Sunday, June 7, 2009

"Didn't you use to have a blog?"

cartoon from

So goes one snarky Twitter-type. "Blogs Falling in an Empty Forest" (NY Times 6/7/09) notes "blogs have a higher failure rate than restaurants." Douglas Quenqua cites Technorati's 2008 survey: 95% of the 330 million blogs lay fallow the past 120 days, essentially abandoned.

With Hillary Clinton telling Barnard grads that Facebook can be used to foment global justice and Twitter for diplomacy, what of the blog? Those of us who labor away at this medium may feel our words echoing in that forest, with a few random hikers perhaps hearing us moan and muse, while most of the audience we dream about amassing stays in the cities, twittering away at the coffeehouse, texting in cubicle, logging into Facebook from her new iPhone on the San Francisco Bay ferry, as I imagine one fine blogger I link to, Lee Templeton, does regularly. (These-- all still more or less active-- blogs I'll mention in this entry can be found via my Bloglinks, scrolling down at right.)

Her evolution from a lively "Come Back Horslips" Guestbook for her website when I found it a few years ago, to a rarely updated blog of that name in my blogroll, to an energetic adaptation of Twitter (I have no interest given my aversion to cellphones) and Facebook (she uploads nearly daily photos, weblinks, and quiz results) demonstrates the shift in media by savvy players away from blogs or wordier, more static platforms to quicker, snappier, and brighter realms. The attraction of the screen and the caption over the page and the typeface continues. Facebook sensibly avoids the follies of MySpace or blog editors that allow one to desecrate wallpapers with garish fonts and pulsing backgrounds, but amidst its white space I do miss CBH's restrained, retro-late Victorian aura with witty clip art and sepia tones that evoke her own City's demi-monde, once a gaslit, bohemian culture.

But, Miss T. favors now more-frequented, less-languid beehives of activity. Her blogs remain, "The Templeton Chronicles" for her more studied reports back from her British and Irish travels, unfurled in prose that quondam Northern Californian Mark Twain might have inspired. Similarly, politics and journalism may now be hastening to social networks better suited to up-to-the-minute reporting than the stolid blog entry. While "Liberal Rapture" remains a daily stop for me, even its heated political conversations intersect more and more with the Twitter crowd who again appear to be commenting to it and feeding into it with very fresh, but then very dated, links to the day's news and videos. By its nature, a controversial exchange about current affairs under our new presidential incumbent and his loyal legions.

Carrie Twomey, who re-designed my blog about a year ago (she and Miss T. share an HTML-command I lack) moved her sharply observed efforts in an even more politically heated if less balmy locale from her co-editorship of "The Blanket" towards FB; her husband's site "The Pensive Quill" has some who place comments there yearning for a return to the activism that made "The Blanket" prominent. But editor Anthony McIntyre insists that the times have changed and feeds now his TPQ site via Twitter and Facebook. You can see from some who post comments that they're tapping away at tiny keyboards in their haste to respond whereas when I met Carrie a dozen years ago, it was on a combative Irish discussion list, full of bitter and biting e-mails that I'd get in a daily digest.

As ideologies changed, activists soured or were shunted aside, and leaders of the discussion lists altered in their own allegiances, each IRL-list that succeeded the original one became more Marxist. Those of us unwilling to proclaim ourselves yesterday's radicals eventually with the rise of the Good Friday Agreement and the changes in the North of Ireland found ourselves shut out of a dynamic, intelligent forum where we could post and comment and discover what we needed. With the millennium, the need for such lists, as eventually with the subsequent, eloquent solution "The Blanket" itself after it served most of this past decade, faded.

Now, a FB group can pop up to rally a cause, perhaps confirming Hilary's prediction of how social justice for our times may take root. Alan Jones with his blog "Independence Cymru" for Welsh issues models this nexus for pan-Celtic movements. The other day, I put up a link on my page for all my 59 "Friends" to see that linked to a campaign that I read about in the NY Times. I've diminished what quizzes I take, lessened my visits, and rarely post for all to see on FB, but this channel appeared an ideal way to hit the demographic frequenting anti-union, soulless, corporate Starbucks! Naturally, contra Ms. Clinton, my clicking consciousness-raising met with contempt from my colleagues in that caffeinated consumer cohort!

