Come, Let Us Gaze at our Navels Together! (Blogging on Blogging)

As I’ve written here and elsewhere many times before, I’ve been longtime online . . . and the odds are very, very, very good that I’ve had a personal website and a blog for a lot longer than anybody else reading this post today.

That being the case, I don’t make these statements today with any authority or arrogance in my (written) voice, since I’m not really sure whether my internet longevity as a (mostly) unpaid “content provider” is something that I should revel in or be punished for at this point. I’m kind of thinking more the latter lately, truth be told, as it becomes increasingly clear to me that the whole concept of blogging probably jumped the shark quite some time ago, and I continue to engage in it more as an act of inertia than an act of exploration.

When I sit down at the computer these days, I generally feel the same way that I do when I sit in front of a television with cable service: I have thousands of channels to choose from, but I can never find anything that I really want to watch or read, 99% of the time. (The online “one percenters” for me are, for the most part, linked on one or the other of my blogs, so if you see a link to someone on any site I administer, you can be sure that I consider it to be a highly valuable internet commodity). I just keep clicking and clicking and clicking, and maybe I’ll find something that amuses me for 10 minutes or so, but I rarely stumble upon anything that truly rocks my world anymore, the way the internet, websites and blogs did when I first discovered them. Why is that?

I think in large part it is because most of the large and busy blog portals these days are built upon a model where profit-earning corporations squeeze dollars from the sweat equity pumped in by unpaid bloggers eager to earn “exposure,” even though most of them would never, ever be able to earn a paid print byline based on the quality of their contributions. But in a world where anonymous cranks and sockpuppets can generate massive advertising revenue in the comments section of an amateurishly provocative blog (much to the finance department’s great and glowing satisfaction), where are the quality filters?

Frankly, I am just as tired of having to trawl through the growing mass of words tossed online by unrealistically enthusiastic amateurs as I am of untrained film-makers thinking that they are artistes because they shoot scenes in shaky-cam mode on their phones and can’t be bothered with scripts. I want some editing these days, dammit. And quality control. And good lighting and cinematography. And stories, not just opinions, or reactions. Whatever happened to those things, oh, my droogs? Lamentations!!!

I’ve been a regular, steady, forward-looking adapter throughout my time online, and when things have gotten stale for me, I have always been able to find something new and exciting to represent the next phase. But I’ve not (yet) figured out what comes after blogging at this point, since the alternatives all seem feeble by comparison.

The way I see it, a blog is a modern-day equivalent of a thoughtfully-composed diary or a journal, except that it gets shared with whoever wants to read it, rather than getting stuffed between the mattress and the box-spring of the bed. There’s a lot of potential there, even if the execution is often lacking.

Facebook, on the other hand, is nothing more than a high school yearbook that you try to get all the cool people in school to sign. Twitter is a note you pass around class with a funny picture of your Spanish teacher on it. Pinterest is a cork bulletin board above your headboard, most of it filled with things (and people) that you covet, but will never own. LinkedIn is a sterile speed-dating service, where you swap business cards instead of saliva. None of those are even vaguely viable replacements for blogs/journals/diaries, in my eyes . . . and it’s disturbing to me that I don’t really see anything else that is.

I’m really pretty good at walking away from things when the time comes to do so. Good case in point: I don’t miss social media of the Facebook variety at all, having turned my back on it well more than a year ago now. Sure, it was fun to accumulate 700 “friends” and to try to find amusing bullet points and pictures to share with them all on a daily basis, but the reality is that ones I really care about (and who really care about me) have always been able to find me online: I mean, if you know how I write my name, then I’m the number one reply on Google for “J. Eric Smith,” and I make my e-mail address public, so how much simpler could connecting with me be? And on the flipside: how much do I really want to know about what 700 people ate for breakfast, or what their children did in the bathroom last night, or where they are having coffee this afternoon? (A: Not much, sorry.)

What inspired this round of bloggy navel-gazing? I received a “your domain is about to expire” notice on Indie Albany this week, and I had to decide whether I wanted to spend the money and time required to renew the domain, and the private registration, and the no-advertising premium payment, as well as the emotional/psychological/time commitment needed to provide quality control and promotion for the site at a level commensurate with what I have provided since I launched it a couple of years ago.

I decided to renew it all for one more year, mainly because I really love all of the writers who write there, and I can’t think of another place where I will be able to read what they have to share if I shut that platform down. I’m hoping for a bit more clarity in the months ahead, and perhaps the emergence of a more obvious next step before July 2013, when I will have to make this decision again.

