The Saga of Emily Gould

[Peter Suderman]

As Ross and Sonny note, narcissism is indeed at the heart of Emily Gould's cover story in this week's New York Times Magazine. Gould's tenure at Gawker fed her self-obsession; every page view helped further her transformation from jaded Brooklyn resident into unhinged, egotistic snark beast. Gawker both expanded her horizons and terribly limited them; from the perch of her overflowing inbox, she could see everything in the world (or at least Manhattan). Yet quickly enough she became the only thing she cared about within it. The entire city of New York mattered only insofar as it was a reflection of Emily.

Yet, in some form, this worldview has always fueled the blogosphere, even in the political realm. And it is not always pernicious. Many of the successful early pioneers made a point of sharing personal details. Jonah Goldberg wrote about his wife, his dog, his favorite television shows; Andrew Sullivan wrote about his sleep apnea; Glenn Reynolds posted about his interest in digital cameras and science fiction. Matt Yglesias writes about basketball, indie rock, and living near U Street.

The professionalization of the blogosphere has reduced this to some extent, yet it's still evident on numerous popular blogs. Bloggers write about their lives, their interests, their cities, their friends. On many blogs, the author's life becomes part of the story -- you read these bloggers as much for who they are as for what they have to say. This is what accounts for the sense one sometimes gets that one "knows" the blogger. Blogs serve as running commentary on the world at large (or some part of it), yes, but also as extensions of the lives of their authors. To become a regular reader is to share and take part in that life, and that's a large part of the blogosphere's appeal. It's also a function of both the frantic pace and pressure of the professional blogosphere: The easiest content to produce is that which is inspired by what's nearest to you.

The combined lure of easy content and personal attention is tough to resist; Gould didn't, and the distinction between her online life and everything essentially disappeared. The author and the subject became one. Does Gould deserve criticism for this? Perhaps. But it's also a function of the medium -- its pace, its content demands, and even its readers, who encourage personal revelation. The blogosphere always pulls this way. It's magnetized toward self-obsession.