Unsurprisingly given my tendency for a quiet life spent unprofitably if philosophically mulling Big Questions, I create what my wife today sighed at-- verbose ruminations expecting more effort from audiences than watching television. I assured her that she could peruse my blog and enjoy her marathon sittings enraptured by "Jail," "Lockup" and "Lockdown" that since we got a DVD-R box for our cable enable her and the kids to fight over who records what when. Yet, my devoted spouse responded that my highfalutin' excursions into thought or its lack demanded more concentration than even that expended by her when her incarceration updates transmit.

But, she also links to a blog I like, "Lathophobic Aphasia," with witty comments about woebegone characters the author knew in Greece while teaching English, and those similar misfits he now encounters in his parallel gig at a British university. The character of "Vilges Suola" in the yellow background of this blog page, the changing but always bold, looming art as a centerpiece, the Hellenic-meets-Northern English sensibilities, the exuberance with which he chronicles language and its abuses all remind me of how my own checkered success as a college teacher-- he's but two years older than me-- find recognizable and comforting resonance from a talented man whom I've never met, six thousand miles away. And, his taste for oils of louche lounging male nudes reminds me of the differences that we all equally convey, for my blog's full of lovely (if more clothed given Google Safe Search settings) ladies among other pictorial delights!

In such ways, better than the old days of blank white boxes for discussion lists and e-mails, we can reveal our characters to readers who may become friends, those we meet face-to-face, or those we can only wonder about. Some of the people I feel closest to in interests on these blogs lack on them their real names or faces. I show my face but not my name here for the same reason I suspect VS and Bo do: we teach and we don't want our students or administrators snooping; I also blocked my Facebook profile, which after all reveals my name by its nature, so nobody I do not approve as a Friend can find me. Still, as on this blog, it's not difficult to link to places betraying my non-virtual identity. It's simply amidst litigation and fears of retaliation, a bit of layering and shell-game shuffle may thinly cloak our selves as "good enough protection" against gossiping lurkers on this Net as in our "reality."

Still, after initial reticence, we can choose who to admit to our lair. I met Miss Templeton in person after getting to know her on the CBH-GB; I met Carrie after posting on IRL-discussion lists. Most bloggers, however, with whom I correspond by the comments boxes on their entries I've not met in person. I spoke to my technology and society class about how we now find those compatible with our own tastes in ideas, music, books, and temperaments in wonderful ways that make it far more likely that generations to come will dream up clever ways to meet and mingle beyond chance meetings at parties, classrooms, bus stops, bars, or bar mitzvahs-- probably accounting for the past century's ways in which we met and moved and perhaps mated.

Steven R. McEvoy's tech-aware "Book Reviews and More" shows his ability to master all the networks, in print and on-line, to organize his interests in Catholicism, literature, computers, and reviewing. His blog organizes a lot of information in an easy to use, yet in-depth manner. Tony Bailie at "Ecopunks" and "Bo" at "Cantos of Mvtablitie" and "Expvlsion of the Blatant Beast" betray by their references their literary bents, respectively to Tony's second novel awaiting publication and Bo's Spenserian interests. You find on their pages a correlative to their personalities, as I see among other bloggers I visit. Tony's page is straightforward like mine, a photo or book cover next to the entry he reviews or composes, but he lacks the art that trails down my right-hand blog margins. It's a direct, no-nonsense page that sums up what he says neatly.

Bo likes to vary his art. A talented icon painter himself, he shuffles his imagery. His own photo collages of tarot decks, his astrological scholarship pursued at Cambridge as a fellow, his wide-ranging erudition in pagan, alchemical, spiritual, and vatic lore all make his pages unpredictably stocked but invariably learned. I came across his site when searching for Celtic illustrations for my blog. And, through the comments on his posts, I found the blog by "Vilges Suola" as another kindred spirit. The remarks to Bo may be in Irish or Welsh as often as English, although the Greek (no transliteration!) that VS incorporates is relatively scarce; Sindarin and Latin, on the other hand, have marked entries by Bo, don-in-training!