At bottom line, though . . . I am interested in why you blog, and why I (and the other writers on the websites I administer) should continue to do so, especially if our online neighborhood becomes increasingly polluted and/or pedestrian, which seems to be the case. Care to share?

About J. Eric Smith
Executive Director, Salisbury House Foundation.

18 Responses to Come, Let Us Gaze at our Navels Together! (Blogging on Blogging)

  1. Kristen says:

    I blog because I like to tell stories and I think (in general) they come out better when I write them down than they do when I tell them “IRL” – since I can take a step back and pick just the right words (or the wrong ones that feel right-est at the moment anyway). It’s therapy, and some sort of documentation of where my head is. And sometimes it’s even fun.

    • I like the story-telling part too . . . and I definitely use the blog to “get things right,” as I am continually editing pieces whenever I re-encounter them. The whole thing is kind of a work in progress, accordingly, and I guess there never will be an authorized definitive version of the tale, which was once one of the benefits of print: it kept the words immutable once they were put down!

  2. Phyllis says:

    As the resident tardy Indie Albany blogger, I have to answer this one because for all my writing in spurts I feel passionate about the possibility that I can. Write, that is. Hit the “Publish” button anytime I want. So here goes: I’m a fossil from the days when no one used the word “media” to describe reporting and there was a separation between entertainment and journalistic integrity. Flash forward a few decades and everyone becomes empowered to report their life and times if they sign up to “blog”. As a writing teacher that might seem like a great way to “engage your students” but it sure isn’t literature and it sure isn’t journalism. But it has validity as a form of expression. I’m pleased to share copy space with the mundane as long as folks realize that not everyone qualifies for the Booker.

    Blogging is something of an anachronism. In a sense it’s the grande dame of social media and approaching the quaintness of letter writing. But that’s OK. What distinguishes the Indies for one of its Albany’s writers is this: it gives us a place to write without distraction or without dropping our intellectual knickers to whore for a product or a newspaper. Nothing distracts from the content of the posts, no one is hawking shoes, cars, mattresses or political candidates. When you operate within this sphere of non-influence you see the words, really see them, not just read the noise.

    Blogging has given me a place to be foolish and sentimental, patriotic, preachy, grumpy and occasionally insightful. Nothing beats hitting the “Publish” button and seeing your opus in print. That’s the trade off: you might miss the chance to be the next Melville but you don’t experience the fear of rejection or the isolation of writing your magnum or the hyper-postage for your latest over-the-transom effort.

    Why bother with Indie Albany for another year? Because independent, non-commercial blogging doesn’t pay a dime but you own your soul. The Indie community of writers provides a balance of interests and distinctive writing styles. And it’s a peaceful place to sit a spell and read online away from the strident voices that pervade commercial online writing in the Capital Region. Here’s to another year. A good thing.

    • I certainly feel ever more strongly that my move to create a commercial-free zone was, indeed, an important one from a philosophical standpoint. I had hoped then (and continue to hope now) that other such collaborative non-commercial non-partisan portals would open, but I actually see the trend moving in the opposite direction over the past three years, unfortunately . . . . we still have robust traffic at all of my sites, especially when you consider that we have no promotion beyond word of mouth and organic search engine traffic, but we definitely get shouted down by partisan screamers and their anonymous howler monkey commenters over at the big commercial sites of the HuffPo variety and their ilk.

  3. Christine says:

    I think about shutting down my little blog just about every week. Sometimes, I don’t know why I continue to put in effort and share parts of my life on the internet. Recently, it’s become harder for me to write, edit & publish creative, original content and I have no interest in just regurgitating trends and styles seen elsewhere. But then again, I’ve always needed an outlet where I can write, even if I’m not necessarily writing about the most important things in life. Sigh. And the beat goes on.

    • Your little blog has always been a favorite of mine, so I’d miss it if it went . . . though your explanation and “the best goes on” conclusion mirrors mine almost to a tee. I think it actually almost becomes an addiction at some point . . . I get twitchy if I’ve gone four days without a post.

  4. Having now done almost 60 posts in the last 18 months, I think that I might have something to say even it’s just for myself and a few others. To me, it’s sort of a public diary in the way that pamphlets were for Ben Franklin in the late 18th century. I appreciate your leadership in this Eric and thank you for renewing us for another year.

    • WordPress says I currently have 894 posts online between my three blogs, and I know I have deleted at least another 500 or so when I cleaned up and consolidated things at Indie Moines. I like the analogy of Ben Franklin’s pamphlets . . . though I guess I’m more like the guy standing on the corner tossing volumes of Encyclopedia Brittannica at unsuspecting passersby, what with my inability to be brief . . .

