Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fading Blogs and Human Nature

Is there anything as desolate as the wind blowing the weeds in an empty fair ground?

“Baby saw the day the circus came to town, and she didn’t want parades just passing by her.” (Don’t Cry Out Loud, Milissa Manchester)

“New, exciting, and everybody’s getting in on it…” You can sell a lot of Florida swampland that way. When the circus bandwagon rolls through town people lose their common sense. For example: When cellular telephones first came in, you couldn’t advise people they were being silly to raise their voice so loudly in public. (But now, at long last, someone says you may give offenders the “cell phone glare”) I have stood in parking lots as gum chewers holding cell phones rolled by, headed for the roads. You couldn’t advise them that phoning and texting behind the wheel was stupid. Now you could, now there’s finally a law against it, but I remember well: You couldn’t say anything, nor hope to pass a law, when the technology first came in. Not when the loud-mouthed people somehow feel “entitled.”

“Baby saw the day they tore that big top down, and they left behind her dreams among the litter,
… There was nothing left but sawdust and some glitter.”

Now blogs are fading. For the longest time, as for any technology, you could add a buzz phrase of entitlement: “It’s the wave of the future.” Being a science fiction fan—of soaring print, not the silly screen—I am heir to a healthy “wait and see” attitude. As it happens, simply from being middle aged, I had seen this sort of thing before. That’s why, when blogs first came out, and people were eagerly posting what they had for breakfast, while others were eagerly encouraging such posts, and so many people were hyping blogs as being the wave of the future… I would remember the craze for citizen band (CB) radios.

“We’ve got a mighty convoy, trucking through the night
... We’re gonna roll this trucking convoy, across the USA” (Convoy, C.W. McCall)

For a while the CB airwaves were plumb full. It’s nice to be part of a mighty rolling bandwagon, but if you wish to engage your common sense gear then just ask: Would I still like this if it was not new? I applied this test in 2007 when all the automobile reviews were saying other people would go “wow” at your new Smart-for-two car. Today that car is not so wow, and my two-door-for-four, bought at the same time, for less money, is continuing to give good service—with more horsepower.

As for blogs, I suspect they are fading. I could do some research to find out, I suppose, but—forgive me, dear reader—I am just not motivated to do so. No, not when I am not, and never have never been, a blogger. I only do essays; I only mention my own life if it’s relevant to my post.

Recently someone came to my blog after clicking on an old comment of mine that was one of 37 comments for a post on the blog of an excellent site called Getting Unstuck by Riley Harrison. I was shocked to remember how “popular” that blog once was. Today, for comments, Riley gets zero, or one, or two, and those two are by Lori and I. Yet the blog hasn’t changed, it is still very high quality and I still highly recommend it: It is one of the very few I check every few days. I am reminded of humor expert Milton Berle writing that a comedy show or comic strip may fade in popularity not because it changes, but because the audience changes.

I remember clearly what the audience for blogs was once like. Many readers, to use a phrase from radio’s Doctor Laura (remember her?) had “the attention span of a flea in heat.” Statistics (stats) were everything—and bloggers had to post every day to keep their stats up: otherwise the fleas would surely desert them, fleas that would only skim, not read, as they kept skipping on to the next blog. Skip-skip-skip. Bloggers held conferences (maybe they still do) where the agenda always included talks on how to get more traffic. I’m sure the conferences were warm and fuzzy, but beneath it all, I think, was a certain frantic-ness.

I am reminded of how Benjamin Franklin was so amused. As he reported in his autobiography, people in Britain felt they needed a written introduction to get a job. Franklin found saw perfect strangers at the dockside writing introductions for each other. In my own life, I have felt more charitable than amused as I saw how bloggers would comment on each other’s blog site, returning the favor to each other. Truly, some folks felt they needed stats. Why? Partly for monetary reasons. A “successful” blog meant publicity for their home business or consulting firm. Other folks wanted to be paid to sell advertising on their site, if only it could be “popular enough.” I’m sure some people forgot about the “law of supply and demand” as they dreamed of getting rich for just sitting in a chair blogging. Some would adopt a “blogger lifestyle” of daily comments, research and posts, all in a hope of generating “enough” traffic.

Besides money, another reason for needing stats was all too human. Samuel Johnson, back in Franklin’s day, said that everyone feels a need to be stared at, and if you have a good reason then let people stare all they like. Some reasons are not so good: I suppose daring to post what you had for breakfast is no different from shyly announcing that an ancestor on your mother’s side was of European nobility. I won’t laugh; I try to be understanding.

We want to be noticed, we want to be heard. Hence the spectacle of people commenting on blogs they hadn’t comprehended, or had only skimmed, or hadn’t even read. Seriously. Some would say, “I haven’t read your post, but …” and would comment all the same. Remember how in elementary school we would be given a piece of prose and then tested on whether we had comprehended it? I hadn’t realized how bad the reading comprehension of other adults was until I started reading their comments on the web.

As I see it, before you comment, it’s best to apply the same principle used for speaking up in a staff meeting or classroom: Do I know how my contribution will help? If not, I’d better wait a couple seconds (To think it through) until I do know. Is my motivation solely, or mostly, to get attention? To gratify my ego? Unless it’s mostly to help others, I’d better stay silent. There will be plenty of other chances to speak.

As blogs fade I’ve noticed changes. Many of the sites I have bookmarked are no longer posting. The most serious change is a spoil-sport one, a change quite destructive of people’s fun, like a locust cloud descending on God’s country: In the last few weeks a major spam server has set up shop on our continent. This means my stats, for my US readers, have been rendered meaningless. Now, for all I know, I could be talking into an empty rain barrel. Suddenly all sorts of spam comments are being left… All sorts of “traffic” is being counted—from passing spam robots. My “sources” stat (to show who has looked in on my site) is now filled up by commercial websites, leaving no room for my friends… Truly, the petals have left the rose.

How fortunate for me that I am an essayist, not a blogger, as the circus, at first so exciting and romantic, has left town… …as a weed quivers in a cold wind...

Sean Crawford
Still posting, after all these years,
February 2013

UDATE, March 2014, I found an expert that confirms my suspicions.
~What do you think?
~Milton Berle said, “I live to laugh, and I laugh to live.”
~My sister doesn’t skim, I don’t skim, and I don’t think Yoda skims either: “Read or do not: There is no skim.”
~I thought about blog readers going too fast in my essay Surfing At Work, archived January 2011.
~A “present at the creation of the internet” perspective on Essays and Blogs is archived June 2012.

~Stats-wise, one of my most popular essays of all time is a piece where I am “a minority of one” explaining why I don’t believe in links—but maybe it’s only popular due to spam robots.—Arrgh—How can I know? See No Links is Good Links, archived July 2012. 

...UPDATE: My Macintosh tech expert at West World says that hits without spam comments are real hits. He also advised me, regarding spam, to inform the folks at google, (they host blogspot) and to install a "type number before you may comment"  feature. I have followed all his advice.

~Yes, I do know how to link to my essays, but I don’t feel any need to achieve stats from readers who lack a few seconds to go to my archives. The ones who “need” their links on a silver platter probably don’t read. (hop-hop-hop—like a frog)

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