Warning: Veteran bloggers may find this post obvious and boring. But then again, you could linger and weigh in with your wisdom and expertise!
For both professional and personal reasons, I have spent much time in recent months dipping my big toe into the cyber swamp that is the blogosphere. I have learned quite a bit and yet am confident that I still know very little about this world. Since most of my friends and colleagues who read my blog do not themselves blog and are largely unfamiliar with this phenomenon, I will share observations periodically to give you a sense of things out there. Consider this a dispatch from a brave new world.
First of all, the blogosphere actually is out there. As in a vast frontier or a galaxy far, far away from technologically supported interpersonal communication as we have known it via email, cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, and texting, though it interfaces with all of these. And this is precisely what makes it at once an endlessly fascinating and infinitely curious phenomenon. You can stake a claim on your own little plot of cyberspace and build on it whatever structure you like and then fill that structure with the words and images of your choosing.
Admittedly, until last summer, I paid scant attention to blogging for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I spend so much time reading and writing for work. When I come home, I must attend to non-computer-related tasks, like taking people who can’t drive where they need to go: volleyball practice and games, track practice and meets, religion class, Girl Scout meetings, etc. And then there’s the helping with homework, cooking dinner, ripping through grocery store aisles at breakneck pace, excavating accumulated clutter throughout my home without the aid of power tools, throwing in a load of laundry on the fly…the same stuff of everyone’s everyday life.
In recent years, I’ve clung to an early stereotyped image of blogging that is woefully inaccurate: nerdy politicos in a darkened room lit by the glow of a monitor and huddled over a keyboard pounding out manifestos that only a handful of like-minded folks would read. While that could well account for some blogs, or perhaps earlier iterations of blogging, it’s probably now an infinitesimally small number of the estimated 23 million bloggers because I haven’t bumped into many that would fit that mold.
That’s right: The New York Times (3-12-10) reports that a 2009 study by Blogher and its research partners puts the number of people blogging (those who read, write, or comment on blogs weekly) at 23 million—and that’s just women! Blogs have proliferated wildly, widely, exponentially and at the speed of light. They are written on every imaginable topic, reflect every possible world view, and are open to the entire world to read. They can be remarkably thoughtful windows into the mind of someone who has something powerful and insightful to share about life, the universe, and everything.
Then again, they can be gratuitously self-indulgent and vacuous even as they offer up striking or artistic photographs. They can be hilarious or dead-serious, affirming or provocative, somber or sweet. I’ve seen some blogs use questionable ploys to grab an audience and more than a few hell bent on achieving a status that garners them commercial sponsorship. Also, it’s not uncommon for smaller-scale blogs to host contests and giveaways or special events, which surprised me a bit but speaks strikingly to the interactive nature of this beast.
There are many genres of blogs and subgenres of blogs. There are food blogs, gardening blogs, health blogs, fashion blogs, spiritual blogs, and pet blogs. You name it, it’s out there. Mommy blogs are voluminous and have taken documentation of childhood to new heights, or in the cases of gross and graphic depictions of basic bodily functions, new lows in terms of too much information. Though some appear to offer insights of value, I am astounded at how many of these bloggers lack some modicum of integrity: At what price my glory if it only costs me my child’s privacy? But, hey, reality TV is probably the real culprit in launching that unsavory trend.
Of course, I can’t begin to issue advice on how to write a blog since I am very much a novice and still learning the ropes. The only admonition I have is this: Blog. That is, read blogs and, if you like, start one of your own. The good news is you can create one and not let the world know it exists until you want to or perhaps never. And since you own and operate it, you can’t really make mistakes. From what I gather, blogs tend to evolve over time as the blogger shifts focus or emphasis or refines his or her purpose through writing and the inevitable reflective thinking it promotes. Your perceptions of blogs will likely evolve, too, as you read more of them and select out the ones you care to follow.
Some blogs are built around a conceit (think Julie’s in Julie and Julia). None of the usual writing boundaries seem to apply on blogs and yet there are already conventions and expectations emerging about writing and presentation, no matter how big or small an individual’s own blogosphere is. The protocols and rules of blog etiquette are implicit for now; I’ve tripped hard over a few. Even on a frontier, folks like just a little bit of law and order—probably more order and less law.
For instance, most of the blogs I follow include marvelous visual imagery as blogging has really morphed into a visual medium. Blogs consist not simply of words on the screen (like mine), but of artistically rendered photographs and images as well and the thoughtful arrangement and layout of all of these (unlike mine). Even blog titles are interesting reflections of the blogger’s mind and tilt toward the clever, the quirky (unlike mine), though many forfeit inventiveness for geography (like mine). The writing tends to be succinct and pithy or journalistic in its style and brevity, the very kind I am least adept at producing.
Looking at blogs is kind of like looking at houses long before you buy. You keep checking areas, neighborhoods, specific houses, all the while formulating ideas about what you like, and, as importantly, what you don’t like. Even with houses you like, you think about what you might do differently—another color on the living room walls or turning a bedroom into an office. With houses you don’t like, you might still see features that you like well enough to incorporate into your own or learn something just by stopping by.
Through this lengthy process you eventually arrive at your definition of your ideal house. And, frankly, the blogs I seem to like best are the ones I literally stumbled upon as I was browsing for something else. Come to think of it, that’s exactly how I found my house.
Clearly, I have much yet to learn on many blog fronts, but I am cultivating ideas about what I will eventually do with my own blog by observing incredibly creative people who have already mastered the fine art of blogging and being inspired by their artistry.
To that end, I suggest you take a peek at some of the recommended blogs on my front page. These I like. These I follow. In these I have found what I prefer: authentic voices with unique perspectives whether through words or images or both. It doesn’t hurt that the people writing them seem to be just lovely. Use them as a starting point and check out the blogs they list or go for broke and Google the blog topic of your choice or surf a blog catalog for an endless list of blogs to visit. You’ll eventually find some that sing to you.
I reached my initial goal which was to learn enough of the logistics and mechanics of blogging to create one for work: that blog has a very narrow scope in order to serve my colleagues and provide a forum for their input on relevant work-related topics.
But I have also realized how much blogs are about community and building community. Bottom line: people want to connect with other people in more complex ways than other technologies afford. This important aspect I am definitely taking to my work blog.
So, the upshot of my blogging so far? The teacher in me is genuinely amazed and heartened by the fact that so many people write completely voluntarily and regularly outside of school: this could be the writing utopia we’ve been wishing for. Yahoo!
The rhetorician in me says this entire subject warrants far more investigation than it has gotten to date, perhaps articles and dissertations probing the genres and subcultures of blogs. Or how about exploration of the metaphoric constructs evidenced even by my post: blog as house or home, blogosphere as neighborhood, blog as a physical place, the use of geographic titles to signal a place in cyberspace (see Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By). And, oh my gosh, what you could do with narrative structures in blogs or lack thereof. Ah, would that there was world enough and time and that I was a good 20 years younger!
Finally, the blogger in me says this is a blast and a fantastic creative outlet if you want one and an excellent and convenient way to connect with other people, especially women, to share life, the universe, and, well, just a little bit of everything. In the end, it’s just flat out fun, pure and simple. Dropping by and visiting with people. Living vicariously. Learning about worlds you never knew existed.
Flat Rock Creek Notebook began as a small way for me to transcend the utter chaos I felt when my life last summer was upended by the kitchen remodel. It has blossomed into a larger journey that has put me in touch with some very kind and thoughtful people. It is a journey I relish because I have no firm idea of where it’s going to take me.
If you like, keep checking in as I chronicle my trek across the cyber frontier from this tiny little plot of prairie on the Santa Fe Trail. Wagons, ho!