It is a truth universally acknowledged that a bored man in possession of a vague idea must be in want of an audience.
I beg to differ. Sort of.
Alright, so I made that up, slandered a perfectly good literary quote if you must know, but spend any time on the internet these days and you'd come to a very similar conclusion. There is this group of people who are attention-seeking anomalies of nature, particularly online. We post comments, upload videos, share photos, tweet statuses, write blogs, or log the minutiae of our lives in a hundred other little digital ways.
We're bored. We have this vague notion that perhaps we have something to say, an opinion worth sharing, or a concept to pitch, sell, or boost towards that ineffable idea of viral meme-dom. Thus, we must want an audience. Right? And why exactly do we want it so badly?
This whole theme of “why the hell do I bother writing this blog anyways?” pops up on various occasions. Usually it's in the winter when I seem to do less, have more time to write and think, but less worth writing about. Often it's around my birthday when, despite my best efforts, I tend toward the melancholic pragmatism that peppers my otherwise quasi-interesting life. And always it happens when the spotlight, metaphoric or literal, randomly drifts in my direction and illuminates my work in a way it's never been illuminated before. November has been a bit of a collision of those three… so, yeah. Figure it out.
This is not some kind of good-bye post, in other words, it's just a mood I'm in. And I have the whole of this snowy Friday off, I'm sitting in a chilly cafe with a warm cup of coffee, with the singular mission of writing something, anything, to feel slightly productive (because, y'know I could be binge watching on Netflix in my pajamas, but then I'd just feel guilty.) Instead, I sat here for thirty minutes, staring at the blank screen of the iPad with the little Bluetooth keyboard taunting me from nearby, and… nothing. Nothing, but knowing I NEEDED to write something.
And why is that? Well, in a word: confluence. A meeting of a thousand distractions with a multi-layered purpose.
I may know you. We may see each other in real life occasionally, frequently. You may be a friend I see once a week or once a year. Or you may be someone who I've only met in passing. Well… that's how I used to define my readers. After all, who would want to read the random drivel of some random guy from the middle of random, random, random, random… eh?
I’ve never really written this blog for anyone but myself.
That's changed. I mean, despite what you might think about this blog, the secret seething hate you might hold for the 'damn the arrogance of that jerk' author, the 'why doesn't he just shut up' guy who's always writing and filling the pages of this blog with his vague ideas… y'know… I've never really written this blog for anyone but myself.
I know, I know. People who read this page frequently and thoroughly will probably object to that claim. After all, yeah I admit it, some of my posts are very much “hey! read this! over here! look at me!” type posts. It's true. There have been many, many times — and after nearly twenty-three hundred posts and nine-hundred thousand words, even a single digit percentage of my stuff is measurably and quantitatively bigger than some people's entire online presence — that I've fished for readers. But I contend and I defend the notion that the bulk, majority, and general philosophy of what and why I write is purely, completely, mindlessly selfish life-logging that has only two people in the audience: me and (assuming she's interested some day) my daughter.
Actually, if I'm being completely honest here, most of the time I put my head down, type away, and quietly pretend that no one is reading his crap… else risk the paralysis of whatever the literary equivalent of stage fright might be. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.
And then suddenly there it is: a snowy day in November, feeling slightly nostalgic for another year gone by as my life drifts into my late-thirties, and having checked my readership stats and noted that every word I type is being read by a couple hundred people, that my photos are being seen by thousands of eyes, and — oh — did I mention that about twenty times as many people read about how we carved our Halloween pumpkin last month and looked at the photos of our quiet family afternoon carving than people who actually, physically, with their own eyes, saw the pumpkin itself. Twenty times as many.
I'm picturing all of you in your underwear right now. It's not helping.
Me fail social media?
Does this make me a bad blogger? Am I doing it wrong? Me fail social media? Bwarg! GwaH!
No. I think what it means is this: we've reached a critical mass online. Stick with me here. See. There have always been people who have produced and there have been people who have consumed. A couple decades ago we built this network with the idea that at any given time there would be this equivalency of contribution. You could be both. You could be either. You could write. Post. Share. I could read. Watch. Enjoy. Or vice versa. Whatever. Cool.
The idealist in me sees a medium that offers damn-near-unlimited potential to anyone willing to grab that potential and use it. The realist in me sees that this is a tough thing to do.
Yet here we are. Lots of friends and acquaintances have stopped updating their blogs or shut them off completely. They've stopped contributing publicly. Instead, they share in private ways. In a very generic sense, social media has connected us into tight little networks that are less amenable to overlap. We bundle ourselves into silos of ideas and opinion that echo and bolster what we say, and this doesn't create more voices. Rather, it frightens the timid, and censors those who's opinion varies. In the grandest sense of it we see an amplification of partisan politics and the collapse of compromise, and in the microcosm of every day people we see an increase in bullying and forceful rebuttals of ideological ideas that send one-time contributors into the corners where they stop writing, stop adding their voice, stop commenting, stop sharing… well, except where it's safe. Privately.
They shut down.
That critical mass? There have always been more consumers of content than producers of the same, but we've tipped some kind of metaphorical scale, I think, and… well… a lot more people seemed to have moved over to the consumer side. Folks tried. They met resistance to the apparent freedom of opinion. They shut down.
Then, here's me. Stupid perhaps. Blissfully naive, maybe? One of the few guys still standing up in a near-silent room jabbering about his life openly, out-loud, as a million invisible, private — and relatively safe — conversations happen out of sight, me in a seeming desert of independent public content… while picturing you all in your underwear. And… still not helping.
So… why the hell do I bother writing this blog anyways? Am I just some attention-seeking ass who can only validate his existence by peppering this random website from some random corner of the planet with some vague and random ideas? Or am I an idealist? Here's me quietly holding some digital ground in a world where yet again the empires of ideas are sweeping in and homogenizing the content, brought to you by so-and-so who is paying for this-and-that and no, don't you dare say something bad about our product or we'll pull your advertising. Maybe it's that I'm not looking for an audience, in other words, but that I'm fraternizing with a philosophical idealism about information freedom…? No: both are bullshit.
Because I think I should.
I write this blog because I can. Because too, maybe, I think I should. Because it's the right thing to do, to take advantage of a technology and an ability and a right so few in the vastness of history and geography have been able to do. And I feel that right, that ability, the space in the infinite domain of the net but the limited mind-share of that audience I claim that I don't really care about, shrinking, retracting, hiding, diminishing, dwindling, giving up… somehow.
So I write. More. Blissfully uninspired words. Utterly average ideas. Complete and total lack of Hollywood-esque plots or contortions of actions. Boring. It's mundane and… yeah, it's drivel… and yeah, it's just my life. And it is none of precisely, absolutely nor actively seeking — open to, but not looking for — that audience.Yet they come. A dozen here. A couple hundred over there. All reading this vagueness that me and mine. Do I lure them in? Do I trick them into reading? No. Whether you believe my indifference or stage fright or apathy to the whole exercise… or not… they just come.
Why? I assume because all this is genuine. It's real. (I think so, at least.)
Which, depending on who you ask of course, makes it simultaneously both incredibly worthless and inexplicably priceless. That, in my ever-blogging opinion, is a vague enough reason to want nothing more than to just keep writing it.