Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Therapist of the Blogosphere

If you’ve ever been to a therapist’s office, you’ve probably had a similar experience.   You sit on the comfortable chair or couch, and tell the therapist that you have a problem.

“What is the problem?” the therapist asks.

“My problem is THIS,” you answer.

The therapist writes something in his notebook.  Since you have openly and eagerly said that your problem is THIS, he knows that there is a 99% chance that your real problem is not THIS, but THAT, and his job is to help you see THAT.

Remember THAT.

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Paul O’Flaherty writes a sarcastic blog about the internet.  He recently wrote a post titled “You’re An Attention Whore and You Know It.”

His basic thesis is this:

“The real reason we blog, twitter, podcast and vidcast is because we are all narcissistic egomaniacs / attention whores / desperately seeking recognition.”

OK, fair enough.  But I disagreed with his thesis, and he challenged me to write a response.

At first glance, his thesis makes sense, especially after last week’s dramas.  First, in the “real” world, there was that ridiculous, overblown balloon boy scam, a desperate attempt at attention.  Closer to home, there was a blogger friend who apparently made up a controversial story to “get attention” from the competitive mommyblogging community, angering many others.   Clearly, we are all attention whores, right?

I was close to agreeing with Paul, when I read the comments on his “Attention Whore” post.

“Guilty as charged. I just want the fifteen minutes that Andy Warhol promised me. No more, no less.  OK, I might want more,” wrote the first commenter.

“Hey, I like attention as much as the next girl and I flat out admit that. And if somewhere along the line someone wants to give me some decent free crap, you can bet I’m grabbing that up too.   Attention and free crap rocks my world,” said another.

Even Paul himself jumped in.

“No irony – I’m as big an attention whore as the next blogger :) LOL,”  he said.

That’s when the red flag went up.  Why is everyone so freely saying that they are an attention whore?   Isn’t anyone ashamed of saying so?    That’s when it became clear to me, that in our current day, attention whoring is not so bad.   We see it as a positive trait, until someone gets caught lying, and then we all jump on them for ruining the party.    We live in a society where loud voices and controversy sells.   Most of our leaders are attention whores.  Successful bloggers are attention whores, and end up at conferences teaching others how to be effective attention whores.  Attention whoring is a skill set that most of us would be proud to put on our resume, under “Knowing Photoshop.”  We are proud of saying we are attention whores.

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Remember the therapist’s office?  Imagine I am the Therapist of the Blogosphere. You have just walked into my office.

“What is the problem?” I ask.

“I am an attention whore,” you answer, feeling confident that you know yourself well, and will only need a few sessions to clear up any of your issues.”

That is the moment when I start writing in my notebook.

“The issue is NOT attention-whoring.”

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As a trained blog therapist, I have an acute sensibility to others.  When I read through my daily blogs, tweets, and Facebook updates, I do not feel attention-whoring jumping out at me from the other side of the screen.  That is a word without any emotional content.  I sense loneliness, fear, uncertainty, anxiety, the need for comfort and hope, and the yearning for love.  I see this deeply-felt energy of loss and wanting everywhere I go, on every blog, in V-grrrl, Dooce, Perez Hilton, and Guy Kawasaki.   No one will admit this because these are not traits we want to put on our resumes, or write on a blog comments.  We are ashamed of our weaknesses.   We are afraid of being taken advantage of by others.

But these are the key components of blogging.

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When anyone comes into my blogger’s therapy office and says that they are an “attention whore,” I immediately open my notebook and write “fearful.”

45 Comments

  1. What strikes me here is that whether you realize it or not, you guys are saying exactly the same thing.

    Seeking a connection..looking for validation from others..wanting attention…

    Different words for the same underlying meaning. People just see the term attention whore and react without giving thought to what is actually being said.

  2. I know we are saying the same thing. But attention whore is an easy way out. And it only deals with the action of people, not the why. I’d like to see Paul say that he blogs because something is “missing in his day to day life,” some “bigger connection to the universe,” but that would be too wimpy to actually say.

