From the Blogosphere: Dispatch 1

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!

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12 thoughts on “From the Blogosphere: Dispatch 1

  1. Thanks for sharing. What a great Blog. Blogging, tweeting, and texting is all the NOW thing. I have just purchased a new phone with a typewriter style keyboard so that I can text faster. I do read a few blogs that are out there in cyberspace, but Tweeting – I can’t get into that one yet. See ya. You can find my face on the book.

  2. Mary, I am just amazed every time I read one of your posts! You are a wonderful writer. This is the best and most comprehensive essay I have read yet on blogging. You have captured everything I’ve learned about the blogosphere in the almost two years that I’ve been blogging. The house analogy is perfect and if at first you don’t want to commit, you can be a peeping Tom, or a lurker as we like to put it in blogworld.

    My blog has certainly evolved over the course of time and I hope it keeps evolving as I learn. I’ve already learned a lot about writing and photography through my blog friends and there are a few whom I consider to be friends without the “blog” qualification.

    It is so true that people who don’t blog can’t really understand it entirely. I know I didn’t until I became a part of it myself.

    I had no idea there are that many women bloggers! That is fantastic! A voice and creative outlet for anyone who chooses to open themselves to the concept. What could be wrong about that?

    • Susan-

      Thanks so much for your kind words, especially because I wasn’t sure what experienced folks see when they look at the blogosphere. I really appreciate your insights here as a seasoned blogger. I have wondered sometimes when I read posts and comments if people knew each other before they read each other’s blogs or read the blogs and became friends that way. It is interesting to contemplate if some of those relationships are then sustained outside the context of the blog as you suggest.

  3. This post is so insightful about our world of blogging. How you entered into the world is exactly how I did. I kept hopping around different blogs for several months and then decided to start my own. Mine has definitely evolved into something I now love. For me, I didn’t know any of these blogger friends before I visited their blogs. I sometimes laugh when I visit a new blog and I’ll decide to “follow” and I look at the other followers and there is almost always at least one follower of the new blog who I know. It’s like a small town in a way…it’s a community…and a supportive and enjoyable one when you find the blogs that “speak” to you. So glad you joined us because your blog definitely does that for me.

    Jackie

    • Jackie-
      I am so glad you’ve shared these perceptions. When you start, it feels like you are just striking out in uncharted territory and are unsure where to go or what to do, especially when you see blogs that already have evolved from their earlier incarnations. The network, not networking, aspect of this–what you say about it being small-townish–seems like it is kind of the key and what makes it different from Facebook and other sites. Thanks for visiting again!

  4. Yes, this really is a thorough essay about blogging, including my own feelings about it. I’ve been at it four years now, and you are so right, my main blog sync has evolved quite a bit. I’ve started several other blogs during this span, it’s so easy to start one! Not as easy to maintain. But it’s nice to go off on a tangent that seems to call out for its own space, like my latest Rumi readings, which takes very little time and energy on my part, but fulfills something in me that I seem to need.

    It thrills me to no end that so many women have found blogging as a creative outlet. I wish there were some way to measure whether women’s emotional wholeness has improved since this forum for expression has exploded.

    Also, I have learned more than I can tell you! Thanks to friends around the world, I’ve learned more about other places, other ways of seeing, learned about myself most of all, and I feel far more confident than I ever have. I give a lot of credit to my blogging community for that.

    • Ruth-
      Wow, that’s some powerful testament to the benefits of blogging. It’s funny that you mention the Rumi readings because I just checked those out last week after reading your blog for a while now. It’s like these spaces can offer so much to a reader/participant and you are challenged to fully explore even a single blog because there is so much wonderful content, some of it embedded there, of different types. As with web searching of any kind, the trail just leads on and on until you become exhausted enough to stop. All I can say is Robert Frost knew whereof he spoke lo those many years ago. Blogging seems to be the best illustration of way leading on to way I’ve seen! Thanks for your keen insights on this one.

  5. Thanks for your comment on mine.

    I think you put this very beautifully, and very accurately. I hadn’t thought how thrilled teachers should be at the emergence of blogging. Yes, all that writing – not for an assignment, but for fun!

    Has anyone written a good book about it all, yet?

    • Unfortunately, I think technologic changes are occurring at such warp speed that they have not afforded adequate time for full analysis. But a colleague just pointed me to a fascinating New York Times article from 3-17-10 (“Texts Without Contexts”) in their book section that discusses some new books which probe the larger cultural changes afoot thanks to the advances in how we now communicate and disseminate information.

  6. You’ve put this so well. I’ve been blogging for … um … about four years. You’re right about blogs evolving and sometimes morphing into something new. Life changes and our writing reflects that.

    I kept hearing about this “community” that existed somewhere out there in the blogosphere. It took a while for me to realize the extent of it. There’s such a desire to connect and share with others, and this new way seems to offer limitless opportunities.

    What a thoughtful and thorough post. I enjoyed it very much.
    Bella

    • Bella-

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for your kind remarks. You know, I don’t think I grasped the enormity of the blogosphere until I stumbled on a thread on the Blogher network site where women were debating whether big bloggers bore any obligation or responsibility to help little bloggers. I realized by the comments that the blogosphere is way too huge and diverse for anyone to try to establish too many feasible norms. But I think the driver of this whole enterprise is exactly as you say, that powerful desire to connect and share with others.

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