Monday, April 21, 2008

Blogging and Our Vicarious Culture

Blogging is a state of mind. When you're in it, everything gives you ideas for posts; when you're not, all your best thoughts seem worthless. Some days and weeks you find ideas everywhere and rattle off posts with ease, everything you watch, do or read seems important and you have no trouble putting your thoughts into words. You might even start to worry that you are posting too much, that perhaps you should save some of these ideas for a slower time, so that people don’t expect more frequent updates than you can maintain. You check your sitemeter twenty times a day.

But other days and weeks (hopefully not months!) you can’t find anything profound to say at all; you worry about every post – whether you’ve talked about this topic too much, whether your writing is any good, or whether you’ve linked that blog too often. You think you don’t have time to post, then spend four hours watching reruns on cable. But you still check your sitemeter twenty times a day…

I tend to go back and forth between these extremes, but it seems like no matter which side of the line I’m on, I keep running into the same problem: I start to see everything for its “blogworthiness.” I read a book or an article, and I don’t think, “what here is important to me?” but “what here could I blog about?” I find myself watching TV shows, not because I enjoy them, but looking for something worth posting about. Suddenly it doesn’t matter whether I enjoyed a show – whether it had a good twist at the end or revealed something intriguing about a character’s past – if nothing worth posting stood out, I feel cheated.

I’ve noticed that this isn’t just true of blogging. If my daughter does something cute or memorable and I fail to catch it on camera, it almost feels like a waste. And when I do catch something impressive or funny, my first thought is not gratefulness that I preserved the memory of it, but a wild dream of winning ten thousand dollars on America’s Funniest Home Videos, or becoming the most popular video on YouTube. I’ve never submitted anything to either one of those, but the thought always crosses my mind. I don’t know if I'm alone in this, but I seem to be very easily tempted by our culture’s focus on popularity. The value of a thing, it often seems, is judged primarily by how popular it is. Mundane events gain their value purely from what other people might think of them.

It’s a strange kind of vicarious existence, looking at one’s life for its “blogworthiness,” but it’s a trap I fall into rather often. Which, I think, is the main reason I shift in and out of the blogging state of mind. After a while, I just want to watch a show for the pure joy of it, or read a book without worrying whether anyone else wants to hear about it.


Richard said...

You're not alone it is very much the blogger's curse.

Of course you've demonstrated a useful get out of jail free card for times when blogging is light: blog about blogging!

Great post.

Ken Brown said...

Caught red handed! ;)

Alex Fear said...

I have nothing to add other than... I know the feeling.

On second thoughts, another problem I've always had is posting a long and/or excellent comment on someone elses blog and wishing I had done a post on my own blog instead!

I do that often.

Ken Brown said...

Ooh, I hate it when I do that! Sometimes I'll double-dip and recycle the comment as a post, but I'm always afraid that's a bit tacky...

Even worse is when I post on a subject and then two hours later think of an excellent point I should have made!

Carmen Andres said...

andrew jones has a great little post on blogging as a spiritual discipline i've always loved. when i get like your post (which i feel like i could have written almost verbatium, how scary is that?!), i try to remind myself of it. or i just force myself to skip a day, heh. or two. (which sometimes isn't too hard as there are schedule/family stuff that make that much more unavoidable).

mattghg said...

Very insightful, Ken; I totally know what you're talking about. I wonder, though, if this is not so much a blogging thing, specifically, as a writing thing in general? I wouldn't be at all surprised if journalists weren't constantly thinking of newsworthy items, or poets and songwriters of poetical observations - and of course, I mean amateur just as much as professional.

Sometimes I'll double-dip and recycle the comment as a post, but I'm always afraid that's a bit tacky.

I don't think it's tacky, but then I guess this depends on what kind of ship you run. Some blogs don't allow comments, whereas on others the best thing about them is the discussions you get; some bloggers are fastidious about dating posts, while others re-date and update like crazy; some people don't like posting solely to link to other sites, while some do little else (as I have been lately). That blogs have different personal styles is interesting.

I agree about the vicarious culture, of which I am also a victim. And in my case, it seems that the harder I think about blogworthiness, the less likely I am to come up with something worth writing about. I think this is a special case of what C.S. Lewis called a "universal law":

"every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a toal good, involves the loss of the small of parital good for which the sacrifice was made" ('First and Second Things', First and Second Things (Glasgow: Fount, 1985), 22)

Now, I have to decide whether to re-produce this comment on Raskolnikov...

Ken Brown said...

Thanks for the link, Carmen; I think that is a helpful balancing perspective!

Matt, I think that's a great point about this phenomenon applying to more than just blogging. Now that I think about it, the problem may lie in the expectation of near constant inspiration. Human nature is cyclical; we all go through periods of greater and lesser productivity, creativity, busyness, etc. We can't really help that no matter how much we would like to, but certain things like blogging force us to try. I guess it shouldn't surprise us if we can't always succeed. I imagine you are right that the same is true of those, for instance, with a daily newspaper column or comic strip, even pastors trying to prepare a sermon week after week after week.

I guess that's why I like quoting people so often, even when I don't have anything substantive to add to their comments. It reminds me that even if I can't find something profound to say all the time, that's ok because I'm not the only one speaking, nor should I be.

I also like that quote from Lewis; I had not heard it before but it is quite true. I find that if I sit down to watch a movie or read a book looking for something to blog about it, I almost always fail to find anything. The best posts always arise spontaneously, unlooked for. I sometimes think of John 3:8 "the wind [or spirit] blows wherever it pleases," and want to add: if you work too hard to direct it, you'll just deaden it.

Oh, and you are definitely welcome to repost any comment you leave on my blog. :)

Super Churchlady said...

"I keep running into the same problem: I start to see everything for its 'blogworthiness.'"

Bizzare! I just went on a "blog fast" for the very reasons you mention. It's as if you were reading my mind. I decided I needed to step away for a few days and just experience everything for itself. (Frankly, it didn't work. I was still dreaming about how I would present things in writing.)

Ken Brown said...

LOL, well it's good to know I'm not alone in this! :)

If you find a solution, let me know!