Tuesday, December 20, 2011
I launched this blog two years ago today, so today seems as good a day as any to get it going again after a long hiatus. I have been blogging on and off since 2006, and from the beginning I have struggled with the question: "Why blog?"
At some level I am not a fan of blogs, in the same way that I am not a fan of the Internet in general. Of course, I use the Internet all the time, but only because, as with so many other aspects of modern existence, to do without would mean to live a much harder life. I drive a car for similar reasons. But if I lived, say, in Paris, where one can easily live without a car, I would gladly do so.
The same goes for the Internet. The 21st century makes life extremely difficult--and socially marginalizing--for people who would choose to forego the Internet, electronic gadgets, social media, and the like. If I were offered the chance to live in a world resembling, say, the 1970s, when the World Wide Web did not exist and nobody but a few nerds owned a personal computer, I might be tempted to give up the Information Age and its dubious merits. (Well, I actually did live in the 1970s, long ago, but there's no going back at this point.)
As a lifelong writer and reader, I have found that the Internet has made reading seem curiously flat. Perhaps it is, in part, because everything comes to you through the same screen, filtered through the same cold, sterile window, unlike the warm sensuality of books. Some dismiss such bibliophilia as "nostalgic" or "aesthetic", but to me this only shows their pitiful failure to value nostalgia and aesthetics, both of which are deeply significant, rather than superfluous, to human life.
Those are topics that would need to be explored more in depth in later posts--which indicates part of my problem with online reading in general and blogs in particular. That is, the small space (reflecting our stunted attention spans) allowed by blogging does not give adequate room to the full wanderings of thought that are allowed by the printed word. Blogging is fine for certain types of writing... journalism or reportage, for instance, which is essentially what the word "[We]blog" means... but it is antithetical to the type of unhurried, deeply focused thought to which books are eminently hospitable.
It is not just the short space provided by the blog medium, but the immediacy of blog publishing that is part of the problem. To publish now... that is the imperative of blogging. Again, this may be perfect for journalism, but hardly conducive to the extended reflection, careful crafting, and private evolution that great literature has always required. A blog is like exposing one's notes, one's random jottings and tentative thoughts, to the whole world. This may be just fine and dandy for some people... apparently for many in our exhibitionist, social media-obsessed society... but not the most comfortable zone for a traditional writer who guards his slowly-evolving work until it is ready for the light of day, fully thought out and refined into a work that is meant to be permanent and settled, with the notes only exposed much later, often posthumously.
So I have struggled with understanding what my particular purpose in blogging is, or ought to be. By nature I am not a journalist, interested primarily in chronicling and/or commenting on the specifics of day-to-day events, whether they be in the global, national, local, or personal sphere. I am instead of a more philosophical and poetic bent, which means that I focus on the big picture, reflecting on the universals and generalities of life and the world, rather than obsessing over the particulars and details of What's Happening Now. And this type of deeply reflective thinking and writing makes an awkward fit for the medium of blogging, or indeed for the Internet in general. It is a style that is much more at home in books.
Some say that extended prose (to say nothing of poetry) is going the way of the dodo, a victim of our hyperactive, information-saturated, attention-deficient times. If that is true, then real culture, too, is endangered, for culture requires leisure, which involves the ability to be still and silent and to have space for reflection and deeper, fuller kinds of perception and experience. The blog, and electronic communications in general, may have their place in our current intellectual ecology, as we speak in brief snatches to hurried passersby--but hopefully, for the sake of culture, these energetic new colonizers will not crowd out and destroy the older, more slow-moving species.