I thought it would be funny.
So I walked into Fimoculous on Christmas and started blogging anonymously, without telling Rex, the owner, beforehand. Which -- you guessed it -- means that pretty much everything posted here since then is by me, not him. (How: I spent time as a house-guest here about a year ago, and the keys were still under the mat.)
Just after I started, I learned that Rex had recently been in a kerfuffle in which someone accused him of saying "anonymous blogging is bad," and that he was later characterized as saying "blogging is dead." Even better. My Operation: Goldilocks was evolving into A Scanner Darkly -- turning against itself, or at least appearing to. It seemed like a good opportunity to indirectly engage both of these issues.
Is blogging dead? I don't want it to be, which is another reason I tried to revivify this blog, which was about 10 years old and staggering around like a zombie. In my opinion, there should be room in our online discourse for blogs like this one -- offering a consistent, often thoughtful perspective, collecting and observing things of interest to its readers. But being consistent, thoughtful, and observant requires effort and time, and it requires the same of its audience.
And that, I think, is why blogging, for the most part, appears to be moribund: Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Reddit, etc., are media that have evolved such that there is no expectation of prolonged engagement with pieces of content on the part of their writers or readers. Consider the recent widespread use of the shorthand "tl;dr" (too long; didn't read). This dismissive assessment is commonly interpreted as fair, expected criticism of the author, not the reader who offers it because he couldn't be bothered to read the content simply because it was long, regardless of its undiscovered merits. The media that are replacing "traditional" blogging value brevity above all, so much of the incentive to write anything that is both long and thoughtful diminishes (since few will bother to read it), and the self-motivation required to do so will only increase over time.
It's funny to be talking about blogging -- which for its entire lifespan has been dismissed broadly for being superficial and narcissistic -- as being a besieged outpost of well-developed, thoughtful writing, but I think that's exactly what's happening. It's no one's "fault" -- it's just the natural evolution of popular content production and consumption towards the most frictionless state: from books to periodicals to personal websites to blogs to Twitter to the Like button. When a medium comes along that's easier than clicking the Like button -- maybe thinking you Like something -- you can be sure everyone will speculate about and then bemoan its death before moving on.
But, even blogging isn't dead yet. There are some people out there who are still committed to the form, even if it seems no one else is, regularly posting smart, thought-provoking analyses and observations of their respective interests. A few that come immediately to mind:
- Joanne McNeil at Tomorrow Museum
- The brilliant Danah Boyd, whose research and insight into social media and youth culture is unmatched
- Geoff Manaugh at BLDGBLOG, who is at once reportorial and speculative
- The visionary architect Lebbeus Woods
- Errol Morris and his "too long," multi-part monographs, some of which are probably the best things ever published originally on the web
And there are others who take the time to put together coherent, original posts:
- Star Wars Modern, where I'm not always sure what's happening, but I appreciate the effort involved
- Nav at Scrawled in Wax, usually correlating academic concepts of post-modernism with pop culture
- Amy at Amy's Robot, who has been writing witty, thoughtful posts on pop culture and politics for NINE YEARS. Collaborators (like me) have come and gone at that site, but Amy is still there. Someone oughta be reading her.
A confession before I continue: for every one of those sites I mentioned, I have often found myself getting the gist of a post, thinking "that's a good insight," and then skimming the rest of it. Does that matter?
Continuing, let me also mention some more widely read sites that I think demonstrate originality and effort:
- John Del Signore at Gothamist, whose humor brings color to stories without obscuring them
- The Big Picture photo blog, started by a developer at the Boston Globe who is now launching a similar project for the Atlantic
- Yeah, what the hell -- I'm leaving it on this list: even Boing Boing can be pretty good sometimes, when it's not being a caricature of itself...
- Maybe you have your own suggestions to share in the comments
And lastly, if you miss Fimoculous now that it's zombified, just replace that section of your brain with Pop Loser, which I've been ripping off mercilessly for the last month and which strikes me as the blog that is the spiritual inheritor of this one.
Will any of these blogs still live in 5 years? Will new ones rise to take their place? So far, trends appear to indicate no: aggregation, automation, voting up, "liking," etc., seem to be resulting in a hivemind where thoughtfulness is replaced with promulgation and sameness. Maybe we need a "link aggregator in reverse" that shows the links of interest to you that everyone else like you hasn't Liked yet.
Thanks for reading, or skimming. And thanks, especially, to Rex. See you next time.
Update: Rex offers his take, on Tumblr.