May 27, 2004

The Times tsks about blogging.

The NYT is running an article about people who blog obsessively, so I'm going to blog it obsessively.

First, there's an anecdote about a woman who went on a vacation with her husband, and he got up and went in the bathroom, where he stayed for a long time. Turns out, he was blogging! Okay… and? What if he was reading? The guy was nice enough to try not to disturb her. Why is it a problem? Well, because:

For some, [blogging] becomes an obsession. Such bloggers often feel compelled to write several times daily and feel anxious if they don't keep up. As they spend more time hunkered over their computers, they neglect family, friends and jobs. They blog at home, at work and on the road. They blog openly or sometimes, like Mr. Wiggins, quietly so as not to call attention to their habit.

"It seems as if his laptop is glued to his legs 24/7," Ms. Matthews said of her husband.

So, secretive blogging: it's like drinking on the sly. If you're hiding how much you do it, then you must have a problem. Except, if you're blogging, the whole point is to expose all your writing to everyone, so how can you really ever be doing it on the sly? Is this Wiggins-Matthews couple worth our attention? He wants to do something he likes and she wants more attention. Isn't that the old marital story? What's the difference between them and some couple where the husband watches sports too much? Couples will forever be mismatched in their preferences for solo versus joint activities. That's not really getting to the core of anything significant about blogging.

Next up for the Times is the fact that bloggers may not have much of an audience:
A few blogs have thousands of readers, but never have so many people written so much to be read by so few.

Wait a minute: what about all the centuries of letter writers, when many, many people would write pages and pages to be read by only one person?
[I]f a blog is likened to a conversation between a writer and readers, bloggers like Mr. Wiggins are having conversations largely with themselves.

The suggestion is that blogging is masturbatory ... which explains why Wiggins locks himself in the bathroom.
Mr. Wiggins …does not know how many readers he has; he suspects it's not many. But that does not seem to bother him.

Enough with this Wiggins character! We're told he blogs about technology issues, yet he doesn't know how to install a Sitemeter?

The next problem is that a blogger might have too much of an audience:
Perhaps a chronically small audience is a blessing. For it seems that the more popular a blog becomes, the more some bloggers feel the need to post.

Tony Pierce started his blog three years ago while in search of a distraction after breaking up with a girlfriend. "In three years, I don't think I've missed a day," he said. Now Mr. Pierce's blog … averages 1,000 visitors a day.

But too big of an audience doesn’t really seem to be Pierce's problem (assuming he's got a problem):
Mr. Pierce … said blogging began to feel like an addiction when he noticed that he would rather be with his computer than with his girlfriend - for technical reasons.

"She's got an iMac, and I don't like her computer," Mr. Pierce said. When he is at his girlfriend's house, he feels "antsy." "We have little fights because I want to go home and write my thing," he said.

Everything is an "addiction" now. (I'm cutting many of the repetitive statements in the article on the theme of blogging as addiction.) This guy can't get a laptop? Or is he just one of those people who take every opportunity to say they don't like Macs?

Okay, we've got our anecdote guys out of the way. Time to talk to an expert:
Joseph Lorenzo Hall, 26, a graduate student at the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California at Berkeley who has studied bloggers, said that for some people blogging has supplanted e-mail as a way to procrastinate at work.

People like Mr. Pierce, who devote much of their free time to the care and feeding of their own blogs and posting to other blogs, do so largely because it makes them feel productive even if it is not a paying job.

Like people who cook, garden, and pursue other hobbies?

Finally, a voice of reason is brought in:
Jeff Jarvis, president of, a company that builds Web sites for newspapers and magazines, and a blogging enthusiast, defended what he called one's "obligation to the blog."

"The addictive part is not so much extreme narcissism," Mr. Jarvis said. "It's that you're involved in a conversation. You have a connection to people through the blog."…

Mr. Jarvis characterizes the blogging way of life as a routine rather than an obsession. "It's a habit," he said. "What you're really doing is telling people about something that they might find interesting. When that becomes part of your life, when you start thinking in blog, it becomes part of you."

"Thinking in blog"—that's a good phrase.

I've talked about blogging a lot with other bloggers, and it seems that if you enjoy doing it you also feel pulled into the activity and have trouble tearing yourself away. But don't we want to have avocations like that? Isn't that what it's like to love doing something? In fact, I'd rather have an obsession than a "routine" (Jarvis's word). Bloggers are actively reading and engaging with what they read. Writing is a way to think and understand. Blogging lets just you share those thoughts with anyone who decides to show up. … and become fascinated by how many people show up and who links to you and where you rank on various charts and all sorts of other things that the Times would be tsking about if it noticed.

UPDATE: Nina agrees.


Rodney Olsen said...

And to the person who wrote the NYT article ... what do they do with their time? Write stuff for other people to read. Sure, they get paid for it, but you'd hope they enjoy it.

So why can't they make the leap to believe that other people like to write stuff for other people to read as a hobby.

Yes, some people probably blog too much, but the first thing you notice with interesting blogs is that the people who write them have interesting lives. Without reasonable subject matter, there is no blog.

Ann Althouse said...

Yes, they seem desperate to establish that blogging is illegitimate. The biggest point seems to be that it isn't done for money. But how many novels are written with little or no prospect of net gain, and how many diaries and journals ... and academic articles? They might try to portray bloggers as losers--chiefly guys with relationship problems--but in all areas of writing, you'll find people with various deficiencies. It always amazes me how people object to other people who are energetic about doing something they love to do. Why is that bad? As if it would be better to be plugging away out of duty or need.

Anonymous said...

It seems natural that mainstream media people would pooh pooh blogging. It's kind of like the anxiety a tax attorney feels when there is mention of eliminating the internal revenue code. Blogging is an obvious threat to commerical news. Blogging is really only the modern version of the community gathering where information including fact, rumor, and opinion is exchanged.

The real power of blogging has been the alternative source of news and opinion. If anyone hasn't done so, I suggest you take the time to read the Iraq blogs, many of them written by Iraqis in Iraq. There are quite a few of them and they offer a radically different picture of Iraq. For example, one blogger I read out of Karbala was already stating the demise of Sadr a month ago based on his (or her) observations and feeling about public opinion in his neighborhood. Apparently people were upset that Sadr's men were "quartering" themselves in peoples houses - not a good sign...but, you heard nothing about this in the news until recently.

Many will claim that the majority of blogs are conservative. Perhaps. This probably reflects the lack of other sources of conservative news and opinon as most mainstream news outlets are liberal. Also conservatives are more well known for their little debate societies and groups. Maybe blogging is an extension of these activities.