind of scary).
You can stumble upon surprising, or touching entries. Anyone can tell their story, anonymously or semi-anonymously, so, in some ways, a microblog is like a confessional that doesn't require you to be a member of any group or religion. It can reveal the truth of people’s innermost thoughts, which at other times, proves so elusive.
Often, transitions are captured – the exact point when people steered their lives in a new direction. For example, a striking entry on Postsecret is ‘Everyone that knew me before 9/11 thinks I’m dead.’ Is it true? Who knows? But to many people, the postings are more 'real' than a lot of media messages.
As a consequence of the insight to be gleaned, some of these sites are tremendously appealing to viewers and readers, hungry for a good story. Compendiums of people’s thoughts, published as books, are hitting the bestseller lists.
Microblogging still seems, to many people, rather pointless, or odd. But it stems from traditional modes of expression, such as the post-it note and the to-do list. Once we kept these to ourselves, but thanks to web 2.0, we’re now able to share our stories on an unprecedented scale. More's the pity, some might say, but take a moment to check out these story sharing blogs, highlighted on Blogger.
Postsecret began as an art installation for Artomatic in Washington. People were invited to send in anonymous home-made postcards, with their secrets written across the artwork. The community project is ongoing and exists as a website, created by Frank Warren in January 2005, and a series of books. The fourth book is currently on the Amazon bestseller list in the US.
In the trailer above, Sasha Cagan begins with the question: ‘Have you ever wondered what your to-do list says about you?’ Nothing in my case, as I aim to live as spontaneously as possible - that means a list-free existence (but I guess that says something about me anyway). Loads of people emailed or sent in their lists, which range from the daily grind to a record of people’s hopes and ambitions. The recent book includes entries from novelist Nick Hornby, alongside everyday punters.
One reason the site is so compelling is that checking out other people's resolutions can help your formulate your own. It's kind of lazy, but so what? And, making your goals public makes it easier to ask for help and adds an extra incentive to make things happen, so you don't look like a chump (I love that word - anyone remember the original Miami Vice?).