Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why is Blogging Hard Work?

by J J Cohen

Over at What is Literature? Chris Schaberg blogs his account of two recent conferences. In explaining his lack of exotic photos as illustrations, he writes that the images are on his iPhone and have mostly been tweeted already. This leads to an observation that hits home:
Anyway, most of the good ones are already on twitter—it's so much easier, and I love to see the nearly immediate feedback from other people, often surprising. I am relatively disinterested in online education, and yet in a weird way I've also been embracing it on twitter, it occurs to me now. I feel obligated to keep this blog somewhat fresh, but increasingly it seems like a burden and a hassle. Yet it's still an archive of projects, connections, ideas, and other things. So I'll continue to ambivalently update this blog from time to time, even as it seems to creak sort of like the century-old wood beneath my feet.
I've been thinking something similar over the past few months. On the one hand, I have a queue six or seven deep of posts I've been meaning to place here at ITM. On the other, I haven't done so, and some have been waiting for a very long time. My Twitter stream has been active. My Facebook account sees a post or two daily (yes, you may friend me there). The immediacy of these two modes makes them seem easy: it isn't really work to place something into circulation in the Twitterverse or FB-Land. The instant commentary is also gratifying. Blogs on the other hand have become a forum more often read than interacted with, as well as great magnets for trolls and spam. It also takes more labor to place a post on a blog. That's not a bad thing -- slower writing is typically better writing, and not everything should be an off the cuff observation. But it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a blog and (on the one hand) a journal and (on the other) an announcements board.

Here's my recent interaction with Chris and Brian Thill (on Twitter, so read up from the bottom):

So, yes, a blog seems like academic labor and Twitter and FB are more freeform, random, and, well, fun. That's a mode of thinking I want to break out of, though: a blog holds an accessibility and archivability that these other forms do not. A blog is also more public and more generous.

I will try harder.

Question to other bloggers: have you felt the same way or is it just me?


Jonathan Hsy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Hsy said...

@Jeffrey: Yes, I feel the same way. I've got my own backlog of blog posts (conference roundups, ideas for new projects, commentary on other issues in academia) that I mean to post here on ITM but the energy/time it takes to craft a posting eludes me.

What you say about two of the major benefits of a "slower" mode of blogging: accessibility as well as archivability.

FWIW, I think it's interesting to see what Karl is doing over on tumblr -- in terms of time commitment almost a "middle zone" of medium-size bloggy tidbits that are in between FB/twitter postings and more leisurely blog postings:

Jonathan Hsy said...

(Darn it, I keep making error is my comments -- unlike Facebook, I can't edit these! I meant to say "I agree with what you say about two of the major benefits" of blogging... ha!

Jonathan Hsy said...

AND WHOOPS forgot to close that parenthetical statement!)

Kate Maxwell said...

Well I'll respond here for one very simple reason: not everyone is on facebook and/or twitter. Or if they are, they are not always there, all the time (remember the earth's timezones, dear boy!), or they entirely miss the debate by not being 'friends' or 'followers' of the right tiny pictures.
Sure, it's easy to miss blog posts too, and I confess I got to this via twitter (where it appeared in my news feed no fewer than three times). But I 'follow' ITM so know about new posts that way too.
I love reading blog posts. Tweets are OK I guess, but leave me unsatisfied. A blog post can be read in a few minutes and pondered over for hours. It can send me to the library (stone or digital) to hunt after papers on the same subject or by the same author. A tweet is read in a second and, usually, forgotten, or at most 'expanded' and sometimes will generate a new 'follow'. Put it another way: not a single one of the blogs I follow talks about what the author had for breakfast, what the author's siblings are up to, or expects me to be maintain constant interested in the soundtrack of their lives. Those things are all fine and dandy, but they are the reason I don't pay full attention to tweets (particularly when asleep, some 7 hours earlier than you I suspect). Blog posts, which don't move so fast, and which don't exclude the half of the world in darkness at the time of publication, are thus far more attractive.
In short, if you've got something substantial to say and you want me to read it, blog it. I may not comment on it - I think this is the first time I've commented on ITM despite being an avid reader for some years - but I will ponder it for days, years even.
Instant gratification has its place, but what would we become if we sought after only that?
The ability to respond via web 2.0 is great, but even better because it's not obligatory. Sometimes it's good to be quiet and thoughtful...

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Jonathan, that lack of easy access even when it comes to editing a comment is part of what makes composing AND commenting on a blog seem so onerous!

Kate, thank you so much for your comment, which is exactly what I needed to hear. My impression is that Twitter and FB are more ephemeral and spawn quick coteries, but a blog is a more durable archive, open to discovery, more of a record ... and of course for that reason demands more craft. Carving out the time to blog is the challenge, but thinking about audience and access make that finding of time much more compelling.

Sarah RJ said...

For my part I never comment on blogs any more. And I think this is for much the same reason. It seems too much like additional work. Back in the beginning of ITM it was more like joining in a conversation, but now that conversational experience has been replaced by lighter social media for me too.