  3. Great post Neil and I think you’ve hit the nail right on the head, you’ve just approached it from the why, while I’ve been approaching it from the angle of realization and acceptance.

    The simple fact is that nobody would twitter, blog or anything like that if they weren’t looking for some kind of acceptance, or connection to others.

    I get irked when I hear people say that a blog is “just for me” and invariably ask “if that’s the truth then why isn’t it private”. Why do we share it with others, why do we have “follow me buttons” and links for promoting our content on social networks?

    Why aren’t we writing in MS Word and just saving to our hard drives or writing in an old fashioned diary?

    The answer is that we crave attention. We need it. People are social animals after all. And yes we’re fearful too. We are fearful of not being accepted, of losing the acceptance that we have gained and that of our peers.

    My friends are blogging – I should be to?

    So, yes we are afraid. We crave acceptance, we crave attention. We seek it out.

    And then we engage in this community of like minded people where we promote each others quest for acceptance and attention.

    We probably think fairly similarly along those lines. I’m just not about why, and am rather crassly about acceptance.

    Thanks for your post Neil 🙂

  4. While I would never label myself as an attention whore, there are many many people who would call me just a flat out whore.

    I’m one of the crazy chicks who cry to the internet about their craziness and how much the people in their “real” world suck. Someone should take my keyboard away.

    I think the people that are lying all over the internet need to be locked away because seriously? I didn’t realize we were still in high school trying to win some kind of popularity contest.

    It’s strange because Dooce, the “queen” of the internet, is apparently super duper important and hundreds of thousands of readers but I don’t know a single person who reads her.

    Whatever happened to personal blogging?

  5. I read this. I started to sputter with indignation, got a little “Maury” guest-ish (“You don’t KNOW me!”). But yeah, you’ve got it. I am a big whinging ball of need. And from the first comment I ever received, the “validation” hooked me. It is what it is. No matter what you call it.

    Also? Urban Dictionary’s word of the day today was Attention Whore. Eerie!!

  6. I think I stopped blogging because I wasn’t enjoying the attention. It’s uncomfortable for some people. I still enjoy Twitter and facebook, and reading and commenting on other’s posts occassionally. I guess I like sharing my thoughts in small bits.
    I don’t think all bloggers are attention whores, but I do think it’s neccessary to enjoy the attention.

  7. Great post, Neil. It’s true that if we don’t want attention from others, we would all not have comment boxes on our blogs…while I like to say I only blog because I love to write, that wouldn’t be the whole truth – reading comments and having my posts re-tweeted make me feel good. Weird and true. I remember in grade school, every week each person in class had to write a one pager on a specific person in class – talking about all the reasons they liked that person. Each person in class got their turn to have everyone write about them, and I LOVED it when it was my day… I had about 25 pages of why people liked me! Even if it was a forced assignment… it felt great! So in a way we do crave attention, but yeah, it’s also like, free therapy, which we all clearly need, on some level. I just like blogging because it’s my online journal. I share what I can, but I also have real personal journals at home for my children to read when they’re older. I love the connections that are made. It’s our own little strange world, and I love it.

  8. Yeah, I kinda think you and Paul are saying the same things, just in a different way.

    Great post tho.

  9. It’s easier to behind bravado, the why we seek out human contact is a lot harder to get to. Not just online. Culturally people seem OK false vulnerability wrapped up in bravado but getting really vulnerable is something that we are afraid of doing & witnessing.

  10. Mmm, I think that there is also an element of being able to help others for some of us, because by sharing our experiences, we hope that others won’t fall into the same traps as we did.

    And if I want to help others be sharing my medical/psychological experiences, then guess what? I have to get read by others. Otherwise, I’m just yelling in the dark.

    Soooo, guess what, maybe it’s not just about whether or not we attention whore, but WHY we do it. Deep down, really, the truth. Money, sex, friendship, loneliness, validation….dunno, but we have to talk about why not just what.

  11. Something was definitely “missing in my day to day life” and blogging has helped fill that void. I understand what Staceylt said about the attention. I’ve vacillated between seeking the attention, enjoying it, and feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed by it. Fearful? YES. You and Paul both made excellent points.

  12. You’re right, Neil. Attention whoring is the symptom, but it’s not the disease. You can say it many ways, but an essential truth is that we are a bunch of people who have found a way to be heard. We are heard by people we don’t know, and who don’t judge us as harshly as the people who we encounter in our family and pools of “IRL” friends.

    There is a line in a self help book I once started (never finished) about how one could come up with a crazy idea for a life plan… For instance, I might tell my family that I want to learn about sled dogs and run the Iditarod. They say I’m crazy and quickly give me a list of reasons that I can never do this. That’s family and friends: they love you, but they have their vision of you neatly compartmentalized. If you were to write a blog post about how you wanted to learn about sled dogs and eventually run the Iditarod, you might get 15 comments from people who said, “Good on you!” and gave long, supportive explanations of how you can accomplish your goal.

    People who don’t know us don’t have any reason to box us up or tell us our limitations. People who don’t know us or all sides of the story are inclined to support us. People want to be supportive. I think that’s why so many of us love(d) blogging.

    I, for one, don’t really understand the idea of wishing to describe myself by any term that includes the word “whore.” But, I also don’t have any trouble stating that in the times that I was lonely, seeking, depressed, near suicidal I looked outside of myself for voices to help me. And, I got help from so many of you on the internet. For that, I give my profound thanks.

  13. As someone whose blog doesn’t get much traffic at all, I have to say that I definitely fall on the opposite side of attention-whore. I haven’t been to conferences, I don’t get a lot of hits, I don’t advertise…I am but a mere blogger who likes to write and likes to get to know people. Do I like comments? Of course, but back when (or still even) I don’t get comments, it doesn’t change my writing. I still write (or don’t), for me, not for the attention.

    As far as the fear of people lumping all bloggers together, this whole thing being a blight on bloggers as a whole? Well, I don’t think so…there are SO many people who blog out there, I think saying one post and the controversy it inspires reflects on all of us is like saying the balloon boy parents reflect on all people who are interested in science.

  14. You mean you really aren’t a therapist? So why did I share my life story with you and listen to your advice? (No, I didn’t TAKE your advice … but I did listen to it!)

  15. YOU hit the nail on the head. I’m fairly sure not everyone is out to attention whore—we all want SOME sort of attention. Whether that be negative or positive…we’re just like children. The good child never gets attention—the bad, disrespectful, rebellious child; that’s the one that gets the attention.

  16. At the risk of sounding like an attention whore…

    great post.

  17. Can’t I just be a whore without the attention part?

  18. As human beings we all crave connection with other people. For some people, blogging is an excellent way to feel connected. Of course we all want attention, but whether we are a “whore” to me depends on what kind of attention we are looking for. I am interested in connecting with people whose writing, thoughts, and experiences resonate with mine (and vice versa). I have no interest in getting the attention of people just for the sake of getting attention (hello, ballon boy dad). THAT is the whoring aspect. I really don’t think bloggers like you or me are attention whores, Neil. If we were, we would drastically change what we write about and how.

  19. And validation. On many different levels.

  20. I hope all the major search engines note that I have been mentioned in a sentence with Dooce, Perez Hilton, and Guy Kawasaki. Can we meta-tag that? : )

    Comfort, hope, yearning for love? Yes. Yes. Yes.

    Affirmation? Yes.

    Growth? Yes.

    Fear? Yes.

    It’s between the lines, behind the images.

  21. Again, brilliant. Man, you are knocking it out of the park lately. Seriously.

  22. I hope I haven’t become an attention whore, but I don’t know.

    I think I’ve become more of an internet comfort whore because of all of that it has given me.

    At any rate, amazing post Dr. Neil !

  23. Once upon a time, there was a Certifiable Princess who used to get CRAZY hits and traffic to her blog. The more people who came, the more over the top her stories would become. Were they the truth? Absolutely. After awhile though, the Princess felt like she was no longer writing for herself, but rather, pandering to an audience for yes, attention. The Princess stepped away from her blog for a long time. In that time, she got real with herself and is now freely writing what is in her heart once again. And while the audience is small now, the sentiments left behind somehow have greater value. She doesn’t need attention any more. She needed love…and she found it.

    That’s all any attention whore can ever ask for.

    CP.

  24. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with your conclusion, to brush everyone with the same stroke, like pgoodness – but what I appreciate, again, is that you are thinking. You are looking and analyzing and thinking. It’s good.

  25. Don’t you think “fearful” is the root cause of almost all unhealthy behavior?

  26. While I can see the two concepts being mistaken as the same, I do think there is a difference between being an attention whore (that I define as someone who pathologically needs attention) and craving community (people who feel better knowing they are not alone in the world). To me it’s a difference between a human need and a mental illness.

    Or maybe all bloggers are certifiable. I’m certainly not a therapist like you.

    Love the discussion here. Reminds me of the old blogging days.

  27. MammaLoves said exactly what I wanted to. *hmph* I started blogging for the community. I don’t need attention-“mommy, mommy” is heard around here more than you know. But blogging? Adult conversation that (most of the time) does not involve a discussion of bodily fluids or how much food a child ate or what time football practice is.

  28. I would like to see your licensing for therapy, please.

    Also? I am not an attention whore.

  29. Rule #1: The problem is never the problem.

    Also, scanning the comments I thought Sizzle called you a meathead. I thought, now he can be a little slow but I think that’s out of line. 🙂

  30. For me, it is more of a way of proving to myself that I can be successful at something, even if it is a lame little blog with a small audience– that’s still better than most of my other endeavors to date 😀

  31. You say fearful, I say insecure, and we’re probably both talking about the same thing just as you and O’Flaherty are.

    But when I hear ‘Attention Whore’ I also think competitiveness. Why are those other bloggers shinier, more freebie-loaded, more linked-to than I am? What do I need to do to be as good as or better than according to this set of imaginary parameters?

    Which side of it you’re comfortable with probably says most about who are you are as a person rather than anything about inherent wrong or right. I can’t even mouth words like ‘increasing ad revenue’ and ‘maximising your brand’ without feeling like a sham, but I’m completely at peace with the vulnerable and the fearful.

    I can’t do competitiveness though. Never could. Always was a dissapointment to my gym teachers.

  32. I do think there is a difference between being an attention whore (that I define as someone who pathologically needs attention) and craving community (people who feel better knowing they are not alone in the world). To me it’s a difference between a human need and a mental illness.

    I could not agree more with Mamaloves.

    Interestingly, over the past couple of days, I have been musing about my fears and deep-seated insecurities. Although I sure love getting comments and some attention, I do not believe that I am an “attention whore.”

    I write about loads of different topics on my blog, on which I get minimal traffic and even fewer comments. One thing that my blog has allowed me to do is to vent publicly about things that bother and bug me, just to find reassurance that I am not the only one who has those experiences, and to get advice from people on how to deal with some of the obvious annoyances in life.

  33. I just want to be loved, is that so wrong?

    Don’t we all?

  34. agreed, if we weren’t seeking some kind of attention and validation – good or bad – we wouldn’t be hitting the publish button.

  35. I don’t think I can self-identify as an attention whore. 99% of what happens in my life never hits the Internet. I’m a private person.

    I have, however, said the instant validation in blogging is very important to me. That the instantaneous reaction to my writing (vs. the other kind of writing I do where I may never hear anything at all) is heady, addictive stuff.

    I also appreciate this supportive community that’s there whenever I need it, even when our relationship becomes one-sided (which of course makes me feel guilty as hell.) But at times like that, it’s not about the writing–it’s about me saying something like “my dog just died” and having a hundred people reach out to me in minutes. It feels good. It helps. Is that the attention whore part?

