Wednesday, August 10, 2005

What about blogs?

Yesterday, I got an email from the Professor that started out "I don't think I get blogging. I really enjoy TCP, but I think it's almost entirely because I know you and I like to watch you put things together." Interestingly enough, Paul Chenoweth seemed to be meditating on this same thing yesterday. What exactly is this thing the "blog"? Paul says:
I am convinced more than ever that blogging is not about the technology, nor is it about rankings, nor even the passionate messages (however distorted those messages may be). There seems to be a groundswell of need to come from our 20th century cocoons and engage one another. Blogs can be a catalyst to connect people in conversation: some online, and more and more in a much more intimate, heartfelt, personal way.
I have to say, I like this, the idea of blog as catalyst. I don't like "blog" as a word, for all the reasons Brittney mentions. But I do like its capacity for connecting people. And for providing opportunities for delight. I love all of the different things people are doing on line from Jon's performance art to Egalia's impassioned outrage to Tim Morgan's voracious ability to pull everything in, make it funny, and put it back on display for us. And I love that I can point you to them and know that you're both going to have an interesting time reading them and going to know a little bit more about me from seeing the things that catch my eye.


Blogger Twyla said...

Yeah, my sister doesn't get blogging at all. She keeps asking me why? Why blog? What's the point. Oh, and she also dislikes much of what I post - being rather conservative and all. Thanks to you, I now have a concrete answer to her question. Let me just write that down now...

8/10/2005 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger the Professor said...

But what does it say that people are trying to get out of their cocoons while still tightly wrapped up in them? Does that mean that we are so fucked up by the 20th century that we are too scared to really get out of them? Does that mean that technology will mediate everything? Don't make me defend Heidegger again, please.
I just read an article about some new device that is like a pager combined with Friendster that helps people find which bar or resturant or cafe actually has the crowd one's looking for. The creator of the device and the author of the piece said that it is surprising because everyone assumed that technology would make us all spread out and workor connect over long distances without physically traveling them, but it turns out that we generally do prefer large, urban settings. They are more conducive to subdiving and specializing than smaller cities or towns.
So you'll find me in a cafe or bar. I'm the one contemplating whether or not to strike up conversation with a stranger.

8/10/2005 10:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Maven said...

I like all of the hilarious, political, appalling, and self-righteous stuff to which bloggers call my attention. It's sort of like going to the library for one book, and coming out with 12 books that were next to it on the shelves, or that you discovered en route. But the main reason I'm enjoying bloggers and blogging right now (and perhaps always) is kind of a froufy one (stick with me here).

I remember reading an old interview with David Foster Wallace, in which he said that one of the reasons he loves fiction is because it has the power to--however briefly--make the reader feel unalone. I guess his point is that everyone suffers from existential loneliness on some level and that fiction can allay that, can suggest to the reader some empathetic relationship with the characters or the author or both, or even with the situations or just with the language itself, with the way it’s wielded.

I have always read fiction maniacally, so I really related to his assessment, and I think what he says is also true of blogs. I read lots of them, but the ones I respond to most are the ones that give me a nice little shock of self-recognition, good or bad or surprising, like "look this person is not at all like me but here we are dealing with the same things."

I'm not generally a lonely person, but I do most of my struggling and striving in private. It has been good to admit to my wee readership that I don't know what the hell I am doing much of the time. And it is good to be reminded that other people--smart people, people I know and don't know--are striving too. Knowing that they might be reading gives shape and voice to my writing.

8/10/2005 10:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pardon this obtuse question:
If you don't like the word,
why do you use it so much?

8/10/2005 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger Steve Pick said...

I love reading blogs for a lot of different reasons. Take Aunt B, fer instance. Here's someone I didn't know existed until just a few months ago, and now I think is one of the coolest people I've never met. I would love to hang with her (and her cast of characters) if I was in Nashville, but I'm in St. Louis, and I'm just going to settle for enjoying the stuff she tells me about her life. Not to mention the incredible skill with which she tells it.

