Terrance Heath

Would You Let Blog Readers Run Your Life?

Filed By Terrance Heath | March 01, 2009 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: bloggers, Chen Xiao, Chinese gays and lesbians, netizens, self determination

OK. I value my autonomy (what’s left of it) way too much to do something like this. But the idea of someone else being in charge is tempting at times.

Chen Xiao had pretty much given up making her own decisions and so decided to throw open her life to the whims of China’s hundreds of millions of Internet users, known in China as netizens.

“It’s your right to arrange Chen Xiao’s life, and it’s my obligation to serve you,” read her online shop.

Since December, Chen has been allowing others to decide what she will do each day, because, for the most part, last year was awful, she said. Her hometown was hit by blizzards, her country rocked by a devastating earthquake, friends divorced and her clothing shop went bankrupt.

“Every time I had a plan for what I wanted my life to be like, nothing would come of it. It was very disappointing. I figured if other people came up with things for me to do, I might stumble upon something new and better,” she told CNN.

C’mon, who hasn’t thought about it?

Who hasn’t had days when you wish you could just hand someone else the reins? When every decision you made ended up blowing up in your face, and every choice ended disastrously? I know I have.

“Executive functioning” is not my strong suit.There are, and have been times when I thought it would be a relief to have someone else be “in charge.” (Though, as a husband and father of two, with a full time job, I haven’t really been “in charge” of my life for while now. Let’s face it. Once you have kids, your time and you life are not entirely your own.)

After all, then at least if things go awry, it wouldn’t be my fault since it wasn’t my choice, right? (Although, choosing to let someone else choose for me is itself a choice.)

On the other hand, my first thought is, “Oh, I can just imagine the kinds of requests I’d receive.” Maybe that’s a typical, cynical (but not unjustified) American response, though. Things have worked out reasonably well for Chen Xiao.

What she stumbled upon was not only a new life but a new way to make a living. She charges about $3 an hour, and she’s been asked to do almost everything from delivering pet food to caring for stray cats to taking a hot lunch to a homeless man.

What surprised her the most was not so much the varied requests but being able to find happiness in the process.

“If somebody asks you to do something, something simple, and you do it, it can make you very happy. You can change from a gloomy person to a very bright one. It can help give you a new sense of self-esteem,” she said.

So far, the most meaningful assignment she was given was attending a child’s birth — the father was a complete stranger who just wanted someone to take pictures and share the moment.

There are limits to what she will agree to do. She will not do anything illegal, immoral or violent, but she said that has not stopped some from asking.

Ah. See, it wouldn’t have entered my ADD brain to be specific. I’d be more likely to figure out later that I should have been more specific.

Anyway, it’d never work, unless I only got requests from people telling me to do something I already wanted to do anyway, in which case I’d probably do it on my own. So it sounds like the did better than I would have, and even ended up with more of a feel-good story than the:

I know she’s not the first. Other people have let blog readers and other netizens make decisions in various aspects of their lives. Even I let readers suggest my musical purchases for a year. But she does seem to have succeeded at finding a niche.

My only question for Chen Xiao is “What’s next?” At 26-years-old, she’s pretty young. Young enough, in fact, that there’s plenty of time for “next.” I ask because, after five years online, I’m asking myself the same thing. Having recently celebrated the second anniversary of my twentieth birthday (do the math), I’m not quite in the same place in life as a twenty-something, newly-minted college grad, and my available choices are not quite the same.

But eventually Chen Xiao will have to choose — when the novelty of letting others choose for her wears thin, both with her and her readers. I wonder what her range of choices will be, and what she will choose, or what will be chosen for her.

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Nope. I've met some of our readers and their even crazier than I am! :)

It's not always a case of allowing readers to run our lives, especially if there's one or two who are local enough to affect some of the circles we travel in and and obsessive enough to be willing to put us, our partners, our homes and our well-being in danger, just to make a point. One does not have to be willing, in order for readers to assert some control over our lives, unfortunately, and I caution people to be careful.

On a different track, though, having been accepted in some leather communities, I have seen it happen where people can turn over aspects of their lives or great deals of their lives to the decisons of others and be satisfied with that. I doubt Chen Xiao would appreciate the comparison to D/s (Dominant-submissive) people, and don't mean to imply that of her -- instead, I think it sort of illustrates that a sort of power exchange happens in any life situation, no matter how vanilla. Put simply, some of us prefer to take charge, others are content to let others do so, and some like to ride the middle of that, speaking to what's important to them and leaving the rest to be decided by those for whom those issues are important. But there's still an unconscious exchange of power in our lives being brokered, and a lot of our interpersonal conflicts come when that isn't negotiated very well or on a conscious level.

But the satisfaction or dissatisfaction (for all parties involved) with power exchanges (D/s or vanilla) is wholly dependent on the ongoing attitudes of the participants, to maintain responsibility, safety, respect and consent.

So basically, it boils down to how much you'd trust your readers' judgement, what limits you'd place on the power you give to them (how choosy you are of mandates to accept or reject), and that somewhere between you and your readers, someone would need to maintain a rational balance. Within those confines, letting go can be quite interesting, but it's not for everyone.

$3/hour isn't bad in China, is it? I read somewhere that the average salary was about $100/month, so if she has plenty of clients, she's not doing a bad job.

OK, but "Having recently celebrated the second anniversary of my twentieth birthday..." I did the math, but that would put you at 22 in my book. Which you negate a sentence later.

Am I reading that wrong?