Friday, August 26, 2005

“This is my letter to the world, That never wrote to me —”

Why do you blog? Norm Geras’ interviews are now at the hundred mark. If you read the answers just to this one question, you’ll not find much variety in the reasons. Nor should there be.
    “Oh, OK, the real reason is sheer vanity.”
“It allows me to spout off on all manner of things which interest me. Plus: fame, fortune and the adoration of women.”
“I blog because, basically, I am a big-mouth, and I needed to create a public platform where I could shout about things which matter to me. Also, the writing impulse had to be satisfied.”
“I blog because it's fun. I enjoy the immediacy of it and the possibility of feedback.”
“Emily Dickinson once began a poem: 'This is my letter to the world,/ That never wrote to me —”
So there you are. People blog to connect to others through the medium of words and pictures. We have become a culture of non-connection and blogging — plus comments — becomes one way to transcend our intellectual isolation. And while each person has a slightly different take on his or her reasons for setting up a blog, learning to manipulate the medium, and taking on the challenge of maintaining something which often comes to resemble a voracious mutant time-eater, in the end it’s about connection. Simple human connection. Remember “reach out and touch someone”? Well, guess what, folks? Blogging is simply that, only more nakedly expressed. Be it pictures of your cat, mundane ideas or pre-disgested shorts, it’s merely service to the connection need that exists inside your neurons. Gimme my fix!

Rick Moran at Rightwing Nuthouse thinks of it this way:
1.   It is the nature of the medium to enslave us, bind us and with “tortuous regularity” demand that we follow a particular path.
2.  The nature of the medium is content. Whatever the goal you have as a blogger — and his was to write essays — you must nonetheless put the nickels in the meter in order to keep playing. As he puts it, “I’ve been forced to alter the formula [essays] and simply link to other good blog posts with scant commentary on what someone else has written.” Rick takes himself to task for this, seeing it as “laziness or lack of inspiration.”
Rick also mentions the time consumed in research if one is to write decent historical essays. As wonderful as Google is, you can get lost in the treasure mine of information. Thus a seven hundred word essay ends up taking about three hours to write. It’s not just that we get lost in the tangents of information, though. Rick doesn’t mention — but this is always in the forefront of my mind — that there are “experts” out there who will read your material and take you to task for lacunae in your work that you could fix only by studying the subject for fifty years like they have. And they’re not even academics or “professionals.” They’re simply people in love with the subject you happened to pick. As an example, Rick wrote an essay on D-Day not long ago. Relying on memory, I think he contended that Normandy Beach and beyond was the greatest event of the 20th century. My co-blogger — also a history aficionado — and I disagreed with Rick’s elevation of June 6th, 1944. In our view it was June 28th, 1914. When that day was over, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the town of Sarevjo would come to represent the beginning of WWI. This ignominius day laid the foundation for D-Day, forty years later. Two history lovers with different ideas about the trajectory of history. And both read by a wide (and in some cases, congruent) audience.

Rick says that his motivations for blogging were two: to “reacquaint” himself with his writing skills from years before, and to use his blog as a stepping stone to making a living as a writer. Those are usual goals for ambitious, energetic people. And many other bloggers would express the same sentiments. However, as he says, the former — building one’s skills as a writer — begins to take second place to building one’s position in the ecosystem of the blogosphere. This requires increasing readership, linking, and, as he notes again, choosing the content of one’s blog.
     Ultimately, readers will praise me or condemn me not for the reason I write but for what I write — content. And here’s where the future comes into play in a big way.
How are we going to be receiving content 5 years from now? Ten years? I say “receiving” content because at the moment, we are slaves to others for access to that vital commodity. Will there come a day when content will not be “received” as much as it just simply is? In other words, if we’re not slaves to gatekeepers for the distribution of information, will there come a time when the “message is the medium?”
Here comes the hard part: looking at the present commodity/channel and attempting to foresee the future. Moran quotes Jeff Jarvis’ idea that content is perishable and it can be created by anyone. What was once valuable, i.e., owning a commodity (a medium of information ) becomes of little worth. “Owning the content factory” simply means you have higher costs, while a blogger, possessed only of a PC and a little talent has no deadweight and can win every time.

Jarvis and Moran agree: the old ways, the old economy are difficult paradigms to break: Quoting Jarvis:
    in this new age, you don’t want to own the content or the pipe that delivers it. You want to participate in what people want to do on their own. You don’t want to extract value. You want to add value. You don’t want to build walls or fences or gardens to keep people from doing what they want to do without you. You want to enable them to do it. You want to join in.
Do you see how radical this is? It’s distributive. It’s about a life of intellectual abundance and the death of scarcity. It changes not only how you think, but how you feel. It’s expansive, it grows, it self-corrects. This is the revolution the denizens of the 1960’s only dreamed about. A pipe-dream at that.

