Monday, January 27, 2014

"Old School Blogging"

I still do this! So do Withywindle, Phoebe, Emily Hale, and Flavia. Five people are keeping the entire old school blogosphere afloat, like the overworked turtles on whose back the world rests. Well, us and the army of mommy bloggers.
People form expectations about you. They start to imagine a character of you, start to write a little story about you. Some of this is validating, some is irritating, and some is downright hateful. In any case it all contributes to self-definition, helps the blogger locate and comprehend himself as a node in the social world.
I agree with much of Wilkinson's nostalgia and miss the days when more of my friends had personal blogs. Jennie, Julia, Alex, Drew, everyone else - where did you go? But there is a major oversight here about the DANGER of personal blogging for the young, the ambitious, the pretty much everyone whose IRL friends and enemies can look them up on the internet. That's why four of the five personal non-mommy bloggers remaining in the entire universe listed above are pseudonymous. I "hang out" with you for free at the probable expense of future employment.

Well, the good news is, I'm obviously never going to sell this blog, mainly because no one would ever buy it. It's like the time when one of my friends explained that she had virtuously avoided drugs in high school because "no one ever offered them to me."


Phoebe said...

To scratch the surface of my million thoughts on this...

-When I read that post, I was like, wait a moment, why wasn't my blog bought up by some soulless corporation?

-Personal blogging, by this definition, is not necessarily professionally dangerous! My blog has undeniably helped me professionally. It's brought editors and literary agents in my direction (and nothing's so good, for someone as passive as I am about such things, as being contacted out of the blue). And as far as I know, my professors didn't know, or didn't care. It certainly never came up when I was assessed as a grad student, and I was by no means keeping it a secret. I mean, I didn't mention WWPD during my qualifying exam or anything, but Google, etc. It's not at all secret. (Its impact on a theoretical academic job search I've never done, I couldn't say.)

It also helped me navigate social media, when that came around. I was already very much used to knowing where to draw the line, privacy-wise.

The danger could well be more in having a pseudonymous blog where one thinks everything one's saying is secret, so one starts saying wildly offensive things, and then one of the thousand people who know the open secret of whose blog it is develops a grudge or loses it or who knows, and outs them.

OK, and there's also the danger - and here, guilty as charged - of posting material that ought to be pitched somewhere. There's nothing on my blog that causes me to fear someone would Google me and find it. There are, however, a ton of posts I'd later see versions of in whichever publications, and be like, but I thought of this first!

-Gender Studies hypothesis: men's blogs got bought up more than equivalently-popular women's blogs. The women's blogs that do segue effortlessly into something marketable are more often in the cooking/fashion/makeup/dating realm than the 'here's why Ross Douthat was wrong' one.

Miss Self-Important said...

No, it's not necessarily dangerous, I agree. And I too have been on balance more helped than hurt by my blog in terms of my professional writing. (Although literary agents! I want to hear about this!) But it's hard to know whether something you've posted quietly turned a potential employer, friend, contact whatever against you, since they likely won't be so forthcoming about that. I often think it's unwise to rag on, for example, Conor Freidersdorf so much b/c he and people who like him will be write me off, but I do it anyway and hope it won't get me blackballed from anything. And in academia in my anecdotal observation, the most successful academics tend to be people who never publicly profess any opinions or exist on the internet until they get tenure. That may also be b/c they're so intensely studious that they have no time for frivolous pastimes like the blogosphere, so that could be a confounding variable. But in either case, all the professional advice from academics I've ever received about my blog can be summarized by, "SHUT IT DOWN!"

I don't have enough Theories About Society to be too worried that my blog is giving my otherwise remunerable thoughts away for free. I think your content is more timely or newsy than mine.

About women's blogs - I recall Megan McArdle's blog being picked up very early on, like 2004 or 2005? And I imagine that Ann Althouse has had offers. But I can't think of too many other popular political/cultural blogs by women that would be candidates for absorption into major journalism outlets. If you blog about cooking and makeup, why would the Washington Post or the Atlantic want your blog? Those women do have professional routes from blogging too - the woman from Smitten Kitchen, The Pioneer Woman, your BFF Tavi - they all have careers from blogs, just not journalism careers (although Tavi seems to be a professional everything at this point).