AS for why I write my own, well, that's a chops thing, theoretically. I started it when I couldn't get many paying writing gigs, and I had a lot to say. Now, I've got some more gigs, and they've cut into some of my blogging time, but I still enjoy just letting go of the concerns about professionalism, and writing as though I'm talking to friends.

Which brings me to live people. I love 'em. I've got lots of friends that I see regularly, and lots more that I engage on line more often than in person. But, the thing is, all the online friends I maintain are capable of being just as cool if I see them as I find them when I read what they've typed. So, it's just a way of expanding the pool of human contact, as far as I can see.

8/10/2005 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Crap! My blog is haunted by the ghosts of German philosophers this week. I wonder if there's something I can spray with to get rid of them...

I guess I don't understand how it can be any other way--both that I'm haunted by German philosophers and--that technology mediates everthing. Of course it does. When has it not? And when have we not been uneasy with it?

I imagine at one point, Caveperson Crunk was sitting around bitching about how Caveperson Stax was using fire to cook food and separating himself from the true experience of eating.

Anyway, I don't like the word "blog" but as far as words go, it's pretty dang good for immediately connoting what I want to describe.

8/10/2005 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger _Summer_ said...

Sadly, blogging does not always catalyze conversation...sometimes, it kills conversation.

Then what?

8/10/2005 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Would you be referring to the dreaded "heartfelt post no one comments on?" Or the "My rants leave room for no one" phenomenon?

I don't mind the "my rants leave room for no one" stuff because I'd rather see it online than have to listen to it on street corners.

But the heartfelt post no one comments on is strange. I think, in part, that it gets at what makes the Professor so baffled about the whole thing. It's not that what I'm doing is so weird: I'm writing a journal of sorts where everyone can see it.

It's the other part of it that's so weird--that the readers have an active role in the creation of the space. It really radically breaks down the hierarchy between author and audience and though writers still know what their job is, I think we're all still struggling (in good ways) to figure out what the job of the reader is.

What does the author need from her audience? I mean, Summer, I love to read your blog because I feel--like Steve feels about me--that I've stumbled onto a way to relate to someone I would never know in "real" life but have come to look forward to keeping up with. But I don't often comment because your other audience members get there first and say what I would say better than I can say it. But I feel an immediate connection to you in that authorly/audiency way.

Maybe lit crit has ruined me. I've been hearing that the author is dead for so long that I don't quite know what to do when I find out that she's living and available to me.

On the other hand, there's stuff like Jon's, which I appreciate aesthetically, but I don't really know how to enter into it in a way that lets me comment on it. I'm pretty sure he's kidding--more sure now that I've met him and found him to be sweet--but I'm not sure how much of it is utter fiction and how much is based in real life. I like it because it knocks me off balance, but I don't often comment because I can't get my bearings enough to know whether, if I comment, I'm laughing with him or providing fodder for him to laugh at.

I'm very lucky on two levels. Tiny Cat Pants is not the greatest blog ever (okay it is), but when I started I had a small group of friends who knew what I was up to and got into the spirit of things which led to other people who stopped by feeling, I think, more free to comment as well. So, I'm lucky to have friends that indulge me and lucky that they helped create an atmosphere where people felt free to comment.

But I admit, I myself am not as good at that part of it as someone like the Shill or LE is. The Shill seems to really intuitively get just what this medium means for the role of the audience and she's continually delighting me with her dexterity in testing the limits of that side of the relationship.

8/10/2005 12:46:00 PM  
Anonymous MMMikey said...

As someone who had a blog and posted to it daily for two years, I'd like to come out on record and say that I don't get them, either.

Thought I did. I was wrong.

8/10/2005 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

What went wrong?

8/10/2005 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger MSSunderstood said...

The connection between my brain and my mouth doesn't always work quickly and craftily enough for me to express myself well, but given a few moments and a keyboard, I can not only get those thoughts out but they can linger on for a moment or two to further my thought process and by the grace of technology, (maybe) make others think as well.
Not to mention the pure pleasure I derive from reading many well written thoughts from outside my own world.

8/10/2005 01:15:00 PM  
Anonymous MMMikey said...

