Disclaimer: The opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily reflect my actual opinions.

November 29, 2004

Blog the dead donkey

Darren Barefoot, a Canadian PR dude and blogger, makes two interesting points about personal, diary-style blogs.

The first is that everyone who blogs wants readers. This might seem like it's not even worth saying, but I believe it is, because it speaks to a more general need to be observed. Very few people go through life doing nothing at all to attract the attention of our fellow creatures. Often we dress in a way designed to elicit attention: obviously the youthful are more prone to using appearance to draw attention to themselves (witness goths and punks and emos), but others do it too. Does that guy's business suit need to be that sharp? Do those earrings have to be that eye-catching, or, indeed, even worn at all? Body decorations such as tattoos are designed solely to be seen, and arguably the use of makeup fulfills the same role (especially, of course, amongst men). We seem to have some innate desire to have an audience, from obvious examples like professional performers (actors, musicians, etc.) and artists to not-so-obvious examples like those who attempt suicide in a way guaranteed to fail.

It is perhaps an attempt to gain validation. We want to hear that we are entertaining, or clever, that we will be missed when we're gone, that we're worthy of being alive. But moreso perhaps it is a way to feel connected with society, the superorganism of which we all form a part. In The Lucifer Principle Howard Bloom suggests that an overwhelming feeling of separation from the superorganism -- loneliness, basically -- is far more dangerous than we usually conceive it to be, and can even be fatal, as in the case when a previously healthy person dies shortly after their partner.

In this respect blogging is no different. It's a way to feel connected, a contributing part of society. It is a form of creativity, and there's something soulless and unsatisfying about a creation without an audience. An online journal, by definition, seeks readers. And, as Darren says, no blogger can claim not to want to be read. (I suppose that somewhere there must exist a blog not meant to be read, perhaps as a postmodern artistic statement, but that is attention-seeking in itself.)

But, to address Darren's second point, does this mean that a blogger must be interesting? His post, entitled I May Not Want to Read About Your Cat, contains a list of suggestions for those running personal blogs, ranging from "If you're going to write about the ordinary day-to-day events of your life, write extraordinarily, with humour and insight and passion" to "Don't post unless you've got something compelling to talk about." He makes a valid argument, and I would agree with him if blogs were just another form of publishing. But they aren't. Blogs, unlike newspapers and magazines and non-literary novels, don't have to appeal to the lowest common denominator within a particular demographic.

This is "bottom-up journalism." It is arguably, because of ease of access and the facility to hyperlink, the mechanism most suited to forming a "public discourse" we've yet devised. There's a difference between wanting to be heard and wanting to be heard widely: I, as a writer, would prefer as large an audience as possible, mainly to stroke my ego, to feel my talents (for what they're worth) are appreciated. But someone writing about their cats in a non-extraordinary, humorless way almost certainly doesn't want what I want. I think those who maintain very personal blogs -- by which I mean closer to diaries than anything else -- gain more satisfaction from the creative process than from the observation of the end result, from feeling included in the great equalizer that is the blogosphere.

So do I agree with him or not? In a sense. I agree that bloggers want to be read: I think that is an axiom of this new way of communicating. I agree with all his suggestions for making a blog more readable, and should likely pay more attention to them myself. But I disagree with his assertion that blogs necessarily should obey those guidelines, that just because someone places their journal online means they want to attract as many readers as possible. Me? I want a million hits a minute (I am still some distance from reaching this goal, to employ a tiny hint of understatement). But for many, I feel, as long as someone somewhere is reading, that's enough.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home