I haven't posted anything here for 10 months, the longest drought since I started publishing myself on the internet. A lot has happened — tales for another time, hopefully soon — but on my return trip from WordCamp US, a milieu rich in the blogger spirit, I felt the creative mind open up. So here we go.
The liminal space of travel is a good one for me. Somehow it prompts higher grade navel-gazing than usual, and I'm drawn to reflect for a moment on my regression as a writer, and on becoming a relative recluse from these social medias.
So, I don't blog. My "insta game" is weak. I pull up Facebook maybe once every other week and I post maybe once or twice a year. It's weird. This all used to be my jam, and as an industry it's absolutely still my job, but even though I read a lot, I've laid off publishing much of anything (anywhere) for most of the year.
I still tweet — jabbering about my industry and a bit about politics — but even that's been spotty, and a lot of it driven again by professional interest. My production as a scribbler on deeper, more personally-generated themes has fallen off, way off, which is to my detriment.
Writing is an excellent means of sharpening thoughts. It forces a triplicate processing of every idea: first occurring in the mind, then execution through the hands, and finally re-processing by the eye. That's different than just letting the brain wander.
It also leaves a record; hence the questionable wisdom of rendering the life of the mind publicly in real-time. But even when recorded thoughts appear puerile or ill-formed to our future selves, they're still instructive. They provide remembrance, perspective, and can give the lofty denizens of tomorrow a dose of humility. We were all young and foolish once, and probably not that long ago. Good to remember that.
So, what's the deal? Why haven't I been doing it? Sure I'm busy, but that's no excuse, just like it's not an excuse not to get some exercise. I thought about this a fair bit on that plane ride home, and aside from sheer laziness I have a few ideas.
Ideals Come Down To Earth
Online self-publishing used to feel radical. When I first started it was a vastly smaller universe, and more of a frontier mentality. The price of entry was a certain amount of tech savvy and the willingness to exhibit ones inner life, something that suited me perfectly as a brash young website consultant with a BFA in theater doing performance art cabarets on the side.
It feels kinda goofy to say so now, but the early days of blogging had a la vie boheme vibe. There was definitely something going on there, but... not as much maybe as we thought at the time.
An interesting thing that happened while I haven't been blogging: I was on a podcast with one of the founding fathers of the modern internet, Jeffery Zeldman (you can listen here). It was via work, but we ended up talking a lot about those early days of the web, the idealism for the power of pure connectivity to heal humanity — something we shared, it turns out — and how that's faded. Also, how now we see a darker side; communication tools used to harass, to bully, event to organize, recruit, and cheer for murder.
I think many pioneers of this medium believed in the power of this technology as a force for good in the world. But it turns out that most of humanity's problems have to do with humanity, something we occasionally lose sight of in our zeal for the next big thing.
I think this is actually a species of a common fallacy, the assumption that the other must like ourselves. If only we could all just get together and talk, things would be ok. Or, alternatively, if only the troublesome "others" who are not like ourselves would just correct themselves, and see things like the rest of us, then we wouldn't have all these problems.
Of course it's not that easy. I'm still net-positive on giving every person the ability to communicate with every other person on Earth; this is one of the keys to making a planet functional and livable with billions of inhabitants. But it's clear that the technology in and of itself fixes very little. Probably obvious to all of you all along, I'm sure, but it's still a let-down for those of us who believed otherwise, however naively.
And then there's the way that the advent of true social media — the democratization of that nerdy club I used to be part of — has given rise to a culture that, frankly, I find it hard to stomach at times. It's not a more honest, true, or self-aware world when everyone carries a camera and can share in an instant. It's faker than ever. More mob-like. Popularity contests. Witch hunts. Self spin-doctoring. Plagues of FOMO madness.
Check out the opening segment from episode #573 of This American Life; Ira Glass talking to two 14-year-old girls about the social nuances of Instagram. On the one hand it's kind of terrifying to have the digitalization of teenage social jockeying revealed, and on the other hand it all sounds vaguely, depressingly familiar.
At scale, as always, it seems that social life regresses towards adolescence, towards high school. Where I hoped to see liberation, progression, transcendence, instead it's the same muck I hoped we'd somehow leave behind, except omnipresently available. Which isn't to say that great things aren't happening (and hey, there was huge progress and learning happening in high school), but it's a far cry from the hazy utopia I'd imagined. It's just another scene.
One of the things my wife has helped me grok more fully since we've been together is how my enormous good fortune of birth and circumstance has shaped my life. In particular it's caused me to reflect on how my experience with self-publishing is informed by what we (half-jokingly) refer to as my White Male Privilege™.
There are reasons why a lot of the original blogging coterie were white, male, educated, and relatively affluent, and it goes deeper than who had internet access and could figure out how to set up a "web log". To put it directly, for anyone who's not a member of the cultural ruling class, the risks of sharing your inner life are significantly higher.
Employer retribution, peer humiliation, online harassment or stalking — these are not risks I've had to weigh in my career as a self-publisher. While there are certainly straight white middle-class males who have, the proportion of non-dominant folk who carry this kind of burden is clearly higher.
Worse, what if what I really liked about those early days of blogging was that it was mostly people like me? Maybe not exactly people who looked like me, but people who were similarly privileged? Perhaps what felt "pioneering" and "visionary" was just an early instance of the Filter Bubble phenomena?
I don't actually believe that, but there's a thread of truth in there somewhere. While on the one hand I want this medium to be something that connects us all and is available to everyone, a heartily democratic sentiment, on the other hand I also prefer being part of a vanguard, which is inherently an elite position. A bit of internal conflict at work.
Out of Ennui
This is far from a complete story, but the gist is that I feel like I got a little bit disillusioned about the whole business, which is ultimately BS. This blog is something that I do for myself, and for the small universe of people who might care about what I write. It's a good way to share the news, and even if nobody bothers to read it, the act of creation is a helpful thing for me to think better and more clearly.
Falling off blogging because the internet can be a cruel and indifferent place (and not to me, but to other people) is a bit like saying you don't want to go to the gym because somewhere someone right now is being fat-shamed. It really doesn't make any sense, and smacks of the rationalizations a smart-but-lazy mind will make to avoid doing work, making choices, and writing things down.
One of the things I want to be good at in life is writing. I also want to be a good human, thoughtful, even wise. In the end, this world is what we make it, which goes for the internet too. Being a recluse doesn't help anybody.