Has Blogging Lost Her Soul?
As BlogHer approaches its big 10th year conference in San Jose, long-time bloggers, including many who attended the first conference in 2005, are reflecting on a decade of creativity and community. Most agree on this— blogging has brought us the joy of expression and community. It has given us opportunities, broadened our horizons, and introduced us to life-long friends. But behind the scenes, in emails and in private Facebook groups, we are whispering the other side of the story. Blogging has lost something. Blogging has lost her soul.
Call it nostalgia if you want. When any industry matures, early adopters develop a rose-colored view of the good ol' days. Older television producers say quality went downhill after the Golden Era of 1950s live TV. Software executives miss the days when Silicon Valley meant building computers in dusty garages rather than outsourcing to China. The early days are always as pure as Ivory Soap, at least in our own minds.
I have this illness of nostalgia, inherited from my father. His Achilles heel was baseball. Born in Brooklyn, baseball died for my father when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. He talked about this tragedy for years.
"Baseball lost her soul," he used to say. Sound familiar?
The idea that "blogging is dead" isn't new. There is a new article on this subject every six months. I was shocked when even Jason Kottke, one of the original bloggers from 1997, joined the funeral march with his post "The Blog is Dead."
We all know the arguments. Ten years ago, there WAS only blogging. Suddenly, we killed off the newspapers and the magazines, so the newspapers and magazines, in retaliation, started their own blogs. Blogging became mainstream media. Friends jumped ship to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube. The whole world went mobile and the comments disappeared, as did much of the community. For many of us, blogging became a tool rather than a personal space. With the emphasis on "hits," "monetization," and "SEO," the blogging community fractured into niches and demographics. We were taught that "community" now meant a fan-base centered around ourselves, as if each of us were the sun.
Once upon a time, you met a blogger, and you felt a bond. Now, we walk past each other in the conference hall— the book blogger, the coupon blogger, the advocacy blogger, the mom blogger, the dad blogger, the LGBT blogger— as if we were strangers. Once we asked, "What's your name?" and "Where are you from?" Now we ask, "What is your blog about?" or "Who is your sponsor?"
Has blogging died? In some way, yes. But before I get angry emails saying that blogging LIVES, let me go zen Buddhist on you and talk about the concept of death.
"What causes death?" a student once asked his zen master.
"Birth," answered the guru.
In some traditions, the very act of being born is one step towards death.
So what does that mean? It means that blogging as we knew it started to die the minute a small band of women met in San Jose in 2005 at the first BlogHer conference. They didn't realize it at the time, but the very act of defining blogging— to name it, monetize it, and classify it— would change everything. Blogging morphed from small online diaries into something strange and unwieldy, a Frankenstein monster that no one controls (except maybe for Arianna Huffington and Mark Zuckerberg).
We killed blogging ourselves.
But there is hope. Just because something "loses her soul" doesn't mean it can't be found again. I learned this from my father.
A few years ago, I was living in Los Angeles and my father came to visit. I surprised him by driving downtown to a Dodger game. It was the first time he had seen the Dodgers play since they left Brooklyn decades ago. We ate hot dogs and cheered as the Dodgers beat the Astros. At the end of the game, he said that he had a great time.
"But I thought you said baseball had died," I said, trying to get back at him for years of his complaining about the death of the sport.
"Yes, it did," he replied. "But the soul lives on."
Blogging CAN die. But the soul can be found again.
So, what's is blogging's "soul?" I think the answer will surprise you. Most of us take it for granted. But it is the true radical act of blogging. It is NOT writing or fame or advocacy or community.