I Can’t Keep Up: a Blogging Manifesto
“I am the Lorax. I speak for the blogs. I speak for the blogs, for the blogs have no thumbs. And I’m asking you, readers, at the top of my lungs” — she was very upset as she typed, red-faced and bitter — “Please don’t give up writing your blogs for Twitter!”
–to paraphrase the late, great Dr. Suess
The comments on the ghost blog post made me think deeply about this. And I want to start out by admitting that this may be a difficult post for you to read. It may make you squirm. I hope that you will read to the bottom instead of quitting in the middle. Hopefully when you get to the end, you will agree that it isn’t anti-Twitter. Rather, it’s pro-blogging.
I’ve made a decision that for the time being, I’m not signing up for any other social media site. I have a Twitter account and a Facebook account, and I use both for about ten minutes per day total. I jump on, see what streams past, maybe leave an update myself, and log off.
It’s a conscious decision to give my attention purposefully. If I’m out with people, they have my attention. If I’m on the computer, the words on the screen have my attention. Which is not to say that I never glance down at my phone as I feel new emails come in to see if they’re urgent. And I’ve certainly sat in the passenger seat on a long car ride and read a few emails. But I try to make that the exception to the rule rather than my norm. I like to give my best self to every task or person, and the only way I can do that — personally — is to compartmentalize and give each task or person their fair amount of uninterrupted attention.
This is precisely why Twitter and Facebook and the like don’t work for me as well as blogs. They are all written on the other person’s time line rather than my own.
It’s the difference between getting your news from a ticker tape and getting your news from the newspaper. If I’m getting it from the ticker tape, I need to stand in front of the building and read and read and read or I’ll miss the news. Of course, I can make the choice to step away and do something else, but it’s understood that the words are marching on without me. And while I stand in front of the building, reading the ticker tape, I am only half paying attention to everything else around me.
Newspapers are on my time line, except for the fact that they’re only printed once a day and in the morning. I sit down and read them when I am ready to read them, and they sit, waiting for me, until I’m ready to come around.
The same can be said for the difference between social media sites and blogs. If I want to keep up with another person on Twitter, to know what is happening in the lives of my friends, I need to do it on their time. If I don’t, the words will pass off the screen by the time I come around to log in. Whereas with a blog, the post sits in my Reader until I am ready to dedicate the time to read it.
Twitter is wonderful for the quick question and the quicker answer. It is wonderful to jump on when you are having a terrible day, declare that you are having a terrible day, and reap some comfort. But too many people leave important information on social media sites and then get cranky when people miss their news. People are ditching their blogs because they don’t feel like they have the time to write a full post, though they can quickly throw something up on Twitter.
But I didn’t get into blogging for the ability to throw something up quickly any more than I got into cooking so I could jump into pulling together fast food. There are nights when I need to phone it in with a bowl of cereal because it’s all I have time to make, but it would make me really sad if that’s the way we ate most nights. Cooking matters to me.
Blogging matter to me.
I am the Lorax, and I speak for the blogs (for the blogs have no thumbs), but I think we all know that I’m really speaking for myself.
When I got into blogging, I got into it because it was about writing and I was a writer. Even if I wasn’t a published author at the time, writing was the fine art medium in which I best connected with other people. The Web gave all people the ability to dabble in their chosen art form and get their work out there to a vast amount of people — a task that felt nearly impossible prior to the advent of the Internet — whether it was in the form of video, podcast, music, or words.
What happened to the idea of getting your writing out there? Of blogging as a writing exercise? When did it stop being about piecing together the best paragraphs possible, conveying your thoughts with words?
Because while Twitter may contain words and there may even be some clever 140-character phrasing that I’ve found moving or funny, it is far from a writing exercise except within the idea that you need to parse down your phrasing to as few words as possible. I would give a nod towards those who use Twitter in the same way that poets use haiku, but so few people on Twitter actually go into their status updates with that kind of mindfulness. With that kind of sacredness given to the choice of words.
Not everyone went into blogging with the intention to write masterpieces. Some went into blogging simply because they wanted to get down what happened in their day.
But inadvertently, due to the emotion imbued in the words, masterpieces did take place. Someone may write a post about going to the beach, but their words, what they describe, the story they tell transcends the intention simply to record a trip to the beach. Everyday, bloggers inadvertently create what is a masterpiece in another reader’s eyes. I find dozens of them weekly. I pick out my four or five favourites for each Friday Blog Roundup.
Twitter was supposed to support what blogs started rather than replace it. It was supposed to be a way to additionally express creativity. But now it seems to have devolved into what amounts to a public IM conversation or a way to advertise — either the self or a product or sometimes the self as a product.
Blogging, a medium that started about writing, has devolved into branding and chasing followers. Blogs — that actual meat, the protein — are being ditched in order to spend time exclusively with social media — the carbs. It’s fast. It has a lot of energy. But it doesn’t stick with you. And I would argue that as a writer, it certainly doesn’t make you grow. As a reader, I’d be hard-pressed to accept an argument that it furthers your creativity.
