What Is This Thing? What Is This Thing For?

The more I think about current and future projects for myself, the more I also think that anything we do, or anything worth teaching or learning requires us to answer two extremely basic questions about that subject:

  1. What is this thing?
  2. What is this thing for?

Almost too basic. But I think we often fail to set parameters around whatever subject matter we might be interested in, so our thoughts become muddled and disjointed. We are then led down several different paths, all of which don’t seem to amount to anything. We are then further led to a sense of overwhelm or despair because the topic at hand seems too difficult or unwieldy. To be sure, the topic at hand probably is unwieldy — we should be able to mitigate such a problem, however, if we spending time in thought about the given subject.

To wit, a personal example: blogging. Since attempting to build the writing-once-a-day habit, I’ve also thought extensively about the two questions above.

  1. What is a blog? What is blogging?
  2. What is a blog for? What should the purpose of a (or, perhaps better, my) blog be?

It’s kind of like teleological blogging. I don’t want to seriously engage in this activity if I can’t determine its purpose. Alan Jacobs has helped me significantly in this area. This morning, he published two posts (“new uses for old blogs”, and “the blog garden”) that, although written specifically about his personal publishing/writing situation, spoke to this area for me. He has continued along the trail of thought he laid out in his digital commons article; namely, making a distinction between maintaining a personal digital space as a type of architecture as opposed to the metaphor of gardening. The gardening metaphor is not only useful, but helpful in a time when most of us interact with a web that was created by others, rather than building it ourselves. He writes in “the blog garden”:

For some time now I’ve been thinking of writing a book about John Ruskin. And I still might. But I’ve been led to consider such a book by gradually gathering drawings and quotes by Ruskin on this blog (there are also a few Ruskin entries at Text Patterns). Suppose that, instead of architecturally writing that book, I simply contented cultivating my Ruskin garden? (See this post for the architecture/gardening distinction.) More images and more quotations, more reflection on those images and quotations. What might emerge?

In some ways this would be a return to what I did a few years ago with my Gospel of the Trees site, which arose because what I wanted to say about trees just couldn’t be made to fit into a book, in part because it refused to become a linear narrative or argument and in part because it was so image-dependent and book publishers don’t like the cost of that. But the advantage of a tag over a standalone site is that each post can have other tags as well, which lead down other paths of reflection and information, in a Zettelkasten sort of way.

That was a long quote, but I hope the point comes across. Jacobs, rather than wanting to shoehorn his writing about Ruskin into the form of a book (which takes an extended period of deep reflection and focus — neither of which are “bad”), is considering gathering material and reflecting upon that material in meaningful ways through a tagging system that has the potential to lead both the author and the audience down numerous rabbit trails. The connections that can be made in this kind of process (rather than a book, which is most often a single-path endeavor) are many and can sometimes be surprising.

So, what do I want blogging to be for me? Maybe not something so serious as what Jacobs is attempting. That’s a full-fledged project that I don’t have time for. What I’m hoping for, instead, is the ability to make connections I wouldn’t have made otherwise (through a tagging system), and to cultivate my understanding of different topics in a disciplined, meaningful way.

Micro-Blogging? Probably Not.

Apologies to the three of my blog followers that got a glimpse of a test post that I tried to do a couple of days ago when attempting to connect my personal blog with the micro.blog service being built by Manton Reece.

I was turned on to the whole “Micro-Blog” idea by Alan Jacobs, who migrated his social presence to his own website through http://social.ayjay.org. His reasons for this (along with many others on the Micro.Blog service) essentially amount to the following:

  1. Twitter has the tendency toward being a cesspool of vitriol and nonsense (I am inclined to agree, though I can’t bring myself to delete my dumb account there).
  2. Micro.Blog’s setup is built to allow users to own their own content. This is important in a time when a small amount of unfathomably large companies not only own what we write and say and produce, but also own the means of production.

There are a lot of cool things that Micro.Blog is doing. They do not allow anyone to see follower accounts, they are promising to never show ads (the entry cost is a minimum of $5 a month, unless you host your micro blog yourself), and the timeline is chronological (i.e., algorithms don’t control what everyone sees). All of this is highly appealing to me, especially after having deleted Facebook and reducing my Twitter presence significantly.

But here’s the problem I ran into when I started to try and set up my own Micro.Blog (and perhaps where I went wrong). I signed up for the service (you get a 10-day free trial), but I wanted to host everything here at cdbaca.org. Now, I’m sure there’s an easy way to do this, but I spent too much time a couple of days ago trying to figure out how to do this in such a way that my Micro.Blog posts didn’t populate in my regular blog feed. I copied and pasted code from other people into my own site files and tried to do all the right things in the admin section of my WordPress dashboard. I couldn’t get it to work.

