Friday, October 27, 2006

Tool use in the 21st century

We are, in ways vastly richer and more lasting than our closest competitor, a communicating species. Our communicated facts, feelings and wisdom, frozen into words on a page, now become a greater vehicle [or, for some, a tombstone] of our culture than oral tradition. And we are a tool making and tool using species. Thus, every new tool that lowers the inhibitions to communicating is taken up by all the young humans as soon as they can afford it.

Reaching for generalizations more specific to blogging than "its a new way to communicate" is hazardous. The varieties and exceptions are myriad since the content has only a few constraints imposed by the web page as media. McLuhan would be much vindicated by the characteristics which the technology impose: the short shelf life, a mere moment of relevance of each blogged page so at odds with the longer stories we might want to tell. And the short attention span of the audience voracious yet impatient for not just news but stimulation. Having been there and done that, newspaper tradition lends its "below the fold" concept to bloggers. There is no standard dose of blogging though the most heavily trafficked sites such as Daily Kos or Atrios suggest a dose that has market appeal.

In the winter edition of reconstruction, I expect to read a few good essays on whether bloggers are journalists, a football much scuffed by comment and a few judicial rulings but not yet put through any goal posts. For economic reasons, journalists by trade have an interest in the question that bloggers, most of whom are bloggers by avocation, do not. I find it convenient to categorize my sources as "for-profit media" and "for-cause media"...and so I don't particularly trust or take unfiltered anything I read. That is my categorizing for blogs centered on news and comment. There are many other categories of blog but as I said, generalization breaks down. It is, even now in its early years, a media so customizable and with such low barriers to publication that personal creativity and idiosyncrasies will give you a thousand niches. I am sure this amorphous riot of style and subject are in fact the problem that makes a decent business for Technorati and other enterprises who make findable, under some taxonomy or other, whatever you want to find in blogs.

Ah but that is the great empty promise of blogging: You can say anything you want and imagine it is visible to the 100 million connected browsers the minute you hit "Publish Post". You lay out your cool idea, your expose' of local corruption or your insightful essay but nobody comes round to read it. It is up to you to do some of the work for the present crop of blog search facilities: you have to decide a category and audience that best fit your writing. You have to find the blogroll, the blog alliance or the blog carnival where the traffic is more likely to come looking for your particular color and flavor of blogging. In short, if you want readers, you have to be of some recognized kind and bear the tags of that kind or plug your blog into an appropriate syndicate. To be sui generis, no matter how compelling, amusing and excellent your work, is to court obscurity. After that, there are many short lists of tricks and habits of blogging-as-craft which help you hold an audience. If you want to review these basics I would recommend Coturnix because his blogging sucess is the proof of his suggestions, even for laying a blog to rest. Of all the tips you will find on many lists, putting out at least a post a day is perhaps the most important. If you are just looking for hits, write up the hot news or commerce topics of the day with frequent repetitions of the key words. Say anything. The search engine will touch your hit counter, but your prose will touch no one from the back of a list of 100000 page matches.

Why one starts a blog is not necessarily why one continues it. Long running blogs are part of your identity, even when you blog under a pseudonym. It is of course a projection of some aspect of yourself to take on some voice and, in that voice, reflect on the world or report something in your life. This seems to be the dubious bedrock on which much non-professional blogging rests: "hey! Look at me". It is a need to be or at least imagine that you have been seen/heard/known/understood. As motive, that can always be put down but never put away. It abides. I took an enforced rest in August and September and found that I felt diminished both in confidence, capacity to write and sense of connection to the small audience I imagine I have. If one is not paid to blog and one is not seduced by and addicted to the hit counter, motive is not so clear. I have never personally met and mostly don't even know the real names of people I have gotten to know via my commenting on their blog or their commenting. All the other substance of conversation among friends is there except that obligations are minimal. That is a kind of community. A community of a few dozen odd souls scattered all over the planet that virtually convenes when the RSS feed coughs up a new post. Often it seems like a kind of party to judge by the spirit and the wit of the commenting. That is not what I imagined when I started blogging. It is better than what I had in mind originally and not nearly so stale and sterile. When I began, I had a list of things I wanted to say and no imagined or real persons to whom I would say them. Still, I remind myself once in a while that even serial killers have had blogs or web sites. Asking yourself who is talking and who is listening is a good exercise.

Eventually, at times, the blank text entry box becomes a hungry child or a haunting mistress to which you can give nothing that satisfies. Its emptiness scares or mocks you. If you only write newsy things, only write when there is news worth reading : nobody reads filler on a blog. Its a terribly impatient media. But if you write because thinking is fun, do not underestimate the reading of blogs as a promoter and motivator for the writing of blogs. Its not just cut/paste/link either because we react to other peoples thoughts with thoughts that are often our very own. The business feeds on itself in this way.

I claim little or no objectivity in my observations of how blogging has changed me, turned me toward a new face of society. We are electronic nomads who can redefine our boundaries and groups at will. Boredom and fashion tug at us making our clicks ebb and flow. Certainly, my memory is weaker, in my late 50's than it used to be. Yet my reading, though in ever smaller snatches, has become incessant and wide ranging. I fear not to read from a dozen different MSM news websites and twice that many blogs every day, buttressing and overlaying multiple impressions and selections of the days news until I feel like I have a grasp of the whole world on this day, or as much of it as interests me. And if I cannot recall the fact or the name or the date, I have bookmarks and always keep up a copy of Notepad to paste in URLs and paragraphs. And I mail this digest of the digest to my infinite google mailbox at the end of the day. Fearless of ever forgetting or missing either the news or its meaning, how shall I age? Living and being in this world is not an exact science yet it is an experimental one. Each of us has a unique voice but many of us have not yet spoken. I'd invite you to start a blog because it is easy and because it subjects you to the self discipline of an imagined audience [which could materialize, who knows?]. Under those experimental conditions, write. Forget what you think will happen and just see what changes you undergo.

Like eyeglasses and phones, the computer, serving up the world configured as I wish to know it, must become ever more integral to my life. The glasses became contacts and then Lasik. The phone became a cell phone and then a Bluetooth ear piece worn almost constantly. Our new eyes, our new ears ... and now, our new voices.


profmarcus said...

i turned to blogging for a very simple reason... i desperately needed an outlet for the horror that has built inside me for the nearly 6 years of the reign of the criminal gang in washington... yes, initially, i sought traffic and was pleased to get any at all... i began to see how i could "tweak" my posts with highly-charged keywords and flirted for a while with the blog traffic exchange services... what's it's boiled down to for me, however, in the 20 months that i've been at it, is that i would rather stick with what i know is my own authentic voice... if someone else finds something worthwhile in that voice, well and good... i will continue putting out the pieces of what i believe suggest the larger pattern of what's happening, pieces that i believe tell a deeper story, and trust that any small impact that effort has is worthwhile... perhaps, more importantly, it helps me retain a grip on my own sanity as, hypnotized, i continue to watch the snake charmer play the cobra up out of the basket...

GreenSmile said...

Neat. stewing is not a learning experience but in those capable of learning, even issuing a good complaint is doing something you can learn from.
You can have a blog per voice or personna and it will only cost you the time. If the several voices don't get confusing for you, and you always know exactly where you will post a thought to...then you have found out something about your life.
A thought should give rise to expression before it gives rise to action. The impulsive and the criminal are one example of failing to be deliberate and the Hamlets of the world are the example to being too deliberate. Express yourself , don't just shout "hell yes" at the right parts of some talk show, and you are on your way.