Monday, May 27, 2013

When new media grows old

As of today, I've been blogging for eight years, seven of them as Flavia. Over the last couple of months I've been tagging my old posts, which also means I've been reading my old posts--but I'll spare you any reflections on them, my life, or the Things Blogging Has Done for Me.

Sometimes I think that blogging is over, as a medium--or at least that the kind of academic blogging I discovered eight years ago is over: the daily chit-chat and advice-seeking and community-building stuff has moved to Facebook and to Twitter, while many of those writing more serious reflections on the academy or politics have gone professional, joining group blogs or writing for magazines or otherwise forging links between their blogs and their careers.

These are both fine and useful developments; I don't mourn the livejournal mode of blogging, where we were all writing long posts every day about whateverthefuck. But this kind of sorting means those of us who are neither research-focused nor diaristic, who are no more interested in opinion journalism than in showy confessionalism, may feel a little at sea. I've never seriously considered not blogging, but as blogging and micro-blogging evolve into distinct forms catering to distinct audiences, I'm less sure exactly what it is that I'm doing, who my community is, or who I'm serving.

That said, I'm in no doubt about why I read the blogs I read or about the value they provide. For me, blog-reading is leisure reading: fun, informative, and somewhere on the spectrum between novels and newspapers. The blogs I want to read are idiosyncratic and personality-driven, well-written and reflective, with a strong character and voice regardless of the topics they cover. I don't want to read someone's public diary (even or especially if it's material that would better be kept private), and I don't want to read scholarly material unless I'm actually doing research or prepping for class. I like reading scholarship and I like chatting with both friends and colleagues on social media--but blogs do something different. They allow me access to a personality and an intelligence that I want to spend time with, whose mind I enjoy seeing at work, and who can craft a good paragraph.

Do I like all the bloggers I read, or think I'd enjoy spending an afternoon with them? Usually, but not always--and sometimes it's a qualified "like." I read blogs, really, for the same reason I read and study literature: to inhabit a specific intelligence and aesthetic and to learn more about the ways of being in the world.

As long as that's something that blogs can do, I guess I'll keep trying to do it.

11 comments:

nicoleandmaggie said...

You'd like us. We're even more awesome in person. ;)

Flavia said...

nicoleandmaggie: your awesomeness is not something I've ever doubted.

Comrade Physioprof said...

Yeah, I read blogges for the personalities of the bloggers. It's like being at a really awesome cocktail party!

undine said...

This is exactly why I read them and keep blogging, too. Thanks for putting it so well!

Susan said...

I read for personalities, mostly, but also with a humanities focus. They get my brain going, and they have the advantage that they are not part of my daily life, so they are unexpected. And when I'm feeling lonely, they make me feel connected.

So I'm pleased you will keep blogging!

Dr. Virago said...

Yes. To this. All of this.

(Also, I've just been re-reading my old posts to make a "best of" list.)

Renaissance Girl said...

Love reading your words, always. Happy 8th.

Jeff said...

Happy (belated) eighth blogiversary! Glad you're still at it. It takes a bit more poking around these days to find new voices, but they're there, often writing with an honesty or urgency that's gotten rarer in the ones who went pro...

Oso Raro said...

As I'm just nosing around now, I'm intrigued by the idea of a Golden Age of academic blogging peaking around 2007 (?). I've seen this claim in a couple of other places as well. Since I've been away, I've been visiting some familiar places, just to see what people are up to. Many folks seems to have closed up shop. Others are still chugging along (Margaret Soltan, I'm looking at you).

Thinking of myself as an example, I do think Facebook killed the narrative blog, at least as it once might have been. I also think that Facebook itself has changed dramatically in the past 3 years, from something more akin to microblogging to a self-conscious panopticon. What connects these two perhaps disparate media, for me at least, is the notion of community, and how we come to define it. If blogging in its classic period represented community (which I think it did), that community unraveled with a rapidity that only speaks to the acceleration of cultural forms and formats in the 21st century. Now, the next big thing only has a hot minute to thrive, because the NEXT next big thing is already eating its lunch. Facebook too, in the halcyon glow of 2008, represented a novel community that has become diluted by too many prying eyes: community writ large rather than small.

By way of example, recently I was reviewing my friends list and was debating: do I keep these people (mostly from work) who I don't really trust? I defriended many of them, and placed others in Facebook Siberia (don't worry, you made the cut!). But as part of this, I also reviewed my timeline and was stunned at some of the things I used to post in the early days of FB, at the intimacy of the posts. For better or worse, the entries really reflected me at that particular moment. Of course, this was before the dreaded timeline, which made every ancient post just a few clicks away. But still, my approach now is much more cautious, and therefore much less personal. Facebook, formerly a place relatively reflective of my personality, has become just a fancier LinkedIn: boring. I've become much more self-conscious of electronic information, a self-consciousness that has also affected my own blogging, clearly.

The promise of the rise of electronic media as communitas has been replaced (at least over here, in my bunker) by a sense of surveillance and distrust, and I can't help thinking this killed the medium of blogging in anticipation of things like PRISM and NSA infoscooping. I'm happy that blogging still continues, where it may (such as here). However, increasingly I feel a need to retreat from this electronic sphere, not only for my own privacy, but also as a break from its relentlessness. But maybe this is actually why the liveblogging versions of blogging (LOL, btw) went the way of the dodo bird. In the increasing noise of the internet, there can no longer be a place for quiet repose.

Oso Raro said...

^livejournaling, btw

phd me said...

I'm catching up on my blog reading, so I'm late to say how much I agree with your thoughts about blogging. Thanks for sticking around!