One of the things that happens when you don't blog for 4.5 months (and only sparingly the year before that) is that you get great ideas for things to write about and then you never end up writing the posts because inertia is a real and true thing. Another real and true thing is apathy, and so is the conviction that what you are writing is serving no one, not even yourself.
Anyway, this post was triggered by reading a month-old article in The Atlantic Thursday night and thinking about it ever since, but jsyk I will probably write posts in the future that quote year-old articles and like today, I am only doing it because the truth of them is more important than their newness. All Hail Old Internet. And coincidentally, the article in question gives a little love to Old Internet itself--a look back on the changing idea of The Stream and what it's like to generate and consume content right now. I know it sounds super thinky, but bear with me, because I promise it will make sense. If nothing else, it's the foundation for the rest of the post so LISTEN UP.
Alexis Madrigal, from "2013: The Year the Stream Crested":
Nowadays, I think all kinds of people see and feel the tradeoffs of the stream, when they pull their thumbs down at the top of their screens to receive a new updates from their social apps.
It is too damn hard to keep up. And most of what's out there is crap.
When the half-life of a post is half a day or less, how much time can media makers put into something? When the time a reader spends on a story is (on the high end) two minutes, how much time should media makers put into something?
The necessity of nowness plus the professionalization of content production for the stream means that there are thousands and thousands of people churning out more crap than can possibly be imagined. And individual consumers of information have been tuned by social-media feedback mechanisms (Likes!) to do for free what other people do for money. They, too, write viral headlines, post clickbait, and compete for mindshare.
The dwindling of my blog writing went hand in hand with dwindling blog reading, too. When yet another week would pass without writing anything new here, I would avoid checking in on others. The aversion grew. I'm telling you now: That aversion vortex is the worst time ever to open up Twitter, because with that mindset I could only see the stream that Alexis describes, so noise, very crap, much viral. It will convince you that it's Upworthy's world; we're just clicking in it. When you step away from that system, it feels GOOD, a guilty kind of good in a nice smug candy shell. And I have participated in that system before and I will do it again in the sense that this post will autotweet when it goes live, on purpose, just once. No one is writing a blog to keep it secret; otherwise they would write in their paper journals or on password-locked sites and give New Post announcements to their dog with a treat in hand. We write to be read. That is not a bad thing.
But I have decided that I like the idea of almost none of my followers catching that one tweet, or at least I don't mind it. This is the nature of the stream and I don't want to fight it and be all Waving Not Drowning. I am going to trust that if someone really wants to read what I have to say, they know where to find it (note: new RSS link!), or that they'll find me eventually, and in the meantime I will go on worrying more about how I feel about the posts than how someone else might feel. I am not deluded enough to think I am actually The Media as referenced in that quote up there, but in those quiet months without blogging, I thought a lot about how much time I had spent writing blog posts since those first insomniac nights on the reservation when I started writing online on my old Mac G3, how I learned to write for an audience that was not a professor or a workshop, how rewarding it could be. And I wondered how much time writing here should take if I started up again, and how much I cared about it, and what I wanted that writing to be for the people who read it... the people who spend two minutes on a piece of content written by professionals, never mind what I generate.
The answer is multipart: I know I do not want to "compete for mindshare." That sounds completely counter to what we've been told to do, to weigh stats and our number of comments and evidence of shares as we evaluate whether a post was successful (when we know that the comment economy has become a flawed one). I am not seeking "growth" or "community" for its own sake as much as I want people to read of their own volition, because they wanted to, and for me to get to know them one on one instead of as a broadcast target. I want their two minutes to not feel like ones they'll never get back. I want to feel the freedom to stop reading blogs that don't engage me because I think quid pro quo reading is a waste of everyone's time and insulting to boot. I want to write things that others want to share, which can only happen if the people reading genuinely enjoy the stuff I'm writing, and if no one shares it, that hopefully means they're being more particular about their own stream and that is wonderful too. I want to continue to try to write a list every week, even if it's just a silly one, because I like the idea of a series of somewhat parallel objects, and because doing something once a week will keep me from feeling that awful icebreaking feeling that goes with not writing, and because I cannot be a pompous ass all of the time. But I don't want the lists to be the only thing I write; the things I have missed writing most are the ones that started in one place and ended up somewhere completely different than I intended.
You'll notice that the thoughts are mostly about the writing itself than the packaging and pushing of it. I don't think this is a bad thing. And I have talked about this stuff with my friends over the past couple of months and I know I'm not alone here.
My favorite blog find while I was on hiatus was Ill Seen, Ill Said, Jane Flanagan's blog. It is the perfect blend of thoughtfulness and pretty things; it is neither vacuous or ponderous but friendly and elegant and smart. I think you should read it. There was a time I would have said that I wanted to be Jane when I grow up, and that's not untrue. But mostly, I want to continue being me and getting better at doing so. This site is still part of that. I want it to be the stone that finds its way to your hand when you plunge it into the stream, one that you take with you, and I'm okay with everyone else who throws that stone back when it's not the right fit.