Friday, 13 October 2017

Why I (Still) Blog

Ten years ago today I sat down in my room in the halls at Queen Mary, University of London, where I was then doing my master's, and wrote the first post on this blog. There were a lot of things that inspired me to start blogging, but the biggest of them was Andrew Sullivan's old blog.

Sullivan, considered by many to be one of the grandfathers of the blogosphere, made his final post back in 2015, after 15 years of steady posting, day-in, day-out. I'd been a follower since a very good friend of mine first recommended his stream of often-wrong always-interesting commentary to me. The proudest moments that this little blog has had is the moments when I was quoted over at his place, which was happily more than once. Whilst Sullivan's writings could sometimes be mawkish and over-sharing, they were normally well-informed, honest, and even-handed, a style I have done my best to emulate in my own fashion.

At the same time, the demise of The Dish, perhaps the biggest single-author-centred blog out there, and the failure of any other blogger to take its place, has caused me to reconsider whether there might be any truth in the claims that blogging (and particularly China blogging) is "dead" or at least "slowly asphyxiating". It's certainly true that the commenting and posting on many China blogs is much less lively than it used to be, but there's still plenty of blogs going strong. Whilst the idea that many people seemed to have in the early years of the last decade of building careers in writing through their blogs mostly seems to have come to nothing, blogging as a past-time and means of communication seems to still be in a reasonably healthy condition. Indeed, during my occasional spates of regular posting in recent years this blog received more visits than at any time in the "golden years" of blogging, including the times when it received links from high-traffic sites like Andrew Sullivan's.

Blogging as a way of making a living, though, despite Andrew Sullivan's regular protests that his blog made a healthy profit, seems to have never come to be. It is very clear that, had Sullivan ever made enough money from his blog to hire more staff, he and his co-editors would not have suffered the stress-induced-burnout that eventually brought an end to his career. This, however is not a problem restricted to blogging in particular but one which afflicts the creative industry as a whole - just how do you make a living doing something when so many people are doing it for free?

The assertion that Twitter and Facebook are better conduits for communication than blogging is often made. This is true to the extent that Twitter is a great aggregator of links and bon mots and I am a compulsive user of it. Facebook is a very immediate and personal means of communication with friends and family and useful as such. But there is nothing that matches the immediacy of blogging.

When, for example, Paul Campos, a law professor in Colorado, wanted to publicise the scandal of US law students going into substantial debt in the expectation of high-paying jobs that the vast majority of them never received he simply set up a blog directed to doing so. The effect his blog had was undeniable. No Twitter account or Facebook page could have had the same effect, because neither allows an audience of people who are otherwise strangers to be assembled so quickly over a single topic.

And so I still blog, not simply to speak to people I know or who already agree with me (and may even be curated via an algorithm) but to the world in general.


Gilman Grundy said...

PS - Because these posts often draw a particularly tiresome troll, I've switched on moderation.

Ji Xiang said...

I cannot understand how anyone might think that Facebook and Twitter have "replaced" blogging. It's a totally different environment and form of communication.

Among other things, I feel that if I write an entry in my blog it is far more "permanent". If I write a comment or a status update on Facebook, the chances of anyone coming across it years later are around zero. But people still come across blog posts I wrote in 2011 through Google. As long as I don't delete them, I feel like my blog posts are almost a part of humanity's collective body of literature. Slightly grandiloquent I know, but for a moderately popular blog which perfect strangers chance across and read, probably reasonable.

justrecently said...

Blogs were at times overrated - I remember getting links from a WSJ China blog in the past, and from the SCMP. There's a book, too, somewhere out there that used a translation of mine of a Double-Ten speech by Tsai Ing-wen, while she was first running for president.

And sometimes, I'm wondering, why I'm still blogging - but it's for the fun of it, and because I'm reading and listening to lots of Far-East related stuff anyway.

I think that as a rule, there's no way that you can be creative and live of that - Michael Jackson and Friedrich Schiller tried - look where it got them. And Goethe, who reached a really good old age, spent much of his working life as a statesman (and hardly wrote a single line of poetry while on duty.

Gilman Grundy said...

@Ji Xiang - Agreed. Stuff on Twitter or other platforms disappears down the memory hole too quickly. The flip-side to this, of course, is that Blogs remind us of what we've already said so it is rather clearer when we are just saying the same thing over and over again than it is on Twitter!

@Justrecently - Well, blogs certainly didn't live up to their original hype, but I never find myself wondering why I blog. I simply think of something worth writing about, and write about it. I think it must be harder for you as you keep up a regular schedule of posts - indeed I quite admire people who do this.