Monday, November 26, 2007

A Case Against Blogging

A blog that I have enjoyed, The Dilbert Blog by Scott Adams, is being curtailed. He has posted regularly for two years, and today announced that he will be cutting back, for several very concrete reasons, which you can read here, if you're interested. What caught my eye is that he has come to the conclusion that having a blog is actually hurting his Dilbert sales. He says he gets a lot of email and comments saying that a long-time fan has read something disagreeable in the blog, and will therefore never read Dilbert again, not ever. He'd thought that blogging would drum up interest in Dilbert, but it seems like the folks who *already* like Dilbert read it, and then get offended and go away. Highly counterproductive.

After struggling a few minutes trying to figure out what prompted me to post this here, I have come to the conclusion that it's related to the reasons that some people make an effort to obscure their identity when posting op/ed to the internet. It's obvious that it can have a direct impact on "real life" earnings and so on, not only for academic folks.

I guess what is less obvious is that the efforts one makes can be perverted, and actually be detrimental to the goal. For instance, Adams was trying to drum up interest in his main businesses (he has several, and he mentioned them often in his blog), and he was trying to do some expressive/creative writing that isn't allowed in the confines of a widely syndicated comic strip. While he certainly did those things, he also has paid a price for it. I get the impression that his blog was fairly time-consuming for him, and that's another reason he's backing off it.

Adams hasn't been posting anonymously, of course. He's been posting as who his is: The creator of the wildly successful Dilbert comic franchise. The Dilbert comic wouldn't be what it is without Adams being how he is, but people don't really want to know, sometimes. Most people want to be liked for who they are; celebrities rely on being liked for who they appear to be. Journaling often tells people who you are, whether you mean it to, or no. The internet creates a strange pseudo-celebrity status for a lot of people, where they are sniffed & inspected by strangers, and then behave as though they know the person, and they engage in weirdly personal, even intimate conversations.

This may be the number one argument against writing internet op/ed in any professional context. Worse than that, the internet affords little true anonymity, which means that whatever you participate in, whatever you write, about whatever you think, can probably be made available to someone who is really interested. No matter how well intentioned you are, ultimately you are opening yourself to a raft of judgment and negative consequence that is essentially uncontrollable the moment you click the PUBLISH POST button. All of which is pretty ironic if you consider that what most people are looking for, most of the time, is approval in one form or another.


gregvw said...

My main point against blogging (besides sloth) is that the internet is just too retarded to share my thoughts with.

Case and point: Videos on YouTube which are of someone's pet doing something cute, have comments which descend into livid political diatribes by about four comments in.

Rufus said...

I guess the argument for blogging is to practice writing for an audience and try to professionalize your writing in the process. But, most of us don't get a lot of comments, aside from the occasional 'Shut-up stupid' -Anonymous. So it doesn't often help with that. Sometimes it does.

Professional writers and artists get a lot of readers when they blog because they already have an audience. I'm guessing that Susie Bright, for example, has quite lively discussions on her blog. But the other side of it is that now they're working for free and dealing with the professional blowback that comes with it. I'm not sure it helps them much.

And there is a surprising amount of vitriol on the Net. Just today I was reading about a blogger who had a single post that upset a number of people who have subsequently contacted her employer and tried to get her fired. The original post was a bit misguided, but the responses had nothing of the sort of good faith that is required for adult conversation.

I try to avoid the real troll-bait topics here as much as possible. But I use the phony name largely because there's still a big question as to if academics should be blogging at all. Also, honestly, there are things that I post here at 3 am, after drinking a fifth of whiskey that are pretty dumb. That's normal with blogging, but I'm not sure I'd want it on my CV.

But, it's a good question overall and one I've been wrestling with for some time. I think most of us seek a warm, supportive, but intellectually challenging environment to explore our ideas in, and I really don't know where you go to find that on the Internet.

Holly said...

Greg - There's a second math degree in this, if you can devise a way to calculate the current mean IQ of the internet, on a time line that moves with the daylight meridian, corrected for the bias shown to westerners in most standardized IQ testing. (That won't stop anyone from posting comments about how you're a fascist because you insisted that the movement of the meridian could only go in one direction...)

Rufus - This is also the problem with posting art to the internet. Vast majority of the feedback is either "ooh shiny!" or "sucks burn it"... even in forums dedicated to giving feedback. The idea of reacting to a thing and then articulating your reaction may become more of a lost art than reading.

As far as where to find a suitable forum, I think you've already answered your own question. If you don't find one that fits you, you just make your own, and figure out how to bring people into it.

You know, besides people who want to tell you off about whatever their pet peeve is.

Rufus said...

Yeah, I have to figure out some sort of tractor beam for nerds.