Here’s Jarvis’ recommendations:

Forget owning the content. Assist in its distribution and its re-creation as people make choices about which parts of that content they want to save:
1.   In these new economics, you want to stand back and interfere and restrict as little as possible.
2.  You want to reduce costs to the minimum.
3.  You want to join in wherever you are welcome.
Then Rick Moran asks the poignant question:
     But let me whine for a moment; I’m not a journalist. I don’t pretend to be one nor do have any desire to imitate one. Will there be room for a 51 year old opinionated fat man who sees himself in a silly, heroic sort of way as a polemicist, a rabble rouser, someone who 200 years ago would have been posting broadsides on buildings facing the town square? Where does that leave me? How do I participate in this brave new world if I don’t want to climb on board this new media bandwagon?
More questions; what innovations will there be in hardware and software that will affect this new medium? How about changes in the internet itself? Access to it? The portability of it?
These questions go to the root of my problem; how should I approach the future?As Mr. Beecher (whose daughter Harriet was to write the play Uncle Tom’s Cabin) points out, one can either be anxious about the future or have faith in it. At the moment, I’m extraordinarily anxious. I suppose that’s natural for anyone my age whose basic supposition about the way things are is undergoing a radical transformation. I’d like to have faith in the future but wishing won’t make it so. I think the best any of us can do is keep an ear to the ground, watch for trends, and even try to anticipate change wherever possible. Easier said than done. I suppose in the end, having faith in the future means having faith in oneself. [emphasis added]
No, Rick, I disagree: having faith in the future is not the same as having faith in oneself. I have faith in a future that may not contain me, and I have faith in a future that I cannot possibly live to see. Faith, unlike blogging, is free of content.

I believe that the blogosphere is continuing to grow because it meets a need. The need existed before the blogosphere; the ’sphere did not create it. I believe it will change in ways we cannot anticipate, the same way we have been changed by life’s experiences in ways we could not see before those events transpired.

Meanwhile, blog on, my esteemed friend whom I have never met. The future will come to meet you, prepared or not. And I mean that both ways: the future is no more prepared for us than we are for it…

Next time: Who I read and why.


Pastorius said...

I'm with Rick. I began CUANAS with the intention of writing a combination of traditional blog posts and essays. But, feeling the need to continue putting out as much information as I can, I have gradually cut down on my own content. And I admit, this is partially due to laziness.

I have found a solution to this problem. I recently began working on a group blog with five other people. It's called the Internet Journal of Public Policy.

The idea is to publish longer, more thought out pieces on various issues, particularly with regards to foreign policy, the war in Iraq, the Middle East and Islam, and America's role in the world.

As part of a group blog, there is not the same pressure to keep putting up posts. In addition, the networking tasks are shared by multiple people. And, as I am not exactly good at networking, I am benefitting from the work of my cohorts.

I think lone wolf blogs are a great thing, but I think group blogs serve an important function as well. On a lone wolf blog, the blogger can get a little lost in his obsession with his subject matter. The group blog, no matter how low level the editorial process is, is still dictated by the group personality. It is unlikely that one writer will deviate too far from the content/style of the group. This adherence to group personality sets up a framework within which to work, which is a challenge and an inspiration in a way that a lone wolf blog can not be.

Keep up the great work, Dymphna. I am an admirer.


Dymphna said...


A group blog is a great idea. In fact, we've invited guests bloggers here from time to time, with no success. We're considering comandeering the Baron's Boy. He's a good writer, but limited time due to laborious chem labs and the need to find work on the weekends. We'll see. He's witty and well-informed (the former due to me, the latter due to the Baron).

Laziness is not the real issue - it is more the kind of feeling that comes with writer's block. Don't mis-name it or you won't surmount what it really is.

It is sooo good to have a co-blogger. I wouldn't do this on my own. My other blog, The Neighborhood of God, is simply my journal. Sort of. But Gates is meant to fight a menace to the commonweal and it needs more than one person to keep it going.

I'll go look at your Public Policy blog. There is not only strength in numbers, there is extended intelligence. Aggregate intelligence.

We're considering going to a blogging conference for Virginians tomorrow. Except it sounds really lame: limited to 75 people, the woman never heard of the blogosphere, the ecosystem, blog nics...I wonder how intelligent it could be? It's supposed to be "political" blogs but I recognized a number of realtors and some whack-os. Don't know if I want to pay $50.00 for the entertainment. Also, only one of us can go since they've been oversubscribed -- at 75 people!!


Pastorius said...

Hi Dymphna,
Hope you like IJPP. I am very happy with it so far.

You brought up the idea of going to the blogging conference for Virginia bloggers. That reminded me that you guys are from Virginia. I recently happened upon another very good blogger from Virginia. It's written by a woman who calls herself Always On Watch.

You might want to check it out: