After posting to my PT blog for nine months, I have learned something about how people read my posts - judging from their comments. The number one impression I have is that they don't really read them - they react to the topics with ideas they have stored up on related issues - or sometimes unrelated ones. And why not? Since posting blog entries is a democratic exercise, readers seek the same benefits and opportunities for expression that I and my fellow bloggers do. But I'd be surprised if readers get much new information or many new ideas from the site.

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The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, November 21, 2008. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

What I have learned from writing a PT blog

After posting to my PT blog for nine months, I have learned something about how people read my posts - judging from their comments. The number one impression I have is that they don't really read them - they react to the topics with ideas they have stored up on related issues - or sometimes unrelated ones. And why not? Since posting blog entries is a democratic exercise, readers seek the same benefits and opportunities for expression that I and my fellow bloggers do. But I'd be surprised if readers get much new information or many new ideas from the site.

I became aware that what I wrote was merely a starting point for people to unload their reactions on a topic when I posted, End Alcoholism - Bomb Spain, a tongue-and-cheek treatise on differences in Southern European and American drinking styles and ideas about alcoholism. After a first (Spanish reader) berated me as an American chauvinist (although he responded good-naturedly when I and another reader pointed out I was joking), a regular stream of further comments continued to interpret the post literally, as though that this was a parody was never discussed.

Occasionally, off-the-wall comments are off-putting. I had an especially negative reaction when a Connecticut local reacted to my post, Paul Newman's Beer Drinking, which was about how many successful people drink a lot (and take drugs). The commenter, who had a local business, wrote a tribute to the great actor - which I assumed he wasn't close enough to Newman to offer at an actual memorial service - drawing attention to himself (and perhaps his business) at the same time. (My Newman post was also the only time I am aware that another PT blogger praised and reacted to a post of mine, by which I was greatly honored.)

My recent posting, Suicide Trip: Filming Death at the Golden Gate, about the moral implications of photographing suicides for a movie, elicited several serious comments. Their range touches on some major categories of blog responders. One is the best I ever recall receiving. It (1) introduced new information - that the camera operators called authorities when they thought someone was contemplating suicide, (2) made a pointed aesthetic judgment that the film's musical score was inferior, and (3) made a subtle ethical judgment - that although the commenter accepted the filmmaker's purpose, he thought the director relied unfairly for a dramatic subtext on someone in the film who repeatedly returned to the bridge, but who viewers already knew had killed himself.

Two other commenters made points I found less successful. One claimed that the filmmakers and others needed to be educated about the disease of depression that led to suicide - even as I had pointed out in my post that the director had specifically rejected such a medical, disease interpretation. I repeated this in responding to the comment: "The film's perspective is that the suicides failed to gain traction in life, for a variety of reasons. The film views these as cases of human tragedy, in some ways unknowable." The original commenter then repeated in a follow-up that "many have yet to understand suicide," as though the director and I simply needed more schooling in the disease perspective.

And one commenter, likening the movie to a snuff film, imputed disreputable motives to the filmmakers as "wanting to make a name for themselves (and a few bucks)" - as well as to people who would watch it as being jaded and callous thrill-seekers. They also referred to a Wikipedia entry which said that celebrity suicides portrayed in an easy and romantic way prompted imitation, which even a quick reading of my post made clear was not true of this film. I took the unusual step of defending the film and its viewers (me included):

The film does not romanticize suicide or glorify the deceased and simplify the reasons they killed themselves, or make the process look easy or pleasant. The obvious torment of the suicides and their survivors is what makes the film so harrowing.

As for the director wanting to "make a few bucks," the years of work creating permanent memories for a few poor souls (unknown sufferers who stand for millions) made no money. As for making Steel's name, this comment reflects the majority of responses to the film.

One final point about The Bridge posting (for which two more worthwhile comments has been added, one arguing it will spur suicide, the other defending the film): Last night I had dinner in NYC with my daughters. I talked to our waiter, who was a 20-something son of an Episcopalian minister from Utah who was also an actor. When I mentioned the movie, he actually remembered the New Yorker article on which it was based (written by Tad Friend in 2003)! A half-decade and more later, our waiter recalled from the article that one suicide left a note at home that, if no one smiled at him that day, he was going to jump from the Bridge.

Of course, I don't expect anything I wrote in response to comments to change anyone's views one whit - nothing I said had impressed these readers the first time. And, of course, I may get such responses because I am a particularly annoying, provocative, and opinionated blogger. But I don't think that accounts for readers' responses, although maybe comments on this post will persuade me otherwise.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't note that many readers use this forum to lambaste me. The examples are too numerous to list, but here's the most recent one, responding on November 20 to my post of April 6, An Open Letter to Nora Volkow: "I hope no one else has the misfortune of wasting their time reading this letter to Nora Volkow."