I am aware that the last two paragraphs may have pissed you off. Raised the hairs on your back. You are free to click away, but I hope you read on and don’t leave misunderstanding how I feel about social media.
The fact is that I’m sad to hear people say that they ditched their blogs for Twitter because it’s faster and easier. And I gave you fair warning in that opening that I’m red-faced and bitter.
I am bitter because I feel a tug-of-war between blogs and social media (rather than a supportive collaboration), and it makes me unfairly lash out at Twitter, ignoring its good points and focusing solely on its underbelly. But also — to be fair — Twitter has a fairly large and exposed underbelly. Would Twitter have catapulted to success if the number of followers you had remained hidden, known only to the user?
Or is part of the draw of Twitter because we can easily grow our reach fairly quickly. Follow someone and they most likely will follow you back. Read someone else’s blog and comment on it (a task that takes a lot of time) and they may or may not follow you back. But I think we all know that Twitter numbers are fairly meaningless. I have 2000+ followers. How many of them do you think really read my status updates?
Shit. I’m doing it again. I meant to beg you to stay and read the rest of my thoughts, but my frustration with social media rears its ugly head. It is such an ugly side of my brain at the moment.
I am also aware that this post makes me sound like a curmudgeon, shaking my stick at the younger generation. In my day, you wrote blog posts, and you liked it (and you had to type uphill to the computer both ways). And certainly the Once-ler saw the Lorax as an old busybody, getting in the way of his fun. And maybe the Lorax did come across as fun-loving as my militant, AFL-CIO-preaching ex-boyfriend, but wasn’t the Lorax right in the end? Even if he spread his message in the most insufferable way?
I may be an insufferable fool, admittedly unable to keep up with this newfangled technology, but I also fear that we’re not using the mediums afforded to us well enough. Writers have an amazing opportunity to not only practice their art, but to send it out there and get feedback on it. Without this blog and my ability to prove that people respond to my words, I doubt I’d have two books out on the bookshelf.
This is not an anti-Twitter rant (or an anti-Facebook or anti-Google+ or any of those sites rant) — as I said in the beginning, I have a Twitter account and a Facebook account, and I’m not planning on ditching either. Though I’ll continue to use them as I’ve been using them: sparingly. And I’m not signing up for the next big thing that comes down the pike.
And despite what you may think from the words above, I’m not anti-branding or collecting followers. On the contrary, I am going to do a sponsored review post soon for a brand that I believe in. An opportunity came up that fit who I am and gave the twins items I possibly couldn’t have afforded otherwise.
At the end of the day, without meaning to monetize this blog, I have inadvertently monetized this blog simply by writing it. PR people offer me free things and I have gotten many paid jobs on account of this blog. As I’ve already said, I probably wouldn’t have two books out if not for this blog.
Making money doing what I love AND getting the life I want with the twins is something I understand and support when I see other people attempting to get it too. Therefore I support people who are trying to make a living at this. That’s not really the problem I’m writing about. I’m talking about those who are ditching their blogs in favour of something faster. Of a place where they can collect more followers. Where they can point at their numbers and have that mean more than the quality of the writing.
It’s a fine line to walk, but I think you can do it. You can take the opportunities and enjoy them, or monetize your blog AND still write something that is enjoyable, that changes how people see the world, that touches people emotionally. I can point to many bloggers who do it well.
And there is a lot of good that comes from Twitter. There are revolutions that have come from Twitter, though if we’re going to say that, there are also revolutions that have come from blogs. I think we need Twitter, we need Facebook and the like. But we also need balance, co-existence. Not one for the other. I get sad when once rich blogs lie fallow, their authors now streaming all of their words from their phones in 140 characters.
Not everyone on Twitter started out on the blogs. Not everyone wants to write or be a writer. Sometimes people just want to let their friends and family know what they’re doing. Sometimes people start blogs solely to monetize it and try to make a living at home, and they’re not using blogging as a writing exercise. Sometimes people simply lose interest in blogging and writing is not a worthwhile use of their time. Those are all valid reasons to remove the focus from the blog world and put it on Twitter.
This post is not for those people.
It’s for those who started out as writers, who got into blogging because they like to write and they want people to read their writing. And they still want to be writers, but they’ve stopped writing.
I want you to take five minutes today to write down why you got into blogging and stick it over your computer. As a reminder. Because sometimes we need to remember why we entered the game since we’re spun round and round by new information once we get inside.
And I wrote this as an admittance that I can’t keep up. I can’t keep up with the new social media sites that pop up daily, forcing me to learn new software and build new circles. I can’t keep up with the existing ones — with Twitter or Facebook — and their constant stream of information. I dip into it, but I miss more than I catch. I just can’t keep up. And I’m not going to try.
I started blogging because I wanted to write. I wanted people to read my writing. I wanted to connect with a community of people experiencing a similar situation to my situation. I wanted to give support and information to others. I am going to a blogging conference in a few weeks and I hope to connect with others who came to blogging for the same reason.
Why did you get into blogging?
And are you going to write a post today?