I still read blogs - though a more catholic range than I once did - and so a less regular reader of this blog.

Sarah RJ said...

yes - well google swallowed my comment - reinforcing your point!

basically it was that I almost never comment on blogs now - too onerous indeed - and lighter social media now provides that conversational element.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

It does not help at all that Blogger makes submitting a comment so damn difficult. Almost everyone who comments here submits multiple times thinking their words have been lost, when in fact they almost never are -- they've just gone to moderation. The commenting interface here is in serious need of an upgrade for ease of use.

Jonathan Hsy said...

@Kate Maxwell and @Sarah RJ: Thanks for your comments! One of the interesting things about blogs as a "public" venue is they can enjoy a strong, enduring readership but people aren't necessarily going to be "chiming in" via comments all the time. I do appreciate your point, KM, that an advantage of the blog is that not *everyone* is on FB/twitter (or has the time/energy to engage across so many platforms!) so the blogosphere does continue to serve an important function.

@Jeffrey: Yes, one thing I appreciate about blogging is precisely being obliged to "slow down" and craft one's writing. Perhaps like so many other things in life blogging not only takes labor but *time* -- and the instantaneous quality of FB/twitter can (sometimes) fill in one when can't commit to composing a blog post.

Re: the coteries: one function that ITM serves that I hope we'll continue (when we all have time!) is the "post-conference roundup." One great advantage of blogs is offering an overview of a conference/session for people who weren't able to attend (or even those who did!); the annual flurry of blogging post-Kalamazoo is a good example of this.

Eileen Joy said...

Gee, lately, I find it hard to COMMENT on blog posts here, even when I'm provoked to say and think all sorts of things in response. I never fail to READ all of the posts here at ITM, and a few places elsewhere in the blogosphere that I am fond of [Larval Subjects, for example, or Meranze and Newfield's "Unmaking the University"], but I find it increasingly difficult to find the time to comment more thoughtfully, which I find frustrating. My to-do list is piled so high, especially with so many books in production at punctum, that I barely leave my desk anymore, and I must admit that FB, Twitter and Tumblr give me an outlet for quick, short burst of communication with my friends, including my co-bloggers, as well as strangers whose work/commentary/vibe/whatever, I find interesting. So the "tinier" social media help me feel as if I am in somewhat vibrant "touch" with everyone on a daily basis, and I enjoy that, but along with Kate, I think the longer blog post is its own invaluable genre. And yes, like Jeffrey and Jonathan, I have backlog of imagined/wish-I-could-write posts!

Jonathan Hsy said...

Hi everyone: So interesting to see how this thread is taking shape. I just wanted to point out Rick Godden has picked up this conversation in a blog post on Modern Medieval:

Mary Kate Hurley said...

I think one of the things about blogging that makes it a challenge for me is I'm still have post-dissertation anxiety: what's okay, what's not, who am I now that I'm really, truly, done with graduate school. Now that Í'm junior faculty. Now that I'm more than ever the curator of my own career.

And even as I write that, I feel self-conscious: whoa, look at MK, stressed out again! Karl always calls blogging conducting one's education in public -- I love that line, in part because it brings me back to those first two years of grad school, the years where I was afraid to talk lest I be heard, remembered, judged. Practice and time took away that fear, and that was part of education too. Time to keep learning, I suppose, and return to blogging as an academic practice.

I like what Karl's doing with "uncorking" the blogging. Maybe, with practice, I can learn that art too.

i said...

Didn't I read this blog post a few years ago, but with "articles in journals" instead of "blogs" and "blogs" instead of "twitter/facebook"?

Weren't blogs supposed to be the dynamic, responsive medium for unfinished but exciting thinking?

There are plenty of blogs that do frequent short posts, so I'm going to guess that what's going on has little to do with the blog as medium, and more to do with academics' propensity for making things long and thought out, and with your consciousness of this blog as a space for professional self-presentation rather than as a playspace.

Jonathan Hsy said...

@Mary Kate - well, I'm now a tenured professor, but I still feel a similar sort of pre-blogging anxiety in making my ideas known to others and wondering how they will be received; perhaps this is more personality type as much as anything else? @i - I'm thinking that a strange thing has happened with the emergence of FB/twitter; due to the speed and ease with which one can post things, I do find those spaces have indeed taken up a role (for me) as the dynamic space of "play" while blogging has begun to *feel* a bit more formal; as you suggest, I do tend to be more aware when blogging that it's a form of scholarly self-presentation as much as "trying out ideas."

I've been thinking a lot about the discussion unfolding here in these comments and Eileen's most recent blog post (Oct. 23, 2013); it occurs to me that we -- i.e., the bloggers here at ITM -- each have our own distinct ways of "being public" in this space, and we have different comfort levels re: what we disclose about ourselves and what aspects of our lives/work/personality we display. One of the things I find so rewarding about ITM is getting a chance to see how my co-bloggers approach things -- not only in terms of ideas but also writing style.

Jonathan Hsy said...

* (Correction: I'm referring in that comment to Eileen's posting on Oct 26, 2013)