Ben Casnocha has a really neat post on his blog, the transcript of an Instant Message conversation between him and Penelope Trunk, who writes a career blog that I've seen a few times but don't read regularly (and who it seems people have an extremely wide range of opinions about...). Regardless, I thought the post was a neat way to get into the heads of two interesting people and was the kind of thing that highlights (for me) why all this electronic communication -- e-mails, blogs, etc -- is cool.
I sent Ben an e-mail after reading the post (we've corresponded a bunch of times and had coffee last year when he was in LA) with a couple of thoughts, and found myself prefacing one thought with, "I feel like if I was still motivated to write blog posts about things, I'd--"
Which got me to pause for a moment and ask myself why. Why was this so natural and so easy for a fairly long period of time, and now it's really not. There are posts I wrote in law school about nothing, about something, about all kinds of things. Somehow it felt important, it felt relevant, it felt like an outlet in a way it doesn't anymore. I felt like the blog was my way of sorting through a lot of the things in my head, a way to force myself to generate material and to figure out how to write for an audience, and I felt a real connection with the people reading. I made a real number of friends, online and offline, through my blog, and had a lot of genuine and rewarding e-mail back-and-forths.
I miss a lot of things about that, which feels silly to say, because it's only through my own lack of regular posting that any of that has changed-- and it's not like it's an irreparable change anyway. The Internet, if nothing else, is a meritocracy. If I write things worth reading, people will find them and read them and link to them. If I don't, they won't. I've seen very little evidence to convince me I'm wrong about that.
So why does it feel different now than it did?
I don't necessarily think it has to do with something about blogging itself, 2002 vs. 2009-- but maybe it does. I mean, there was absolutely something neat about blogging-- and blogging to a decent-sized audience-- when the blog world was pretty small, and you were discovering the medium at the same time as a lot of other people were, it all felt new, and being a decently-known blogger was a smaller feat than it would be today. I think it's absolutely harder now for someone to get attention-- there is just so much more content out there than there was five years ago, so many more blogs, so many more corporate blogs, so much more you can read, about any topic at all. And-- and I know I've written about this before (and in fact I have-- in this post, called The Shortification of Content, that I happen to think is a great post and on re-reading it I realize that I'm probably just going to end up rewriting that post in different words in this post, but I'll try to cover some new ground.) -- but there's so much information and quasi-news you can read that it's really hard to find anything but that-- I'd love to read honest blogs about what's going on in people's heads-- that's what made the blogosphere interesting to begin with-- and for the most part I'm reading articles about baseball and the media and TV and law firm gossip that's all totally fine, but there's no personal connection there.
That's what Ben and Penelope's back-and-forth made me miss and made me remember about why this was rewarding to do. My Shortification of Content post that I just linked to talks about long back-and-forth e-mail conversations with people, and how I worry that Twitter and Facebook have killed that-- with the competing theory that it's really more about getting older, and 23-year-olds have the time and inclination to write about what's in their heads in a way that 30-year-olds don't.
But that's not a rule. Even if it's a pattern, it's not a rule.
I have five (six?) alternative theories about why blogging feels different now. Stick with me, we're getting to some new ground I hope.
1. I have less to say. Can argue that very convincingly and can almost make myself believe it, but it's probably not true. I often didn't have a lot to say in law school and I still blogged about it. I have opinions about things, I read things, I watch things, I do things. I don't have less to say, I'm just less motivated to blog it.
2. At some point, the stakes of blogging felt higher. Absolutely true. It's one thing to write about e-mails the Career Services office sends you, it's another to write about talking to folks at NBC about an Anonymous Lawyer sitcom. I never felt like I crossed the line in law school, as far as blogging about professors or anything like that in a way that I felt could get me in trouble-- but to even touch on any of the stuff with the TV project or meetings I was having felt so dangerous. Mostly because so little of it was within my control. I had-- and still have-- no idea what the decisions hinge on, or what kinds of conversations were going on without me, or how little it could theoretically take to kill something. I wasn't going to give anyone any reason to think there was even a risk I would be writing about something I shouldn't be.
2A. And, hey, my lesson from two years in LA was that the bizarre success of Anonymous Lawyer: The Blog was not as easily replicable as it first seemed like it might be, and that there are an awful lot of writers and producers and projects and false hopes and things completely out of anyone's control-- and on the one hand I felt really conscious of how lucky I was to have the opportunities I lucked into with Anonymous Lawyer, and of not wanting to seem at all frustrated with what was essentially a big pile of good fortune-- but at the same time there were a lot of really frustrating things going on. And since I wasn't comfortable blogging about being frustrated about this stuff, then I was really limiting myself, and blogging naturally became less and less of a reflex. In law school, whatever I was thinking about, I felt like I could basically blog about it. Once I stopped feeling that freedom, then, sure, I had a lot less to say, and it was a lot less interesting.
3. I fell in love and got married. And now the kinds of things I blogged about in law school are the things I tell my wife, and what do I need the blog for? Maybe. I like being married, absolutely, and love my wife. She's also a medical resident who works a lot and is probably not that interested in me spending 2000 words criticizing the premiere of a TV show she was really only watching for my sake. I wasn't really blogging about my personal life in law school. I can make this reason sound relevant, but I don't think it is-- I don't think a wife and a blog play quite the same role. :) Besides, I had friends before, I have friends now, I talked to people then, I talk to people now.
4. The feedback and connection become a little bit like a drug in terms of tolerance levels-- it takes more and more to get as excited, and eventually the kinds of things that motivated posts at first-- the potential to get a new reader, the possibility of getting linked by someone, getting a couple cool e-mails or comments-- become routine. If you graph the number of times someone checks the counter on a new blog, it goes down to zero eventually. The corollary to this-- at some point, I think I got tired of putting myself out there as much and opening myself up to potential criticism. Even though I feel extremely fortunate that Anonymous Lawyer got largely positive reviews and very little that I blogged about got me negative reactions, I think I learned over time I can't avoid reading everything and caring about it and letting it affect me-- negative feedback sucks. Constantly worrying about negative feedback sucks almost as much. Still, I blogged really consistently for a really long time, so is this really why the urge went away? I don't think I'm convinced of it.
5. I became either happy or unhappy, and thus didn't want or need to blog as much. But I can make the argument either way. I was a little down and a little lonely, blogging filled that void, provided connection and a little purpose-- once those feelings were no longer as profound, the blogging was less necessary. Or, I became a little down and a little lonely, and when you're feeling down it's harder to motivate yourself to blog, it's harder to think you have things worth saying, the energy isn't there. If I can argue both sides, is there really a point here?
Where is all this coming from?
Reading Ben's post, I realized how much I missed that kind of active engagement with smart people that I feel like I don't get as much lately. Partly because people don't write long e-mails anymore (see, The Shortification of Content post), partly because people with jobs are busier than students and thus don't have time to engage, partly because as we get older I think most of our lives end up shrinking a little bit (and justifiably so -- and I wouldn't argue I'm an exception), more focused on building a family and an adult life. At most points over the past decade, I've had a bunch of people I'm actively engaged with over e-mail or in person, talking about things. Less of that is happening for me right now. I miss it. Whether it's blog-related or not, I miss it.
Hence, this post.