Negotiating Online Boundaries

“Mom, you just don’t get Tumblr,” my daughter insists.

She’s partly right. I have a Tumblr, of course, but I don’t use it much. Merlin can spend hours being alternately horrified and delighted by the parade of images at her fingertips. I’m easily bored with it. I thought, ‘Well, maybe I just need to take a lesson or two from an expert,’ so I wandered over to her page to check out what’s got her so enthralled. When I entered her email to find her, it automatically made me a follower so I could view her page, but it didn’t notify me on the screen. I scrolled through her posts, nearly had a seizure from all the animated gifs and decided that, all things being equal, I could probably stand not to engage on this platform, but in the interest of giving it a fair trial, I signed up to follow some education tumblrs and a couple of people my daughter follows.

Three days later, I had decided that there’s nothing I want on Tumblr that I’m not already getting elsewhere. By then, though, Merlin had noticed that I was following her and the vlogbrothers, and she pulled her father aside to ask him if he would talk to me about my invasion of her space.

I get it.

She’s thirteen, and she “gets” Tumblr, and she loves John Green, and in a real sense, those things “belong” to her. In her view, they do not belong to me, and my interest in them is suspect. Even though I recommended John Green to her, and I had no intention of spying on her posts, my accidental “following” of her Tumblr felt like an encroachment on her space.

In a horrifying reversal, I’ve had several online border disputes with my own mother. I write about things, and I post them, and sometimes I link to the posts on Facebook. When my mother has something to say about a post on my blog, she comments on the link on Facebook which drives me nearly to distraction. The personal and painful things that I sometimes write about in my blog posts are not read by the majority of my Facebook “friends,” so when Mom posts lengthy and personal commentary on them on my Facebook, I feel caught in a conundrum. On the one hand, my blog posts are haphazard, and the few interested parties like to be notified when I make one, on the other, I expect any specific or lengthy reaction to the posts to be routed through the blog itself or through private message. I use Facebook for “liking” and “sharing,” not necessarily for communicating.

So what space is mine and what is theirs? Merlin’s attempt to toss me out of her space produced mixed results. Her father insisted that one of us follow her on Tumblr because she is too young to have unfettered roaming rights online. I’ve quietly deleted Facebook links that generated commentary that I felt got too personal, but I’ve never attempted to have a conversation with my mother about it.

The metaphors of space tied up in conversations about the internet imlpy (to the capitalist mind, certainly) issues of ownership and property, of what is “appropriate” in a given “location,” with the boundaries (often imperfectly) agreed upon by the users. What are our territorial rights and responsibilities online?