I’m sure that I just missed some steps, and to be honest, I’m smart enough to figure them out. But after I spent that few hours with no success, I asked myself: Why am I doing this in the first place? What do I care about this new social community? Why do I even want to write short posts in the first place? And on another note, if it’s this difficult for someone like me to do this, what is the likelihood that non-tech people are going to find Micro.Blog appealing?

In all of that, I basically realized that I don’t actually care that much about having a Twitter (or Twitter-esque) presence. I’ll keep my Twitter account for now (although I’m only currently only logging in about once a day for a short amount of time). But the work that I really want to be doing is right here on the blog. I own the content, I control how it looks, and I’m keeping a more consistent writing habit than I have since I was a teenager. My writing will continue to post to a Facebook page that I don’t manage, and to my Twitter account that I rarely see, and I’ll happily manage my personal, digital space in a meaningful, cultivating way.

Two More Notes on Blogging

I’ll get off of this sort of meta-discourse on social media and blogging and better uses of the web eventually, but I came across another couple of posts worth mentioning that spurred some more thoughts for me. First, I came across this post via Manton Reece’s blog (the founder of Micro.Blog, a new social web service that is pretty intriguing to me). Brent Simmons writes:

But if you think of the years 1995-2005, you remember when the web wasour social network: blogs, comments on blogs, feed readers, and services such as Flickr, Technorati, and BlogBridge to glue things together. Those were great years — but then a few tragedies happened: Google Reader came out, and then, almost worse, it went away. Worse still was the rise of Twitter and Facebook, when we decided it would be okay to give up ownership and let just a couple companies own our communication.

I remember this distinctly — in fact, this was how I grew up in the web. My friends and I all started blogs, and it wasn’t just a method of internet-journaling. It was more than that. It helped us to form early social networks, but networks that we controlled.

Then, after following the trail of breadcrumbs a little more, I found this post by Om Malik, where he writes:

What people don’t realize about blogs is that they are never a complete story. They are incomplete and by nature more mysterious, more episodic, and thus more interesting. Blogs are meant not to leave you with everything. The whole idea is to think to deliberate, and to come back again and again, to finish what was started a long time ago. But there is no end, just a pause, for a voice to start, talking again.

Which made me think two things:

  1. It reminded me of my previous post about making connections — the art of the blog is almost never to give a complete picture, especially to readers. Instead, the blog’s job is to help me to make connections. I’ll be able to look back one day and see things that I didn’t see before.
  2. I wonder — is it possible that blogs will make a comeback in the same way that podcasts did a few years ago? Podcasts were around long before the boom of podcasting happened in… what, 2013? Everyone thought podcasting was essentially dead, or at least had outlived its novelty. The “blog” was pronounced dead not that long ago, but if Manton Reece and others like him can help us build stronger support systems to make the web itself more social, outside of the walled gardens of social media, then we might just witness a comeback in the next few years.

(Side note: I’ve noticed that since I’ve been focusing more on my personal digital space [i.e., the blog here], I’m not all that interested in Twitter anymore, which is the last vestige of any “owned” social media that I still participate in.)

Blogging Was a Thing

Do you remember when blogging was a thing? It wasn’t even that long ago. It was only 2011 or 2012 that I paid a lot of attention to what could be categorized as the “Christian Blogosphere.” I had my own blog that I posted on regularly, linked to other blogs, and had a large RSS feed where I watched all of this content come in every day.

And then, all of a sudden, it just wasn’t a thing anymore.

I don’t know why that is. I know Twitter became much more popular than it was previously, and video content soared for news sites. Another big shift in the last few years has been the resurrection of podcasts. This one in particular is interesting to me — that podcasts somehow made a comeback. It’s such a slow form of information intake. It makes me wonder if blogging will have its own sort of comeback. Perhaps not in the same way that it existed previously. I just know that Twitter, even with 280 characters, is incapable of allowing us to expand and extend our thoughts, mulling over the words, savoring a single line of thinking for a few minutes.

Or I could just be stuck in my own head and in my own world. It’s very possible that I have only “noticed” these changes because I’m the one who has changed — that blogging and podcasting and Twitter are as popular as they ever were, and my arrogance leads me to believe that because the way I interacted with them changed, so did everyone else.