Phoebe said...

Re: the helps vs. hurts professionally bit, I suppose it comes down to whether you want the blog itself to lead somewhere professionally (or, as in my case, are happily surprised whenever it does), or whether your main concern is not sabotaging something else. Even if, granted, a lot of us might fall into both camps. But if your main issue is a fear that the person paying you $100k a year will see that you're blogging, you're probably less worked-up about the possibility that you posted something for free that a publication might have paid you $100 for.

Re: "SHUT IT DOWN," that seems like a relic of an earlier age, when being visibly online at all was suspect. Now, with social media, the concern seems more that one's postings will be a liability, than that putting content online is inherently a liability. These days, my sense is, you'd have to post very offensive things, or post to the exclusion of your academic work, for there to be a problem. But I'm not, like, on hiring committees, so what do I know.

Miss Self-Important said...

My blog existed before I had any plan for anything, so I vaguely worry about both possibilities - that what I say will sabotage my non-writing career, and that it will sabotage my writing career. I mean, I obviously don't worry THAT much, b/c here is my blog, still going.

I think there is still a view that posting things online is by definition happening at the exclusion of academic work (b/c you could be reading serious things all day long! tut tut!), and also that a person who has this kind of outlet is by nature a sort of loose cannon whose is bound to humiliate himself and his institution eventually, even if he's not posting swastikas yet. Or just the view that caution is always to be exercised in highly competitive situations when anything could be used as an excuse to eliminate you from the running. These are all valid points, and all advice that I'm not taking.

Emily Hale said...

I agree with your post--I'll never sell my blog because no one will ever want to buy it.

Also, my blog is pseudonymous, first, to avoid being found by future potential employers; second, to avoid being found by people I know in real life. Some of the people I know and love in real life would disdain me for liking cigarettes, alcohol, and any number of the other of the things I do like. (Although my mom reads my blog--which of course means I get fussed at for watching the Wolf of Wall Street.) Sigh. It was the husband's choice anyway.

Miss Self-Important said...

Well, these are dangers too, though not exactly of the nature enumerated above. My great concern about people I know in real life reading this is that they will become annoyed when I repeat to them in conversation what I've already written on this blog.

Jacob T. Levy said...

This post made me laugh.

For what it's worth, although I did once counsel caution about a topic or two, I'd be very disappointed if you shut this blog down.

in re: the discussion about women bloggers it strikes me that, of the Founding Four designated by Slate back in the stone age-- Mickey Kaus, Andrew Sullivan, Virginia Postrel, and Josh Marshall-- Kaus has kind of disappeared, Marshall and Sullivan have built little blog empires, and Postrel clearly made a deliberate decision to stay independent and use her blog as cross-promotion for her writing elsewhere (books, the NYT) .

I do have the impression that both Jezebel and XX absorbed some pre-existing blogs when they were created, though the ghettoization implied by those examples is an issue.

Phoebe said...

"My great concern about people I know in real life reading this is that they will become annoyed when I repeat to them in conversation what I've already written on this blog."

OK, that is a big fear if you blog under your real name. I tend to assume that apart from, I don't know, immediate family, there's no overlap between offline and WWPD. And then randomly a friend will mention reading it, or will comment... But I'm probably telling the same story twice to people plenty even without including the blog.

As for the admitting to things that you wouldn't want everyone to know, but that aren't all that scandalous... fiction! In principle, that's where I'd put such things.

Miss Self-Important said...

JTL: Don't worry, this blog isn't being shut down, at least not as long as I remain stranded in this Climate Paradise/Friendless Wasteland, where the internet is pretty much my main source of non-weather related conversation.

I think there is a difference b/w having your blog absorbed by some bigger entity and being hired to blog for a topical project hosted by such entities. Megan McArdle still blogged as herself for the Atlantic - she was very recognizably a person with non-economics interests in things like fancy kitchen gadgets. I never even pay attention to who is authoring particular posts at Jezebel b/c the site is their identity. So I guess I'd draw a distinction b/w being hired to blog for someone, and having your blog hired out by someone. But in the end, both put more of the world's weight in independent, personal blogging on the backs of us, the five turtles holding everything up.

Flavia said...

