Are We All Blogged Out?

May 4, 2009 at 10:33 am (By Amba) (, )

It’s been quite a topic on Twitter among our little loosely-defined community.  A bunch of us seem to have gone blooey all at once, as if responding helplessly to some shift in the heavens, or in the collective unconscious.  The cultural wavefront has moved on, but whither?  Twitter feels transitional, somehow.  But blogging just seems to have peaked and ebbed . . . to have reached a saturation point, or point of diminishing returns.  Maybe after several years of emptying out our minds daily (like chamber pots?) a lot of us are running out of things to say, or feel in danger of repeating ourselves.  Maybe, with the exception of those blogs that have broken through — become established institutions in their niches, sustained by massive rewards, expectations, and inertial momentum — a lot of us just couldn’t keep up the effort any longer.  Myself, I felt right on the borderline between private and public:  blogging was no longer something I was doing just for myself, and so there was guilt and sorrow involved in (mostly) quitting.  But I plum ran out of gas.  (A gasbag without gas?)

It’s interesting to ponder Ann Althouse’s role in all this.  [UPDATE: Per Twitter, I do not mean to suggest that Ann is “blogged out”:  “ravished away” is more like it.] As the sort of leader of this particular  pack, did she issue the cue we’re all following, or was she just an early responder to something larger?  I suspect the latter, even though it feels to a lot of us as if the sun has deserted its faithful planets and run off to join a twin star.  Oh, she’s still blogging, but you get the sense that her heart, quite understandably, isn’t in it to nearly the same extent.  And so it is for many of us in miniature:  “real life,” and even “real writing,” calls.

Of course there’s an element of pure practicality, of energetic economy, to it all.  Are you getting enough calories out to keep putting them in?  I was amused to read, yesterday, “Is Blogging Keeping You Poor?

We drive ourselves to creative exhaustion by expecting ourselves to pump out a never-ending stream of remarkable content — a stream that, even in the best of cases, only pulls in a couple hundred bucks a month in advertising revenue. . . .

To say we are overworked and underpaid is an understatement. . . .

[C]reative energy is a finite resource. You can probably summon enough to write a few quality posts, but once you’ve done that, there’s no creative energy left for anything else. It doesn’t matter how hard you push yourself. When you’re out, you’re out.

This character goes on to say the solution is working less and “monetizing” more, but that’s not what most of us want.  To be blunt, we — at least the “we” who write, have written, or aspire to write and be sustained by it — want to work just as hard, or joyously harder, and get paid for it.  A friend of mine who did women’s-magazine writing and editing for years, and wrote three amazing, groundbreaking books — all of them probably just a little too subtle and unsettling to be smash hits — is now writing online in the same vein, and being expected by major commercial women’s websites to be grateful for the opportunity to provide content for free.  “I used to get paid for this,” she said to me recently in a dazed and rueful “What happened??” tone.  The Web is full of writers who never quite broke through “in real life” and have failed to break through here too, in the sense of making a living wage.  Obviously, it’s our “fault” — we haven’t hit a major nerve,  we haven’t built a “platform,” we have neither wakefully figured out how to exploit ourselves nor obliviously embodied the spirit of the age, which are the two roads to having a name that pulls its weight.  We’re “minor” and we’re proud.  And tired.

It’s sad, though.  It’s the end of a mini-era that’s lasted five years or so.  Where now?  We have to follow where the piper leads.  It’s interesting to me to watch what we’re talking about here when we’re talking at all.  It’s mostly the economy, stupid, with a minor in my obsessive theme of science and religion.  It’s interesting to become aware of the extent to which blogging has been a political medium.  The death of blogging, at least in its familiar voice and form, is linked to a sense of the profound inadequacy of politics to address what ails us.  But politics, it turns out, was easy to talk about.  Whether you took one side or the other or spun your web between them, it provided a ready-made framework for and spur to words.  And now?  What do we take off from?  What do we react to?  We’re like baby spiders floating in space with our little bits of silk, having as yet found nothing to attach them to.

Le blog est mort, vive le blog?

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15 Comments

  1. Callimachus said,

    The connection between creative writing and reward never has been real. I wrote a few books that I took tremendous care in crafting, and I got next to nothing for them when they were picked up and published. They’re still my children, and I take them down and read them still just for my parental pleasure.

