I hope you're well.
So, I've had this piece by Venkatesh Rao on blogging (and why it's not being used properly) in my "Read later" list for some time and always intended to comment. With the benefit of time and space, and a fresh lens, my thoughts have developed.
So, how are blogs not being used correctly? In his opinion it's the introduction of names: names for blogs that artificially created themes, names that sought attention and, eventually, the dreaded Google juice.
And then there's post headlines and titles.
He argues that a blog (web-log) has never been used in a "log-like way" saying that a log "is not a diary, scrapbook or journal". To him a log is:
"something closer to meeting minutes, or even a sort of narrative clock, a be-ing in time"
I think he's misguided as it is widely acknowledged that blogging grew from journalling and he is merely playing with semantics.
I agree, to a point, on the matter of titles and headlines - I've written myself that not everything needs one; most of my own posts don't. There is an area between status update and essay within which a lot of what is written should probably reside but "blogging" (or, rather, those that developed common platforms) decided everything had to have a title.
I feel, however, that he's too far immersed in his own idea to see the hypocrisy in what he is doing.
He states that things with no titles "exist only with reference to themselves, within a sort of boundary of solipsistic reflexivity" - redundant phrasing aside, that doesn't have to be the case.
A narrative is not a still point in time, it is comprised of multiple points, ongoing and referential, building on what came before and fueling what comes after. I would argue that a narrative clock, therefore, tracks our story over time rather than just record individual timestamps along the way.
The notion that something "only exists to the extent it knows itself to exist" is completely counter to the concept of publishing publicly online. In lieu of a title a post has a URL, an identifier of sorts, a means by which it might be referenced.
The immediate and obvious irony is not lost when he states naming something "is to situate it in a larger context outside of itself" yet he chooses to create "blog entries in a blogchain without a declared theme or proper headlines." The blogchain itself is called Captain’s Log. Not only does each item have a themed, if unrelated, title in order to conform to the platform's artificial requirements but each supposedly isolated, separate item is navigable by links within that blogchain.
I agree with his premise of adding additional modes of blogging - it's why I enjoy the daily, top-down approach employed on my blog. Indeed I believe that the term and action have grown and developed over time. I wish it would go further. I just don't agree with his framing.
Where am I going with this if it's not just to rag on Rao? Well, in part it comes back to the question "what is a blog?" or, more specifically, "what is a blog to me?"
Is it a public notebook, a journal, a receptacle for random thoughts, a meta-log of writing about writing and the platform on which it occurs? Or is it E) All of the above?
I'm going for E.
What I've recently been trying to understand, however, is how this repository for individual timestamped entries becomes something greater, more than the sum of its parts, and how I rationalise some sense of cohesion from it considering how it (and what it contains) has morphed over the years.
When suggesting that I worry the blog is a graveyard for my notes Bix Frankonis asked "What's he building in there?" and that he automatically assumes as such to prevent a " spiral of fretting over whether or not I’m making something of use."
But that's the thing, I want to make something of use - at least to me. I want to connect the dots and erect scaffolding around and connections between the entries. I want it to be a true narrative clock that weaves multiple threads and tells their tales.
I feel that I will have to change my habits and behaviours for this to happen - no easy task considering how long I've been doing this.
To answer Bix, I want to build a body of work for which I can be truly proud of its content rather than just the technical shenanigans of its platform. I don't want to be dismissive of what I write but feel I need to develop it in some way to avoid that.
Maybe that's where these muse-letters come into play.
Since the last letter I finished Silence by Thich Nhat Hanh, the widely respected Buddhist monk and teacher.
The thing I like about his writing is that he is firmly grounded in the here and now being fully cognisant of the things that plague us in modern life (mass media, the internet, smartphones, etc.) - his advice is based in reality unlike some who seem anchored in a utopian dream world.
He uses repeated, gentle reminders - a drip, drip approach - to reinforce his message which helps you internalise it. Reading similar passages throughout the book makes you feel like you already know what he is telling you so it's more affirmation than education.
Ultimately, silence is an internal thing not external, although the two can interplay with and reinforce each other. Physical solitude is not required but a degree of alone time helps to set and reset the mind.
I've now started The Gift by Lewis Hyde but am not far enough in to provide any insights.
And that's it...
As always, thanks for reading and allowing me to invade your Inbox - it is a privilege that is not lost on me.
I feel that these letters might be an ideal vehicle for a more connected approach with the blog itself remaining more a notebook or scratch pad so we'll see how things shape up over the next few editions.