I've found blogging to be generally professionally useful--academic specialties are so small that even when I was more pseudonymous than I am now, lots of people in my field knew who I was--even though I rarely blog with any specificity about my work. I remain officially pseudonymous so my students can't Google me and find the blog, but now that I have a book coming out you'd better believe I'm leveraging the blog to promote that shit. I might gain five whole book sales from it.

And in contrast to this:

My great concern about people I know in real life reading this is that they will become annoyed when I repeat to them in conversation what I've already written on this blog,

I'm always a little surprised and exasperated when a professional friend brings up in conversation something--a recent event, Chronicle essay, whatever--that I've blogged about as if I'd done no such thing (generally, because she doesn't know about or read my blog). I always want to say, "dude, my thoughts on that subject are out on the internet. I don't have time to rehash them with you as if this is some fascinating new issue."

Miss Self-Important said...

Phoebe: But who's going to read a novel about smoking a cigarette or drinking a beer? Some things have to be minor enough for the minor leagues.

Flavia: But if you're not blogging about your scholarship (or scholarship in your field generally), in what ways does the blog help you professionally? Is it just that people come across it and think "decent human being and also Miltonist" in a kind of professional-but-social way?

Flavia said...

That's a good question, but all I can say is that a weirdly large number of people seem to want to know me--they come to my panels, introduce themselves in elevators, drop me emails. ("Weirdly large" is relative, of course, but at nearly every conference I go to two or three new people introduce themselves to me.) I can only point to one professional opportunity that has clearly come directly through my blogging, but I've met many people through my blog and I seem to be on or kept on a lot of radar screens as a person of interest for other opportunities. So, yeah, it's social, but it translates into interest in my scholarly work. Which is no small thing when one works on a sexxxy topic like seventeenth-century religious prose.

I'm still not sure WHY enjoying my blog should translate this way, but I don't think I'm unique in having this result.

Phoebe said...

Oh, I don't just mean cigarettes and beer. I mean the entire performance (too academic-jargony?) of an online presence. If your parents/future dates/future employers are reading (and often enough, these are precisely the people who'll know the name behind the pseudonym), what you say is bound to be limited. Fiction just allows for a far broader portrait of human experience. Even fiction where no one commits a crime, or does anything beyond "minor leagues."

Miss Self-Important said...

Flavia: Maybe that's a demonstration of Wilkinson's point about personal blogging - it builds a character in readers' minds so that they already feel that they know you before they've met you, perhaps inclining them to actually meet you when given the chance.

Phoebe: Yeah, I agree with your entire line of argument about channeling your confessional impulses into fiction. But, in a rare moment of tolerance, I still would like there to be room for personal blogging of the sort we do, which straddles the extremes of teenagers confessing illiterately and without any filters on MySpace ca. 2002, and strictly topical commentary on Fed policy. If that requires anonymity or pseudonyms, that's ok with me. I mean, there is no urgent reason for me to know about your NJ driving travails or your Japanese shampoo preferences or your dog, and I'm not going to buy that Japanese shampoo myself, but these are inoffensive character-building details. Writing fiction also requires talents which not everyone possesses, and for those of us who fall short, there is the more limited but also more do-able medium of blogging.

Withywindle said...

Secretly, I am the leader of a despotic atoll in the South Pacific. If my identity emerges, my loyal minions will crush all discontent. I hope to stay pseudonymous so as to forestall such unpleasantness.

Or: I am actually a spinster in Northampton. I have arranged for my collected blog-posts to be published after my death, to ensure my immortality.

Or: Choose your own Withywindle.

Jennie said...

I sometimes wish that I kept up with my blog, but one month turned into one year, and pretty soon, there was only one year of grad school funding left (okay, there were a few years in between one year and one year left). Panic over unfinished dissertation ensued/is ensuing.

Jennie said...

PS. When are you visiting/returning to the east coast?!

Miss Self-Important said...

Emily Dickinwindle: I can see now why there is so much civilizational doomsaying there.

Jennie: Will it return after the dissertation is dispatched then? And, Boston in the 3rd week of April or so.

Jennie said...

Yay! I'll have to plan a little Boston trip then :)

Re: blog: perhaps I will try resurrecting it over the summer :)