    And I wrote throw-away articles on things like “health tips,” articles I never care to see a word of again, and got nice paychecks on them.

    Now of course it’s possible that I suck when I try to write well. But too many other people seem to have a similar experience.

    Well, for people who write for a (more or less) living, blogging was a chance to mainline the experience of doing your most creative and personal writing and putting it directly into the minds of a presumably adoring public.

    There was no obvious payback, but surely something, somehow, would come right in the end. You’d be noticed, applauded, rewarded — not “you” you but all of us who tried it. You’d at least make a difference.

    None of that happened. Some people made a nice pile of money of blogs, but they weren’t the people who were anguishing over word-choice when they should have been planting their gardens or singing to their children. The world hasn’t changed. And even suckers wake up after a while.

  2. Callimachus said,

    P.S., for the record, I’m not an Althouse altar boy. Neither is Miles.

  3. chickenlittle said,

    Some random thoughts about space and about time in the context of comparing blogging and twittering and whither blogs:

    Althouse, in reference to her blog, tweeted today:

    “I prefer it to Twitter because I like the sense of creating a place.”

    While can’t read her mind, I could not help but notice her choice of the word “place”. Place is very much a spatial concept. For many, Althouse is a shared space (As an aside: I’ve been a commenter on several blogs but oddly never on your blog–I was always intimidated but the caliber of people there and the gravitas—no such worries at Althouse!). Blogs are places. They have structure as a major feature, if only in a familiar, repeating pattern. I’d wager that most if not all blogs (when they’re all included) are slowly changing or nearly static. But even the slowest ones may have elegant, unappreciated structure—they are mostly all labors of love! Also by structure, I mean something that one can go back to again and again and enjoy. Blogs and blog comments can be googled and searched, much like anything else and even referenced like a webpage.

    Twitter, on the other hand, has timeline as its central feature. Twitter is not so much a place as an event. It’s all about time and timing! Good Twitter is mostly lively and fast paced. Bad tweets are quickly buried, or even forgotten, not malingering around forever to antagonize others. Tweets can even deleted and eliminated (not completely it turns out). Searching Twitter is still laborious (for me). I find it much harder to find remembered tweets or archived tweets (although they’re there). I also happen to like the 140 character limit (for now). I read and write patent claims all day long and recognize the rewards and value of using fewer words to capture things. Twitter still has enormous untapped potential with respect to brevity, which blogs have always had, but never evolved towards.

    Some blogs (not naming names) have always resembled a Twitter feed: they have stimulating posts and a lively comment section. Watching a good blog post and a subsequent comment flurry is highly entertaining and stimulating. Of course blogs have the added advantage that the more thoughtful comments can be longer (but not too long).

    I’m sure there is somebody out there telling us where blogging is heading, but they can’t be heard over the noise of false doomsayers claiming either that Blog is dead, (we killed him) or that Twitter is a lark.

    As for monetizing blogs: Would not the customer (commenter or clicker) then become king? Do bloggers really want that? On the otherhand, I think monetizing Twitter would be more successful. I think some people would actually pay money to be “followed” by a celebrity.

  4. amba12 said,

    Oy, that gravitas. Such a ball and chain.

    Fascinating stuff. I too am enjoying the 140 character limit (and so is Sissy Willis, I know, and no doubt many others). A whole lot of stuff can be said amazingly briefly and have more wit and force. It’s a lot of fun trying to craft a good tweet, whether you work at it or just happen to hit it at the right angle. It’s good for writing, and even more than blogging, helps you not be attached to it.

  5. amba12 said,

    People might pay to be “followed” by a celebrity, but celebrities aren’t the ones who need more money! Imagine a Twitter lottery (twottery?) where celebrities gave prizes to a randomly selected follower a month.

  6. chickenlittle said,

    How about 140 character metrical verse? Arbitrary for sure, but such numerical limits used to challenge and I suppose amuse poets.

    There was a tweeter I follow (BXGD) who posted some poetry, but then deleted it.

  7. Melinda said,

    Lately, I’ve been following a lot of “Laid Off” blogs and “Recession” blogs. Five or six years ago it was political blogs. Maybe it’s not that blogging is dead; maybe specialized blogs get hot for a while because they fill a need for a specific era of time.

