Something happened this week that makes blogging seem totally trivial. Bad news from a friend. I won’t share it, there’s enough bad news in the world without me foisting my small part of it on you.
But I’m feeling rather strange. Uncomfortable, even.
Despite a sadness that’s settled into my heart, my blog – this site – has been lurking just past the corner of my eye. Floating in the ether, saying, ‘feed me’. And feed it I must.
Or must I?
And why today, of all days?
The answer’s hard for me to fathom.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading about the effects of social media, online sharing and mobile phone usage on attention spans and behaviour. Stuff everyone seems to be particularly antsy about at the moment. Including me.
I even read a whole book: ‘The End of Absence. Reclaiming what we’ve lost in a world of constant connection.’ (Author, Michael Harris.)
Blogging is (ostensibly) about connecting – and over the last two years eight months, the process of blogging and following others has made me reassess what it means to know someone. To relate to other human beings.
Does it matter that it’s intangible? After all, when I was young we had penfriends – it just took longer to send and receive the messages.
But I do feel, somehow, it’s different. And it’s been perplexing me.
I’ve been asking myself, why do bloggers blog – and why do readers read?
Do ‘real’ relationships develop (I think they do, see my post about Tess Ross) – and what are they, those relationships?
Are they mostly between bloggers and non-blogging readers – like newspapers and commuters, say? Or are they mostly between member of the ‘community’ of bloggers, souls reaching out, in some individual way, to others?
I suspect that many readers – whether bloggers themselves or not – read out of simple curiosity, learning about new places, people, cultures and so on. I do.
Some have an especially serious reason for following a blog about a shared illness, or other challenge they are facing.
And then there are the ones who know the blogger in real life.
I don’t know if I’m a rarity, but I feel a tad uncomfortable following people I know in the flesh. And some people I know in ‘real’ life are the ‘followers’ who puzzle me the most.
The ones who follow, but don’t ‘follow’.
Who read but never ‘comment’.
Who don’t ever click the ‘like’ button.
People who tell me, ‘I do read your blogs, you know. I enjoy seeing what you’re up to, even if I don’t comment.’
Are they just inquisitive, plain and simple, but afraid of that great, identity-stealing, bogey-person in the ether?
Afraid of committing to a view in the full glare of – me? Other readers?
Afraid of the thought police?
The latter I’d understand. I’ve been visiting some ‘interesting’ websites lately by way of research – in fact, maybe you’d better stop reading right now if you’re paranoid.
(Thought police, if you’re reading, I’m only trying to write fiction.)
A young academic of my acquaintance has an interesting take on this type of behaviour, this anonymous blog ogling. [Bloggling?]
So much is free online, he posits, that some people feel no need to square the circle.
The content’s there for them to enjoy or not, they feel no need to pay in any way. And that dispensation from making any kind of ‘payment’ includes any acknowledgement they have read it, liked it or – just for the sake of argument – disagreed with it.
I’m glad they do read it, don’t misunderstand me – it’s reassuring that friends I don’t see very often (you know who you are) keep up with my antics – and phobias – and rants – this way. Don’t stop!
But that absence of payment is also interesting if you come at it from my perspective.
I was a journalist of sorts, on and off. Paid for writing things that people then read, in order to be better informed, or (I can’t really lump telecommunications in with snooping round glamorous houses) just amused.
Over the last couple of months there have been several occasions when I’ve written one of my thought or rant pieces only to find a ‘real’ writer saying much the same thing in a national newspaper a week or two later.
I mentioned one such to the new Brit in the house, gratified that my argument had been published by a real hack in a national newspaper.
‘See,’ I chirped, ‘that’s just what I was saying last week. So I am doing something useful.’ (Even I can see the flaw in that statement.)
Anyway, the point is, we’ve had many discussions about the usefulness or otherwise of my blogging. Other than some things being better out than in, as far as my psyche’s concerned, I mean, which is patently useful.
‘But,’ he says, ‘you don’t get paid for it.’
I restrain my innate instinct for the confessional, which wants me to say, ‘No – and on top of that, I pay for my site so that it has a proper address and doesn’t have ads. So, in effect, I’m paying people to read what I write.’
Is it worth it? Is it useful? Why do I do it?