  5. I blog for the community — for the relationships. I see our world becoming increasingly stratified and disconnected, so this little piece of real estate I “own” in the blogosphere allows me to connect with people all over the world who may share similar values, thoughts or ideas.

    Or they just might want to know if I have supple feet and legs. But whatever.

    Seriously though, I’m glad you’ve asked this. It’s making me reflect. The fact that I don’t blog very often, I believe, only reflects the view I shared above: It’s not about me. It’s about you. And them. And I thrive on the conversation more than just my silly spewing of thoughts.

    In fact, if I’m being honest, I’m entirely insecure that my silly spewing of thoughts will make my community disappear at some point. Yet my numbers keep growing, so I guess that’s a good thing? I think that means the community wants to stick together despite me, and that more people than I ever imagined can relate to the “you just can’t make this sh*t up” sentiment that has become the centerpiece of my blog.

    Now I’m off to finalize my latest post. Seriously. :)

    • The community is important, yes. I do like the interaction. I do like supporting other writers so that they can have that interaction, too. I agree that your discipline in terms of writing only when you want to, and when a story is fully formed, does show that you are writing for others more than you are writing for yourself. I’m probably more in the latter camp, though, as noted in comment to Christine above . . . this has been something I do regularly for so long that it really just feels like a part of my weekly routine and ritual. Which isn’t a bad thing, mind you . . . writing an essay is certainly a better thing to do every few days than many other addictive habits I could engage in!!!!

      One addictive habit that a lot of bloggers fall into that I’ve become increasingly less tolerant of is the need to jump online to post something/anything anytime a big event (the more tragic, the better) takes place. The raft of posts a week or two ago about the Batman shooting being the most egregious recent example I can cite. Before I blog on anything timely or topical, I always try to ask myself: Do I Have A Dog In That Fight? If I don’t, then I generally try to find something else to write about to scratch my blogging itch that day. I probably would not feel so pessimistic about the state of the blogosphere if more people would practice that one small piece of discipline . . .

  6. gina says:

    I’ve been writing stories ever since I was able to string sentences together, but I didn’t keep a journal until a wonderful high school English teacher assigned it when I was about 15. I continued to keep a journal on and off during my life after that, first handwritten in notebooks, and in the ‘90s, typed on a computer. In 2002 – after an extended period of soul-searching about my professional direction that intensified after 9/11 (and turning 40 one week later), I decided to establish a website for my writing. Since the mid-90s I had been emailing a group of friends and family my short stories and essays and it seemed like a logical next step. I knew nothing about blogs, or at least ten years later I can’t remember ever reading one. I did know HTML, Adobe PageMill, MS Publisher, etc. so that’s the direction I took. While I was working on it, I read an article about blogs in the newspaper whose name shall not be mentioned (although it may deserve a hat tip for the following and also for irritating you sufficiently for you to launch Indie Albany). I checked some of the resources they had listed, and was sold – my blog debuted with my website.

    My goal was to post once per week when I started, and I have exceeded that every year. The old notebooks and diskettes (!) of e-files have lengthy gaps. I’d stop keeping my journal for months and years at a time. That has never happened with the blog. If a new technology comes along that serves as an improvement for blogging, I am likely to embrace it. It might happen, it will happen? (I never envisioned smartphones or how rapidly they would be adopted by all but here we are.) However I don’t see it on the horizon. I’ve tried MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, chatting and texting. Each has some utility, but they are no match for blogging.

    When email was young, I read somewhere that it had resurrected the lost art of letter writing. I have been involved in a transcription project for 70 years of journals kept by a man who lived from 1890-1976. I see my blog as more similar to his journal, than to any of the commercial “A List.” I think perhaps blogging resurrected the lost art of journaling.

    • In re: “Each has some utility, but they are no match for blogging.”

      Yeah . . . that’s what I keep coming back to. The only things that would be analogous to blogging for me would be to go back to writing privately, just for the sake of doing it, and not sharing it with others . . . . OR going back to writing for pay, where I might get my work shared with more people, but I’d also have to surrender my autonomy when it comes to what I write, when I write, and in what voice I write. So whenever I get frustrated with the quality of the blogging experience (both as a content producer and a content consumer), I feel mildly trapped by the lack of appealing option.

      I’ve always appreciated the fact that your blog is actually your journal, and that you had it up and running in that fashion well before the blog mushroom cloud exploded. While I occasionally write short stories and poetry (though far less than I used to), most of my writing here comes from a journalistic/reportage perspective, where I am trying to capture some idea or concept or experience and package it so that it works as a standalone object for others. Your work, in a more journal-based format, really lends itself to long-time reading, because when you’re writing mostly for yourself, that means that someone outside of your family may not know who you are writing about, or what issue you are talking about, and you don’t need to explain them all, since you know who they are . . . but over time, the stories become very rich and very meaningful as outsiders pick up those themes, threads, characters, concepts and concerns.