    Blogs: The new pop-up stores.

  8. amba12 said,

    That, and, as my brother points out in the comments at AmbivaBlog, reportorial blogs covering a particular beat, snatching the baton from dying newspapers.

    I meant to respond to Cal that the rewards for writing are not correlated with writing “well.” They’re correlated with hitting a nerve, which has to do with both what’s said and how it’s said, but the latter is nothing as simple as writing “well.” It’s giving voice to people’s own unarticulated thoughts and feelings. Sometimes if writing is too well-written, it can get in the way of that. It’s a fine line. I think of it (in a complimentary way) as “the common touch,” and I have long been aware that I don’t have it.

    Although if I would just write about the two hottest topics in my repertoire — cats and caregiving — I might.

  9. tamarika said,

    Ah yes … but I miss my pod-mates. And that’s all I’m saying about that.

  10. chickenlittle said,

    Amba: I actually don’t mind hearing about both topics “cats” and “caregiving”. I know you’re doing both out of love.

  11. Simon said,

    The death of blogging, at least in its familiar voice and form, is linked to a sense of the profound inadequacy of politics to address what ails us.

    I would say that part of the reason for my declining interest is more a sense of the profound irrelevance of my views to politics. They won. To paraphrase Thomas B. Reed, they are going to govern and we are going to watch. And there is, to me, a sense that all the blogging–all the writing and reasoning–in the world won’t change that or divert them from this path that they have chosen. That makes it hard to find the energy to invest into arguing.

    Sooner or later, that must change; I have often admired the late Chief Justice, who spent years in the minority, often alone. He set out carefully and attractively certain principles, fighting the battles gracefully, winning where he could, until the times aligned with the man. These are times to be endured.

  12. amba12 said,

    From a certain point of view, you’ve just argued successfully against yourself. ” He set out carefully and attractively certain principles, fighting the battles gracefully” — isn’t that an argument for continuing to blog? To be ready, philosophically and practically, when the times align again?

    You might have seen my last tweet-tweet: “I don’t get the ‘Republican party is so over’ talk. Zero-sum democracy: we act as if losing-being several points under 50%–is obliteration.” My father once thought about writing a book called “Losing: A Baseball Odyssey.” After all, all the teams but one — the World Series champions — lost. I wonder if we don’t take “winning and losing” too seriously, in a Vince Lombardi-brainwashed sort of way. We are too emboldened by “winning” and too depressed by “losing,” which is what we get for running our entire lives on a sports-war model. (I suppose now I sound as silly as J’s middle-aged female German cousin who once watched a rough soccer game with incomprehension and then said, “Why don’t they just give each of them a ball?”) Or on the other hand, maybe we should look at it as MORE of a game and not allow our testosterone levels to be smashed into the dirt by an off season. In any case, the emotions of both victory and defeat seem disproportionate, and seem to magnify what happened beyond its actual significance, and reinforce it. Making any sense?

    How do you think Newt is doing?

  13. Simon said,

    No and yes. My point may have been badly-served by how it was said; I mean very much to say that we should continue to blog. I understand why it is difficult to do so at the moment, and share the feeling; and for a period of time, that is well and appropriate. But we must, in due course, redouble our efforts, not only because it’s essential “[t]o be ready, philosophically and practically, when the times align again,” but because to do otherwise is to cede the field to the left and the Glenn Beck Brigade.

  14. Simon said,

    (As to winning/losing, I agree, with the caveat that sometimes a party does get stomped into the ground, never to recover. And I don’t know that I can say how Newt’s doing; I’m already sold, albeit with some concerns. I think that people who have heard him like him, so the question will be, can he talk in enough venues that everyone sees him?)

  15. karen said,

    Hmmmmmmm- no more political talk and yet, it’s hiding in the comments. I like that– i knew that the topic was not gone for good w/you, amba. You have too curious a mind, both for politics and for how others are feeling about politics. Or, amybe i’m projecting? :0).

    Instapundit usually covers all things political in twitter/blogease… blitterease? A few words to inform and a link. Not what i seek- not a s much as semi-digested opinions and debate, but i get my(slanted Right)news.

    Twottery: i thought that was where one paid for sex? I guess you win there, too.

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