Writing About Your Personal Life Online, A Cautionary Tale

Writing about one’s personal life on the internet for a living is a tricky thing. We Frisky staffers, for example, have each had to decide for ourselves how much of our private lives and personal thoughts we’re willing to put out there and to set boundaries accordingly. I, for one, decided long ago that certain things that were off-limits here on The Frisky and on my personal blog, City Wendy (or anywhere else, for that matter).

I stay away from intimate revelations about my family, my husband, and my husband’s family. If I’m inspired by friends’ personal experiences, I check with them first before I write about them, and then I’m always careful to give them pseudonyms and avoid providing details that may “out” them. I won’t write (much) about my sex life and I’d never consider writing about anyone I care about in a way that might embarrass them or jeopardize their jobs or other personal relationships …
Other staffers on The Frisky are definitely more open about their personal lives — and certainly others are far less revealing — and that’s definitely their prerogative and I totally respect it. But what happens when someone sets no boundaries about what she’ll share online? What happens when someone’s narcissism and obsession with fame (at least of the internet variety) leads her to vomit entire contents on her personal life, her family’s life, and the private information of her “friends” and suitors? Ladies and gentleman, if you haven’t virtually met her yet, allow me to introduce you to Julia Allison, fameball extraordinaire, whose recent public meltdown should be a cautionary tale to all of us with any online presence at all.

We’ve written about Julia Allison before — most recently in response to the over-the-top, ridiculous “bi-coastal” 29th birthday party she threw for herself last month — complete with cupcakes, balloons, several hired photographers, etc., etc. — in which she dressed up like a 6-year-old pretty princess with her “birthday twin,” in a pink tulle Betsey Johnson dress. But many of you, especially if you aren’t part of the New York media scene, may never have heard of this woman. So, a little background is in order: Julia Allison is a self-described “life-caster” who founded the company “NonSociety,” a website that follows the lives of three (sometimes four) young woman living “differently” in New York. Think of it as kind of a virtual “Sex and the City” for the new millennium (Julia certainly does).

Seems innocuous enough, right? The thing is, for many of us, Julia represents so much of what is icky about blogging and social networking. She is shamelessly narcissistic and vain, having posted thousands of photos of herself over the years and staging incredible, over-the-top “photo shoots” simply to post on her blog (versus, like, using the images for advertising, the way photo shoot images are normally used). She’s utterly obnoxious, and in a time when so many people are hurting financially, she gloats about expensive non-stop vacations, exorbitant gifts from boyfriends, and how many homes her parents own. It’s gross. Not only that, but she’s mean and unethical. She once publicly outed a fairly well-known ex of hers as having bi-polar disorder, and more recently she has been trying to sell Armani gift cards (through Twitter) which she allegedly offered up as a reward to an online contest she conveniently never chose a winner for. Julia Allison is so disliked there’s even an entire site devoted to mocking her every (virtual) move. Some, like bloggers on Gawker, call her haters as pathetic as she is, but for others, it’s simply schadenfreude at its finest.

Anyway, like her (some people do!) or hate her, one thing is certain: Julia Allison is now experiencing a public meltdown of epic proportions. In recent weeks, one of her fellow NonSociety “life-casters” abruptly left the company — seemingly on bad terms — Julia’s relationship with her most recent boyfriend seems to have hit the skids (allegedly partly because he’s not interested in being a character in her online soap opera), and as her 20s quickly come to a close and she sees her “expiration date” looming menacingly on the horizon (oh, Julia believes every woman has one — an arbitrary date when her looks can no longer land her a catch, i.e., a rich husband), she has been blogging and tweeting almost manically about her fear that she’ll never get married.

And now, in a move almost everyone who follows her saw coming, she has decided to quit the internet (for now — I can’t imagine she’ll stay away for long). In a long, self-pitying letter on her blog, she explains that she is having an emotional crisis, and that having achieved what she thought she always wanted (notoriety on the web, I guess), she realizes she no longer wants it. She’s sad, and one might presume lonely. She says she’s confused and has “no idea” what to do with her life. This — this is what happens when you make your entire life about showing off for strangers online. This is what happens when you construct a life to mimic an unrealistic TV show (“Sex in the City”) — especially when the heroine of said TV show fails in love over and over and over. This is what happens when you have so little respect for the privacy of people in your life and the integrity of your relationships that you willingly and enthusiastically share information that is meant to be kept personal.

Sure, not all of us make a living writing about our lives and experiences, but most of us have some kind of online presence. Whether it’s a personal blog, a Facebook page, or a Twitter account, most of us are sharing at least small tidbits of ourselves in public forums. And sometimes knowing that other people — sometimes people who don’t even know us in real life! — are reading and responding to what we’re putting out there can be … intoxicating. Maybe we feel tempted to reveal more about ourselves, to increase our stats and page views, to gain more followers, to create a dramatic story arc out of our own lives. But even if you aren’t at all caught up in the saga of Julia Allison — even of you couldn’t care less about her or her real-life soap opera, I implore you to let her story be a warning to you. Set boundaries for yourself. Ask yourself why you’re sharing what you are. Resist the urge to post a million photos of yourself in pink sweaters and sparkly headbands. The moral of her story? Sometimes less is simply better.