      Probably my favorite journal/diary type blog that I read is by Robert Fripp, who I admire deeply as a musician, and a writer, and a thinker . . . http://www.dgmlive.com/diaries.htm?entry=22043 . . . some days you get pictures of his pet rabbit, some days you get amazing musings on the state of the music industry, some days you get a trip to the local antique store, some days you’re flying across the world to play guitar with amazing people . . . but the feel is always one of documenting the days for himself, rather than defining the days for others . . .

  7. Goat says:

    Once I get back to actually HAVING a site (I am currently mired in the trap of creating too much damn content to spend the time coding), it’ll be more for myself than anything else: since finding out that Amazon has a nasty habit of removing reviews that people complain about and not doing something nice like letting the revewer know they’re doing so (I found this out while trying to look up an old review, natch…), I realized I need someplace to post reviews where _I_ control them.

    Anyone who wants to come read ‘em, well, that’s peachy, but I’ve always been too solipsistic for my own good.

    • I think it’s very wise to control your own material, especially when you are writing it without compensation. I deplore what the Times Union did (and does) with the words that I had archived there . . . but I have no leverage to get them to remove them . . .

  8. Carl says:

    I guess I’ll comment in Des Moines, since the conversation seems to all be here, and the East Coast version is quiet. Any incoherency is a result of commenting into another time zone, I assure you.

    I’ve been a writer at some level since I was 14. Despite having a degree in newspaper (remember newspaper?), I made an early decision not to pursue writing as a career. I found that newspaper writing was essentially being critical of others without actually producing anything yourself, and didn’t care for it. I had a chance at comedy writing and could have gone that way, but I decided that wasn’t what I wanted to be known for. That was before I figured out that my short stories and novels would suck, that I lack that ability (and the will) to turn events of my life into a compelling fiction.

    But then there was blogging. I write about what I want to, when I want to. I really don’t care if anyone reads it, and unlike periodicals, it doesn’t matter when they read it. Feedback is rare, but sometimes surprisingly rewarding. It argues for brevity, which is a tremendous challenge. Apparently, I’ve been doing it for 10 years, all at the same nonsensical URL. Readers come and go.Many of them are there only for a particular post, and that’s all right. I think we do need some blogging that is about something other than celebrities and food, even though I know from experience that mentioning a pseudo-celebrity’s killer rack will definitely drive up traffic.

    If you run up against the decision wall on Indie Albany again, let me know. I’ve got plenty of hosting space on my accounts. All commercial free.

    • I go back and forth on whether or not I should repost things on Indie Albany that I write here, due to the comment split you note . . . but I figure that if I’m writing something from Des Moines that has something to do with Albany, it probably belongs there, since my traffic reports clearly indicate that there are folks who read one or the other, but not both. That’s good, in the case of Albany, I think, since it means that the others writers have their own followings completely independent of mine, which was sort of the original intention.

      I had my first paid writing job around the same age you did . . . and got fired from it for not writing the teen profiles the base newspaper wanted, instead spending all my column space reviewing Steely Dan and Jethro Tull albums, and mocking movies popular with the teen set at that time. That probably should have told me early on that my creative writing endeavors were best handled in my own space!!!

      I agree with the what I want, when I want aspect of blogging, for sure . . . and have been glad that you write what you write when you write it for most of the nearly 10 years I’ve been reading it!! We are different in terms of brevity thought . . . I find that the blog leads me to write much longer pieces than I write for work, since I have no word counts or column space to mind, and I can pack everything I want to in a piece, whether it REALLY needs to be there or not.

      It reminds me of the old “Sorry for the long letter, I did not have time to write a short one” rubric . . . give me a 300 word deadline, and I will spend MUCH longer on a piece than I do on a blog post with no restrictions. This is why Twitter just does NOT work for me . . . I’d spend days trying to maximize each of my 140 characters!!!!!

      Thanks for very considerate hosting offer! I may take you up on it next year!!

  9. Casey K.C. says:

    So does this mean that you have stopped blogging?

    • No, it just means I was out of town this weekend (in Omaha), so I haven’t had time or inclination to write anything new . . . . I don’t know how long you’ve been reading my stuff, but rest assured, if and when I go away, it won’t be on an ambiguous post like this one. I tend to blow things up, and how, when I move on . . .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: