1) THE PANEL
During the BlogHer conference, I participated in a panel about blogging with my friends Schmutzie and Laurie. The session was supposed to be a conversation, not a lecture, so we kept the pre-planning to a minimum, hoping to let a series of questions lead the discussion about the current state of blogging. While it wasn’t planned as such, I found myself as the bad cop in opposition to the optimism of of the other two panelists. I even suggested that traditional blogging is on life support.
“Blogging isn’t dead,” said Schmutzie, to much applause. “A whole medium doesn’t die. Media evolve.”
That’s why she is more beloved than I am.
After every big blogging conference, there are countless recap posts written up. After BlogHer 12, of them was by Jean Parks of The Shopping Queen. She is a professional blogger, and her discussion on the ROI (return on investment) of going to a big conference struck a nerve with me.
In 2005 the first BlogHer conference event in San Jose, California opened & had 300 attendees, flash forward to 2012, this year’s event had over 4,000 bloggers in attendance. Phenomenal growth, particularly when you consider that that the vast majority of conference goers are not sponsored & are dipping into the family budget to attend. BlogHer has become like a yearly pilgrimage that many view as a “must do” if they are to achieve recognition in social media. Criticisms of the event & discussions about ROI are met with unease. Women, raised to “be nice” inadvertently silencing other women by encouraging them to “focus on the positive’ or gushing about the emotional “connections” we will all be making, the implication being that a complaining woman only values money or things.
I found this paragraph utterly fascinating, because although I am not a woman, I tend to value emotional connections over money. When I first read this statement concerning ROI, I found it as utterly crass. Can you quantify an experience by something tangible, like the receiving of a job offer? It seemed so…. wrong. But after some thought, I saw the practical wisdom in her view. How many of us spend our lives on activities and relationships that don’t offer us a “return on our investment?” What if we lived our entire lives using ROI as a decision-making tool, from dating to business-deals, always asking ourselves “what do I get out of this?” Would we all be happier and more self-sufficient if we overcame the feeling of this being a “selfish” question and instead, saw it as very smart.
Of course, any wise man knows that fate always gets in the way of our plans. We think we chose the right path when we are suddenly hit by a speeding bus.
I touched on this theme of fate in my recent post, Trucker Bob From Nashville, a true story about my flight from Los Angeles. Because I was trying to be”nice,” I gave up my seat next to a hot babe so a husband and wife could sit near each other. I ended up stuck near the restroom, sharing an armrest with a sweaty overly-talkative middle-aged Southern man. My story had a happy ending because the bad decision (sitting with the guy) ended up having a positive ROI (we struck up a friendship).
Still, one of my friends criticized that post as being phony and too “Hollywood happy ending.”
“If you were honest with yourself,” he said. “You would realize that it was a negative story, and that you were a wimp for changing seats. No matter how you fool yourself into thinking this chat with the guy was a positive pay-off, you missed a bigger opportunity with the woman.”
What he means to say is that I traded in a low ROI (a friendly chat) for a potentially bigger ROI (a date with the woman).
All this ROI talk makes me so uncomfortable that I feel the urge to come back to it in the future. That’s how I roll.
3) WHAT IS BLOGGING?
The other BlogHer post that struck a nerve with me came from Liz at Mom 101. As always, she is super sharp, and in this post, she smartly advises her readers to spend less time worrying about SEO, and to WRITE more. If you want to be a writer, act like one.
This paragraph made me ponder my own relationship to blogging, writing, and reading.
“If you are a blogger, don’t just follow the blogs of the people you like. Follow the blogs of the writers you like. Read a lot of great writing. Read Harper Lee and Zora Neal Hurston. Read Kate Inglis and Eden Kennedy. Read Jim Griffoen and read McSweeney’s.”
This is a powerful message. To be a great writer or photographer, you must read great writing and study great photography.
But how does blogging fit into this?
How many of us in the blogging world fit into the canon of the great books and important artistic and philosophical movements of Human Civilization? Is consuming blogs just one step above reading Snooki’s book?
I always read Kate’s blog, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that I know and like her. Would I be so eager to read her blog, and follow her personal story, if I didn’t feel that personal connection?
I love blogging. Some of you seem to be embarrassed about blogging, as if it is not “real” writing. Let’s put this to rest. Blogging is real writing. But it is a different type of writing, because it usually involves socializing in some form. I care about Kate’s life. I do not care about the personal life of Stephen King. I do not send him comments after reading one of his books. I do not expect to ever dance with him at a writing conference. I do not DM him with gossip about who said what.
For better or worse, blogging doesn’t feel like traditional reading and writing. I mostly follow the stories of my friends. Or strangers who I feel are my friends, even if I hardly know them. I get a kick out of seeing baby photos on Instagram. I would not feel the same way if I saw the same quality work in a museum. The quality of the art is not the main selling point in whether I interact with you online. If I was purely motivated by great art, I would read Tolstoy or study Anselm Adams. To me the ROI of blogging IS the social aspect. There is always a hidden social element in my blogging. I’m always hoping you follow me back on Twitter, or come read MY BLOG. Or acknowledge my existence. Sorry, but that’s the truth. Can any of you honestly say that you only read the “best” that is out there? If anything, we spend time nurturing and supporting the creativity of our friends. That’s because blogging is social. It is not just writing.
Blogging will die a painful death if we tout it as just “great writing or photography,” because so few of us are the great writers and photographers of the world. What makes blogging a thriving place, and what makes it so powerful, is that the core of blogging, even the soul of it… are not the visions of the super-talented, but the voices of the amateur.