Blog in, reach out

For a techno-savvy young woman trapped in the traditional set-up, a blog is a great getaway  

WHO IS BridalBeer? Her blog reads: Single, 20s, was briefly in love. I was in New York for long enough to miss it. Now I am in India, training to be a wife-for-life to a relative stranger (not a stranger who is a relative, we don't do those).

BridalBeer (telling name!) was in love with someone in NYC. And is now back in a joint family in Kolkata tamely chatting on IM (Instant Messenger) to "Almost Engaged (to me)", a boy her parents have found for her. Her stream of consciousness blog tells about her everyday life, her parents' hunt for a suitable boy for her, and often reminisces longingly about a more-perfect life of freedom and discovery in New York.

BridalBeer is the profile of a new blogger, who is increasingly asserting in cyberspace the control over her environment that might be missing in actuality. Cyber identities project selectively only what bloggers want to be made known about themselves and their lives, and the way in which they want to communicate to the general public. They may post photos of themselves, their babies, their boyfriends, their kitchen cabinets. Of course, not all young women bloggers in India use blogs in the same way.

Consider Compulsive Confessor. This young journalist's blog defiantly declares that she "goes out for drinks pretty regularly. That's my life and that's what I write about. Okay? Okay." Often, a girl's blog is her companion and emerges merely as today's i-Pod-wielding generation's secret diary.

At first, blogging was hailed as the Great New Way to subvert or at least bypass mainstream media. It seemed to emerge from a culture of indymedia, from resistance movements, from people writing out from war zones and repressive regimes (such as Salam Pax from Iraq). But now, in India, blogging is as effective a tool for a different profile — the profile that matrimonial ads are made of: young, urban, single, highly educated women. Sometimes living alone in a big city busy charting out their career trajectory; at other times cloistered within the tight embrace of a large joint family, waiting to be married. This is the young Indian woman who can't always say what she would really like to and so turns instead to the modern-age secret diary.

"Basically it's a form of release," says a regular blogger. "Sometimes you're forced to keep quiet. But your blog is your world where you make rules... and others have to follow them! There's no policing."

Although all blogs may be equal, some blogs are more, well, popular than others. Unlike in a diary, a blog usually allows for comments after every post, a good indication of how many people read your blog. It's also a way to build your own community, privy to the most intimate details of your day... all without any clue as to what your real name might be.

A blogger explains, "It's a nice way to get some feedback and find other people who think like me. On a blog you find your own community and it's still anonymous; it gives you the distance missing in a face-to-face."

Qualitative researcher Dina Mehta, with interests in new cultures of communication, cautions about seeing blogs as a way for many women to communicate since "the entry barriers for blogging are very high; you have to actually set up a page and maintain it and be comfortable with writing as a medium." She points out that another popular option "is a chatroom where you can discuss the most intimate things with your chosen circle — your buddy list."

But chatrooms don't allow the development of identities as blogs do. Constructed on-line, blog identities are often shorn of the usual layers developed in order to be "acceptable" in urban, middle-class Indian society.

Colliding worlds

Already, in Singapore, when a girl breaks up with her boyfriend, she SMSes her friends: "It's all over — read my blog." Real world and blog world often collide harshly though, rupturing the careful divide that once granted independence and control. For many young women, using blogs and the technology that come with it are more natural than using diaries. In an age where emails have replaced letters, Excel sheets have replaced ledgers, and PDAs are the new little black books, blogs are, but naturally, the most accessible way to vent, ponder, share, and communicate.