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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

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On blogging

Posted by Thomas Nephew on June 1st, 2004

The New York Times “Circuits” section published an item about blogging last week by Katie Hafner titled “For Some, the Blogging Never Stops“:

Blogging is a pastime for many, even a livelihood for a few. For some, it becomes an obsession. Such bloggers often feel compelled to write several times daily and feel anxious if they don’t keep up. As they spend more time hunkered over their computers, they neglect family, friends and jobs.

The article has naturally been widely noticed by bloggers; a consensus seems to be forming around “well, what does she know about it, anyway?”

But to be honest, the article sounds about right to me. While I’m not a “several times a day” blogger, between reading other blogs and drafting my own longish posts, this can easily get too time consuming. What never seems to stop is gradually failing to to keep the right balance, and getting behind with work or home stuff.

This isn’t building up to an “I’m quitting” announcement. It’s more an explanation of the frequent long dry spells. At this point, I think of this blog in two ways. Primarily, it’s writing as a hobby. If I write something I like, that’s a reward in itself. By the same token, if I don’t have much to say, I don’t want to obsessively beachcomb the Internet just for the sake of keeping the blog fresh.

Only connect?
Still, blogging is a little more to me than writing as a hobby. I look forward to feedback from other people, either as comments, via a link, or even as a full-fledged discussion of something I’ve written (it’s happened). I imagine my kind of blogging is similar to short-wave radio hobbyists in that respect: put a message out there, see who responds. I have no great aspirations to turning professional, or having great influence on the world. (Well, sometimes I do.) So I tell myself I just want to make some connections with people.

My statistics over the last week put that in perspective: an e-mail from SiteMeter last Friday informed me I’d had 312 visitors and 396 page views for the preceding week, i.e., about 45 a day. First off, thank you! Your taste is extraordinary, your reading eclectic; most big and even middle tier blogs do that much in a day at most. Considering that at least half of the visits are one-timers via Google, it’s easy to sometimes feel foolish about this “hobby.” On the other hand, between 10 and 20 percent of my visits are from European time zones — hi milchstrasse.de, wanadoo.fr, btcentralplus.com, co.uk, t-dialin.net et al! — which I think is cool.

There are no doubt better ways of doing of connecting than putting electronic messages in a bottle and casting them out into the Internet. Maybe “meetups” are the way to go. But probably not, for me. I prefer working out my opinions and views in quiet, and then seeing who agrees or disagrees. I’ve enjoyed meeting up with some people I’ve met this way — Tony, Brett, Jim, Eve. But a second New York Times item last week — an op-ed by Brent Staples — warns:

Studies show that gregarious, well-connected people actually lost friends, and experienced symptoms of loneliness and depression, after joining discussion groups and other activities. People who communicated with disembodied strangers online found the experience empty and emotionally frustrating but were nonetheless seduced by the novelty of the new medium. As Prof. Robert Kraut, a Carnegie Mellon researcher, told me recently, such people allowed low-quality relationships developed in virtual reality to replace higher-quality relationships in the real world.

Again, I’d say there some truth in that; I think some bloggers’ deformations over time — and “we” know who “they” are — are partly attributable to this process.

I am the captain of my blog
I think that what draws bloggers (like me) as much as any ‘community’ they manage to develop is that it’s that rare thing for many of us, a place where we’re completely in charge. The combination of being in control of what and how I write and getting occasional positive feedback is what keeps me coming back.

But with this vast authority comes dread responsibility; a drawback about blogging is that it puts you ‘out there’ in a way that most people don’t have to deal with, especially if you write about news and politics. By ‘nailing myself down’ to published positions, I’m at a bit of a tactical disadvantage with people I do talk with who know I’m blogging.

Without the blog, I’d be more free to quietly change my mind about things with no one the wiser; with it, there’s often a voice in my head — or one in the room with me — saying “But you said …” Like journals or diaries (I think) blogs can enforce more consistency than one is sometimes comfortable with; unlike them, they’re public.

I think that’s one way that blogging can exacerbate the effect Dr. Kraut observes: bloggers can be at a disadvantage when discussing their views in person. Especially if there’s disagreement. It becomes easiest to just avoid or rule out in-person discussions for the sake of getting along — and retreat back to a safer, more anonymous audience.

This post peters out here
Recently, one of those disembodied online friends offered me a free ad on his blog. As I thought about it, I realized I wasn’t sure what I’d say or why I’d want to advertise. “Newsrack: I could sort of explain the name, but that would even bore me.”? “Newsrack: Check it out. Or not. Whatever.”? “Newsrack: What the heck, you’ve got nothing better to do.”?

I’m still not sure. It bothers me a little that I both follow my visit stats, and have little idea what recommends this blog even to myself. For the time being, I guess I’ll adopt T.E. Lawrence’s attitude from once upon a time: “The trick is not to care.”

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