    I just don’t know. Maybe, like you imply, I’m deluding myself.

  36. Interesting. I’ve always had this love-hate relationship with blogging/being a blogger. If I start getting attention, I don’t want it, if I’m not getting any I start to get antsy. So I want to add my two cents.

    I DO think it’s important to look at the why behind the term “attention whore”. I mean, if bloggers are attention whores, than so is every other writer of any kind from now until forever, backwards and forwards. Also, every musician (ok, well that probably is true), artist, speaker, leader, and so on. So, is it about being an “attention whore”? For some, in all those categories, yes. For many others, it seems like a very human need to connect and to share our stories. We’ve been doing that for a long time, blogs just gave us a new tool.

    And yet, when I read some people’s blogs, I see some truth in that label. After all, some of the most popular bloggers are talking about themselves, their every little thought, and it’s pretty personal, and pretty random. And snarky. Gawd am I sick of snark. It has it’s place, but there are pages and pages of endless snark out there on the internet, and really, is it THAT funny? So while I like those particular blogs in sound bites from time to time, I can only stomach so much. Some blogs are like Paris Hilton on crack.

    But then there are lots and lots of little blogs that are meant just for friends and family, to document certain events in our lives, or to share ideas ad creativity. Is that attention whoring? Or is it what we humans do?

    As far as the true attention whores go. Well, it’s certainly a product of our culture, a huge cult of narcissism and narcissist worship. We’ve created this division where you’re either worshiping or being worshiped, and we’re all desperate to figure out which side of that fence we’re on, and it drives people to obsessional sharing, and in a way that may or may not be healthy or true to the core of the person.

    I’m still wondering what a lot of these kids will be like, that grew up in this weird blogosphere spotlight. Mmmm, perhaps a little attention whore-y? Who knows.

  37. Velvet – these kids will grow up thinking that it is normal. They will be starting their own blogs in elementary school.

  38. Neil – no doubt. I can’t say whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t know. In some ways, they’re already doing this in their own way through social networks. But it will be darned interesting to see second generation bloggers. Will Leta be as hot as Dooce?

  39. I blog for the community it fosters. The attention is nice but it’s nicer to enter into intelligent discussion with folks. With work and kids to tend to, we don’t get out much, our blogs are our connection to civilization.

  40. sometimes you realize that there are people in this world that only seek out attention, at any cost really. what’s sad is that the ones that just blend into the background may just be what we are missing out on.

  41. first, i had to click on the link about the false story. great writing by maggie. and also by you, neil.

    i read here for so many reasons. you always have your finger on the pulse of the mommybloggers…the pace of the internet…the real reasons people do things. i like how you can restate and reveal things. in this case, i do think you are right.

    i really started blogging in the early months with my twins, when i was isolated and battling ppd and so fucking scared that i was doing things wrong. did i write that in my posts? nope. just nice little monthly letters to them (an idea i think i lifted from dooce). but the comments from others made me feel better, seen and heard and not so sad. as that situation eased, so did some of my blog dependence. but i do find i am addicted to that little bump that i get from comments and @ and nice email replies…it feels good.

    a recent radio piece verified this. the reporter spoke about the effect that logging in and finding these things does to our brains…it gives a little jolt of dopamine, the feel good neurotransmitter. so, it is literally helping dispel the fear by bringing in the pleasure. but then, so does heroin. so i guess we just have to be really careful.

  42. Just because you put a “the” in front of it doesn’t change anything. I know you’re the evil Internet Rapist!

  43. I love attention. My blog is the release that doesn’t talk back and tell me what I SHOULD do. It’s also where I announce to the interwebs that I am having a great freaking life. And I lost my pencil sharpener.

  44. excellent post neil, the truth is always right there under the surface. you are right, we are blogging about the human condition b/c we all suffer from it.

    some folks haven’t realized yet that it’s ok to come out and talk about it so they make fun of us that do.

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