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A page of the diary Amy White kept when she was 11, which she has scanned and posted online: ‘What’s the point of having this diary if I’m not going to show it to the world?’
A page of the diary Amy White kept when she was 11, which she has scanned and posted online: ‘What’s the point of having this diary if I’m not going to show it to the world?’

Childhood skeletons

My online hall of shame Add to ...

I'm going to ask Stacey to ask Jamie out for me. He is gorgeous and I think he really likes me!! At the last dance, he put his hands in the back pocket of my jeans!! I hope he goes out with me!!

Clutching a blue ballpoint pen, an 11-year-old Amy White scrawled that confession in her leather-bound diary on April 23, 1993, before tucking it under her waterbed in Chatham, Ont.

Sixteen years ago, the hastily scribbled musings about mean boys and clueless parents were for Ms. White's eyes only. But what were once private thoughts have now been viewed by thousands. Ms. White, now 27 and living in Vancouver, unlocked her journal in late June, scanned its pages and posted them online.

While the current crop of tweens and teens have been documenting their lives online as far back as they can remember, there was no Twitter, Facebook or YouTube when people in their 20s and 30s were growing up. So now they're rifling through boxes in their parents' basements to find old diaries, school assignments and photographs, then digitizing them to add to ever-expanding online profiles. And while hormonal rants and braces-filled school portraits make for hearty laughs, posting them online has a deeper value.

The act of sharing relics from the most awkward periods of our lives can serve as a form of collective healing, experts say. All you need to get over that Grade 7 spandex fashion faux pas is the knowledge that someone else out there made the same one.

"I think some of this stuff with people exposing stuff about themselves on the Internet - it's their way of dealing with it by commiserating with other people," said Jeff Elison, an assistant professor of psychology at Southern Utah University.

"With these websites, if you can share your personal experience, and you can say this was even worse for me, it does in some way let people heal from these situations. It could have a therapeutic effect."

Ms. White said that after viewing her archived entries, friends and strangers have gushed about how their childhood diaries were identical to hers.

"You think you're a funny child who's different from anyone, and then you read it and realize, 'I'm just like every other girl that age,' " she said.

In a world saturated with technology, people are exhibiting themselves on social networks in search of emotional connections, said Mike D'Abramo, director of research and strategy for Toronto's Youthography marketing group. Time creates a buffer between a mortifying childhood experience and adulthood, which makes people more willing to open up.

"You sharing why you didn't like the boy who sat beside you in the seventh grade - it's not much of a risk any more. We've diminished the idea of the private world."

Prof. Elison agrees. This era of overexposure facilitated by the Internet and reality TV has made people more willing to confide in strangers, he said.

"We all make mistakes and we're all rejected, and when you see it on national television, or on the Internet, it makes you feel better."

In addition to using the Internet as a therapy tool, Mr. D'Abramo said, people are digitizing relics of their childhoods now as a "catch-up."

Lindsey Weber didn't have Web access when she was in Grade 4, but her school portrait is the most-viewed photograph of her on the Internet.

The nine-year-old is holding back a smile, her mop of sandy brown hair curling loosely at the ends. She's wearing a cornflower blue cardigan covered in a floral design. But most eye-catching are the pink and blue lasers beams shooting across the indigo backdrop behind her.

The picture is one of more than 200 posted on her website, laserportraits.net, a collection of school portraits that feature the ubiquitous backdrop from the 1980s and 1990s. The site receives about 3,000 hits a day and even caught the attention of singer Jason Mraz, who sent in his own photo.

For Ms. Weber, it's one of the only artifacts from her youth that is online, in stark contrast to the young people born just a decade after her.

"I want a YouTube video of myself singing and dancing. For me, it's a kind of jealousy," said Ms. Weber in an interview from Brooklyn, N.Y. "We're not part of the era where our parents documented our lives so distinctly, so we're putting ourselves on the Internet."

Los Angeles resident Mike Bender can barely keep up with the 200 submissions he receives each day for awkwardfamilyphotos.com - a site he and a friend launched in April. The photos are replete with stiff poses in co-ordinating outfits, pinched smiles and mullets aplenty. Mr. Bender estimates 95 per cent of the heavily posed studio portraits or family snapshots submitted come from people who are in the photograph themselves - individuals who raced past their initial feelings of shame to enjoy a laugh at their own expense.

He suggests submitters aren't just digging up relics of their past to get their 15 minutes of Internet fame, but to add to their own digital records.

"The modern-day photo album is not in an album any more," Mr. Bender said. "They're not just scanning it in for the site; they have it on their Flickr or their Facebook [page]"

Ms. White said she's pleased she didn't burn or throw out her childhood diary like many of her friends did. She holds it up as one of the few truly honest pieces of writing on the Internet, since it was never intended to be read by the public.

But in an age when she speaks to the masses through her blog, her MySpace page and her Facebook account, it seems unnatural to keep those juvenile confessions to herself.

"What's the point of having this diary if I'm not going to show it to the world?" she asked. "It's part of our crazy narcissistic culture"

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