You Should Start a Blog Right Now!
Or should you? You can find some blog posts about the benefits of blogging but I can't think of many that explore the potential harms. I can think of some reasons why blogging — especially under your real identity — could waste your time, make you a worse thinker, and limit your social and professional opportunities.
1. Blogging will give society more influence over your thinking.
Imagine if any stranger off the street could come and visit your home. How would that change your behavior? Probably you would make sure there is nothing offensive or too personal around, and you'd spend more time making your home look neat and presentable, with your shelves lined with books you feel give a good impression of yourself. A personal blog is like opening a public door to your mind. Do you really think that you won't clean up the contents for the sake of public appearances?
2. It will enforce your current beliefs and identity.
Writing about your beliefs and claims in public will make those a stronger part of your identity. They will stay as obstacles before adopting new views and information, because you have to reconcile the new with your newly-questionable but previously proud content. If you instead keep your thoughts and beliefs anonymous, you can accept all the new information you want without worrying about your old digital garden misleading the public or causing embarrassment.
Learning you were wrong about something:
- No blog --> Update your beliefs.
- Yes blog --> Update your beliefs, and all relevant blog posts.
3. It will make your beliefs visible.
If you write about X, people will know what you think of X. This will matter if X is or becomes controversial, and may limit your social and professional opportunities. You will lose opportunities with some people who strongly disagree with you on X. The first impression will already have been made before you meet.
Maybe you write about rationalist views, and your hippie friend will be just barely enough put off that you won't get an invite to their summer parties. Or you have a nice uncle you'd like to spend more time with, but their father was a butcher and you wrote essays about veganism.
If you instead had kept your thinking to yourself, you'd have an easier time reaching out to people you might enjoy as friends, even if you disagree on some important ideas.
4. It might make you less interesting.
The more you've written about yourself and your beliefs, the less room there is for other people to learn about you. This seems especially relevant in dating, where you'll be regrettably often perceived as boring if your life is too open. The less of your story you've published, the more room you have to try different ways to interact with people, even if it's just about how exactly you tell others about your life story or beliefs.
When your life story so far is out there, already authored, that's mostly what you'll get. When it's a mystery, you build it together with the people you spend time with. Maybe in some relationships, this process of mutually learning about each others' values and stories is an important process, where you adapt to each other and build a stronger shared bond?
5. Blogging will twist your motivation and demand your time.
If you want to achieve anything in this world, what other people think of you will matter. Maybe you started a blog to improve your writing and thinking, but as soon as you put your real name on a site, you will feel pressure to build and polish it in order to improve how others perceive you.
A blog will reveal significant information that others will try to use for judging your quality. You'll be compared to other bloggers in quality and quantity, and even the frequency you write with will tell about your diligence.
At worst, your blog will become in your mind your most important presentation of your self. Even in milder cases, you might feel torn about how you should handle your old and future content when your life changes. Will people think weirdly if you don't make any new posts for a while? Should you add a disclaimer that you stopped blogging because your mom got sick and you gave birth to twins? Will your old posts about technical problems make you look silly, now that you're a CTO who is supposed to appear as exemplar? You'll probably find many major and minor nuisances to worry about the more you blog — or even if you don't blog enough!
As long as your personal blog exists, it will beg for your time.
Don't take this as the truth, but more as an attempt to brainstorm reasons against blogging. Even if you find these arguments against personal blogging convincing, do notice that these issues seem to disappear almost entirely if you blog anonymously or pseudonymously.
Maybe the real good advice is: "You should try pseudonymous blogging"?
You can also just update your beliefs and leave the relevant blog posts unchanged. :) If I read someone's old blog post, I don't assume them to necessarily still believe the same things today, so I also don't feel like my old posts would necessarily need to be changed when my beliefs change. They're like historical records whose value is in recording what I used to believe at the time.
I wholeheartedly endorse this conclusion.
You can't make me.
Why? I see variants of this argument, not for blogging, but for publishing open source software and my response is the same: it's perfectly all right to put something out there, and then not update it or touch it or feel obligated to interact with it ever again.