Basically, I reached the saturation point which you described (at least I believe it was you) a week or two ago. What at first seemed interesting and entertaining had boiled itself down to an overwhelming mass of sound & fury, signifying nothing.

Though I tried my hardest to grasp it from the inside out, I couldn't escape the realization that 98% of all the blogs I read - mine included - fell into three basic categories:

1. Verbal masturbation - in which the writer puts forth page after page of stuff that I'm sure feels quite good for them, but isn't nearly as entertaining for the reader and ultimately accomplishes nothing.

2. Grandstanding - in which the goal seems to be to climb upon a virtual soap box and proclaim to the world "Look at how right I am! You guys are idiots!"

3. Preaching to the choir - this is the one that ultimately wore me down. Numbers 1 and 2 I could have lived with (and did, as they were my general M.O.), but the constant partisan chest pounding with absolutely no chance of intelligent debate/dialogue rendered the activity meaningless. Few, if any, seem to be learning from one another. Those with similar viewpoints cluster together and hurl insults at those with whom they disagree. I didn't particularly care for playground politics when I was a child, and much of what goes on in the "discussions" on blogs is little more advanced than that - if at all. Fourth graders with computers could learn a thing or two from these bloggers, and vice versa.

Now, before folks start jumping all over me, please notice that I've used weasly little phrases like "most blogs" and "98%," so it's entirely possible that whoever is reading this falls into the minority. (Not likely, but possible. Sorry, I'm a realist - that's as close to blog optimism as you'll get out of me.)

I still help my wife maintain her blog occasionally, and I continue to visit several each day. I have been asked to guest-contribute to a few blogs and I may well, but my days of believing that blogs "serve a purpose" or are otherwise "important" are long gone and highly unlikely to return.


8/10/2005 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger _Summer_ said...

I had finished posting my daily beef when I came over here, Aunt B, and read your post. My comment was really a furthering of my own writing today, pointing (unsuccessfully) at the problems that can occur when author RESIDES with audience (or a member thereof).

I don't mind not receiving comments, but I do mind when blog-reading becomes a substitution for actual connected conversation in (for lack of a better phrase) real life.

Eh, I'm likely projecting now.

Anyway, good post. :D

8/10/2005 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Chenoweth said...

I've been reading the dozen or so posts thusfar, amazed at the amount of thinking and reflection going some ways that is a great defense for the 'catalyst' concept of online journaling. I have learned much from what people have said here and have more questions to answer (for myself) than I would have anticipated. Without a venue for this sort of exchange, I probably would have been quite content in my cocoon and my thoughts on blogging. There is something to be said for creating personal discomfort in exposing one's thoughts and allowing unknown parts of humanity see and respond to those thoughts. It gets ugly on some blogs. It gets messy when you are exposed to ideas that challenge those within your personal comfort zone, but through all of that discomfort, ugliness, and messiness there are brass rings of learning and engagement. I won't pretend to say that I understand all of the implications of what 'blog' means, but I do believe the venue/format gains its power from an individual's ability to define it, re-shape it, respond to it, and use it to connect to otherwise untapped internal and external thoughts.

I would suggest that most every blogger goes through phases in their online experience...some of those are pattern-like and recognizable in posts. Anyone up for some reseach on that idea?

8/10/2005 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

mmMikey, I'm frightened by your insight, a little, like you are Jacob Marley come to warn me away from an unpleasant future. I think you're right, that almost all blogs are exactly like you describe, but I can't help but hope that there might be artistry not in innovation, but in improvisation.

I mean, almost all poetry and fiction sucks. It doesn't dissuade new writers or keep us from holding on to the ones that mean something to us for as long as they do.

Ha, obviously, you've shaken me. I'm going to have to give this some more thought.

Ah, Summer, I can see how this would be a problem. I guess I'm lucky that my family doesn't read Tiny Cat Pants and that I usually post about things only after I've had time to mull it over.

Paul, I'm so glad you came by!

And Maven, your library analogy is exactly right. I hadn't thought of it that way, but yes, when it works well, that's what it's like.

8/10/2005 04:41:00 PM  

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