Masthead CMC Magazine September 1, 1995 / Page 9


Peeking Through the Web's Window

by Lisa Schmeiser (

Voyeurism has been celebrated by Alfred Hitchcock, immortalized in countless bubblegum ballads, and marketed by MTV a la "The Real World." The urge to drop in and observe someone elses's life -- to live it without getting your hands dirty -- appeals to a lot of people.

The Web adds a new twist to voyeurism. While selling readers on the idea of reading someone else's diary (come many of you furrowed under beds and behind dressers looking for your sister or brother's diary...or still are?), few Web authors or would-be voyeurs discuss the idea that these journalists are putting their lives in the public domain voluntarily.

So, is looking at other people's lives really the thrill we thought it was? Possibly -- I found several journals -- most of which were written by real, live people and not ad-agency inventions, but few were riveting enough to keep reading. Two exceptions: the Coffee Shakes Online Journal and Kids In Cyberspace. The former set of entries gives a insightful, mellow look at the life of a self-proclaimed "Web empress" and writer; the links to other pages comprising her work, and other people's pages, enrich the experience. The second site, billed as "the most immature site on the Net," these pages hold the diaries of 2-year-old August and baby Maren. I had suspected this site of being a cutesy-poo gimmick by some smothering parent, but I was pleasantly surprised: the wry entries (written, I presume, by their parents) were funny and not at all cloying.

The best Web journals look beyond your average Web-user's life online. Although Anne Frank's diary is no longer available online (for copyright reasons), two different sites provide intense and accurate portraits of earlier American life. Mark Montgomery Bowden of Georgia has begun serializing a Civil War-era diary he inherited. His work, The Civil War Diary contains short but telling entries from a boy on a prewar plantation. Children dying, runaway slaves being hunted, and the rounds of farm chores are all written about in a manner-of-fact, precise voice - and it's a lot shorter than the Ken Burns documentary.

Eugene Ring's "Sketch of a three years travel in South America, California and Mexico" pulls together riveting content and a beautifully readable format. The diary, assembled by Ring's grandson in a series of easy-to-jump-to pages, chronicles Ring's Gold-Rush era adventures, including the Sacramento, CA flood of 1850.

Another out-of-the ordinary journal, Diary of a Bone Marrow Transplant, documents one man's cancer treatment, beginning with the marrow transplant and detailing the follow-up treatments.The author, 24-year-old Tige Phillips, wrote about his diagnosis with Stage II multiple myeloma (more than 60 percent of his bone marrow cells were cancerous), his transplant, and a few months following. The entries are educational and eye-opening: in addition to explaining what each step of his treatment means in medical terms, Phillips describes how he feels, and how it affects his daily life. The journals also include links to medical resources on cancer, and FAQs.

Finally, the Diary of a Comeback Kid chronicles the attempted return of a pitcher after two shoulder reconstructions. The entries are friendly and interesting even for those who don't like baseball, and while the ending isn't cinematically perfect, it is a satisfying story from start to finish.

After reading through those sites, I decided to end my short career as a Web voyeur. Interestingly enough, I never found a site devoted to the ultimate stakeout of another's person's life--Rear Window. I wonder what Hitchcock would have had to say about that--and I wonder if he would have offered his opinion online. [CMC TOC]

Lisa Schmeiser suspects her life is too boring to be put online.

Copyright © 1995 by Lisa Schmeiser. All Rights Reserved.

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