In fact, for a blogpost, it's an even easier argument to make. It's not as if reading a blogpost will result in crashing software or security vulnerabilities in the same way that pulling in a dependency on an unmaintained library will.
If you feel like you have something to write, write it. When you run out of things to write, stop.
I blog, I think it's enhanced my life a lot, I think it's improved my career a lot (i.e. I get grants more easily and have access to more desirable jobs because I blog). I don't think everyone should blog (?), but I'm going to say how I deal with all the listed problems.
Sometimes when I disagree with society I write a blog post. That makes it easier to feel justified in disagreeing with society. It's a thing to point other people to if I want them to also disagree with society in the same way.
There are some things I don't write about because I'm too embarrassed of my opinions etc. That isn't really worse than the situation of not blogging at all, though.
A lot of this has more to do with audience than blogging itself. If you promote the blog on LessWrong then you'll be tempted to adhere to LW frameworks, etc. There are some things I write on my blog and don't post to LW because I anticipate there being too many annoying comments enforcing local stylistic conventions. Some posts can be written for a small set of specific people you know (e.g. they can be cleaned-up versions of email threads).
It does make it more legible when you change your mind. It also builds up a body of work, it's tempting to write more things that share the same framework etc. This is like being an academic and building up a body of work. If you change your mind and write about it you can refer to the previous post as defining your earlier position, making it clearer what the update is. Having a body of work has benefits, often the alternative isn't being free to adopt whatever is best, it's following fashions due to lacking a leg to stand on, so to speak.
(I titled my blog "unstable ontology" partially to hint that it's expected that my frameworks will change over time.)
I generally find that when I write something controversial, I gain "enemies" but I also gain allies. Overall the alliances gained pay off more than the "enemies" detract, e.g. it's possible to have interesting conversations with allies and coordinate with them economically, while "enemies" weren't that useful in the first place and mostly keep their distance. It's a bit weird for me to call them "enemies" because (a) enmity can't be inferred from disagreement and (b) the disagreement already existed, you just previously didn't trust them enough to reveal that...which means revealing the disagreement actually brings you closer, making it possible at all to reconcile. Even hated can be capitalized on (hatred is a form of attention and attention can be monetized, those who hate your haters may become allies), but it takes some emotional resilience to not be brought down by it.
Basically no one writes a large fraction of their thoughts on the internet. Writing a normal amount hints that there's more. Writing can increase popularity and distinctiveness which help in dating. If someone hasn't read your whole blog, there's even some public content they don't know about... and if they have, they're attending to you a lot, maybe they're kind of obsessed with you.
As a common sense check, who has better dating prospects, a rock musician (distinctive), or a random audience member (undistinctive)? What about someone with an interesting personal aesthetic that includes clothing choices etc (distinctive), versus someone trying to look normal (undistinctive)? (Luke Muehlhauser made a similar point previously.)
You can stop for a while. I do find that writing decreases the activation energy of writing more which makes more things seem like my "responsibility", which causes me to write more. But this is probably good for my career overall, I don't think I'd otherwise be doing something better with my time.
Who can make this advice into a Calibrated Proverb? https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/NYH8kjdpLCTXcit8C/calibration-proverbs
Unless blogging is just pretense
It's glorified self-surveillance
Which soon leads to self-censorship
To keep your job, or remain hip
No secrets left makes you a bore
But mob demands that you write more
Why not blog anonymously?
This isn't true by my definition of a personal blog, which makes me think you're using a different and probably narrower definition. Can you expand on what you mean by "personal blog"?
As for the second risk (that your public claims become part of your identity), even pseudonymous blogging could be a problem if you have a certain number of followers. To guard against this to some degree, the advice might be:
"You should try blogging under different pseudonyms" (maybe on different platforms when it is, understandably, discouraged to do so on one platform.)
I don't like value drift; I want my future self to be aligned with me. Making public statements about what you value/intend to do can be very useful for constraining future you's behavior.