For Professor Ben Howard at his "One Time, One Meeting: The Practice of Zen," it's the WordPress blog-creator type of template that's spare and uncluttered by imagery. It fits the mood of upstate New York where its creator's columns on zazen take form. I imagine snowy, sparse, and solemn if collegiate Alfred, NY; the blog matches this.

G. R. Grove writes Welsh stories for modern readers from Colorado, and at "Tre Gwernin" the seasons pass in her vegetable garden with photos; she too knows Cymraeg and I alerted her to Bo's page; she has excellent links to Welsh and early British material. Her page also uses a Blogger layout as do I, Miss T., Tony B., VS, and Bo, but you can see how each of us tweaks a different spin to it, an identifiable personality. As Carrie's helped me here, we show how even templates suggest style.

Still, blogging has turned less the scheme to instant fame that, say, YouTube managed to be for a few rehearsed freaks, or My Space before that for Tia Tequila! Political machines with staffs and budgets like Daily Kos and Huffington Post occupy another level; they thrive no less than Perez Hilton on celebrity, scandal, stereotype, and rumor. At least my sons claim to read Kanye West's blog regularly; they do wonder as do I who exactly writes it. But, active Facebook participants, they don't read my own blog!

On a medium nearly as venerable as epistolatory e-mail (in turn following early novels like "Clarissa"!) a blog's nuanced phrases contrast: so old-school, so spartan, so stacked and slow. Today's NYT article notes how few bloggers have found financial success; most tire of telling their own stories in such an silent forest to such rare readers.
Richard Jalichandra, chief executive of Technorati, said that at any given time there are 7 million to 10 million active blogs on the Internet, but “it’s probably between 50,000 and 100,000 blogs that are generating most of the page views.” He added, “There’s a joke within the blogging community that most blogs have an audience of one.”
I feel this isolation, but as a loner by choice in the real world, perhaps my low profile on line fits my identity. I doubt if Facebook, for all its caché at present (beware the fate of Friendster and the future for MySpace), can summon the gravitas of a blog. My posts get fed to FB, but for all my diligence, very few "Friends" have commented on them there; one high school classmate joined me here as a Follower and I thank him for his interest in what he confessed were rather high expectations of content. Yes, opposed to the quizzes and chatter of livelier social networks, blogs must look as musty as a library does to anybody younger than, say, me...or him!

But, I insist, given Bo's a whole generation younger than me, that a few such erudite, witty, and thoughtful writers will continue to gravitate towards a forum that uses the wonder of self-publishing with the wisdom of the self-composed. That is, as my wife's Friday posts on "CasaMurphy" reveal, the fruit of those who pause before they transmit their latest impulse by Twitter or Facebook to the world. We need, even in times of instant gratification, to learn from and listen to reflections better prepared in the moments of sought tranquility apart from the chattering classes that throng coffeehouses and blare away all around us in this increasingly wired, but also often abbreviated, dumbed-down, and shallow marketplace. Not the marketplace of ideas, nor icons, but the marketplace of idols. Figures I start this entry with today's paper and wind up with a reference to "Novum Organum" four centuries old.

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.


Layne said...

I wonder if the many blogs supplanted by My Space and then Facebook and now Twitter, would not have gone fallow anyway. I watch our kids and the students I try to tutor and it is impossible to sell in depth reading, writing or connection. It’s all quick and casual and ultra superficial. Sad. For those of us who still cherish ideas that are more than a single sentence and like to write them down and read about them, the publishing industry is not exactly flourishing, so the blog, which is to many of us oldsters the shock of the new frontier, is actually old school and is written and read by what seems a dying breed. Blogs are so five minutes ago.

vilges suola said...

Boy, and here's me thinking blogs were up to the minute... I'm not 100% sure what twitter is. The very name puts me off trying to find out more. I wonder about the suggestion that the young in general care less about language than their elders. Never before have so many linguistic klutzes had a platform to strut their lack of verbal dexterity, but there must have been such klutzes all along. The other week my niece (21) was staying with me. She edited her boyfriend's job application essay on my laptop and later I read her comments. She was spot on with her recommendations for every ammendment - it was a delight to read! Maybe those of us who prefer to read language that has been mulled and fussed over have always been the minority and always will be.

Thanks once again for the kind comments!