Dear friends -
If we’re being honest, ninety percent of the stuff we put on the internet is for self-enhancement, don’t you think? We’re trying to make ourselves look good. We get little thrills when people like our posts, or when we get more Twitter followers, or when a friend forwards our witty e-mail.
And blogging is no exception. Why else would I smear the internet with words of my own creation, like so much lipstick on a mirror, than because I think I have something awesome to say, and I want everyone to hear it? Isn’t it so self-congratulatory? Isn’t it so arrogant? Isn’t it so presumptuous, to believe that people would want to spend time out of their day moving their eyes back and forth along sentences devised by my silly little brain?
Now that the DeedleBlog has a nonzero number of readers, these are questions I’ve been thinking a lot about. What is the philosophy of blogging? What purpose does it serve? What intention can I bring to this endeavor that will shift it from being an exercise in self-presentation, self-aggrandizement, and self-promotion to a genuine, legitimate, positive contribution to the universe? You know what they say: If you can’t think of anything nice to blog, don’t blog anything at all.
So far, I’ve come up with a couple responses to this self-imposed critique.
The first is simply my love of writing. I find no greater joy than that which I achieve in attempting to convey in words my thoughts about the world and the human lives unfolding therein. If you have to chain me somewhere, for God’s sake let it be to a coffee shop with internet access and a good people-watching window.
But if it’s the writing portion you’re so interested in (comes the rejoinder), then why not just keep a journal and lock it in the drawer of your bedside table? Why spray your nonsense around like so much water from a garden hose?
Fine, you’ve got me (I reply). A big part of the ecstasy I get from writing is, I admit, tied up in the hope it's gonna get read. It's true: I need you, dear friends! I need you to click that link!
In developing this blog, for example, there was a phase I went through in which I promised myself I would not check readership counts on the site analytics. That resolution lasted approximately zero minutes and seventeen seconds. I couldn't do it. I cared too much. My joy in writing, alas, I've realized, withers without the sunlight bestowed by the eyes of loyal readers.
But wait! Because there’s more to the blog than the pleasure of its construction. There's also that thing where, I think the blog can actually do some good.
What possible good can your blog do? (The skeptic jumps in again.) Do you realize how many voices there are out there? How many opinions? How many arguments? How much shit-throwing, how much vitriol? Have you read a YouTube comment thread? It’s disgusting. You intend to add your worthless prose to that?
At best, you will be nothing; unread, unheeded, unimportant: a worthless speck of bullshit floating calmly on a bullshit sea. At worst, you will cause anger; people will denounce you; they will write incensed retorts to your well-intentioned essays; they will dig up embarrassing pictures of that time you dressed up like a gay cowboy and splash them all over Reddit. You’ll become polarizing; those who agree with you will find in your writing only further confirmation of their own beliefs; those who disagree will either ignore you or call you an asshole on Twitter.
—I’m not done! Furthermore, you’ll jeopardize your career. You’re in your fourth year of graduate school; in a few years a hiring committee is going to be deciding if they want you on their team. And as open-minded as the scientific community claims to be, serious concerns are going to be raised if you have an image as a rabble-rouser and polemicist.
It's a fair point. I do not want to be a polemicist, and there are many other things I’d rather rouse than rabble. But I think I can use writing as a vehicle for good! I think I can help articulate things people want expressed! If this blog, ever, one day, gets read by more than my mom and my long-suffering besties, it will be because it resonates with people in a way that gives them pleasure, and even more, in a way that helps them connect the dots in their complex daily experiences. That’s what I want to do here. I’d like to try to help people make sense of all the confusing stuff—this insane quantity of information—churning around us. If we can grab some of these swirling pieces of paper and thumbtack in them to some solid surface, maybe we’ll get a little farther in understanding ourselves, and get a little better at having conversations with others, and come a little closer to grasping the unique and individual meanings of our lives.
That’s why I blog.