Berube Stops Blogging

I actually knew this was coming through various ultra-secret intelligence sources. I think it’s fair to say now that most blogs have a fairly definite life cycle. Most never really outlast a brief initial burst of enthusiasm, but those that do last rarely hold on for more than about three or four years without either transmogrifying into some other kind of format (a group blog, a paid gig of some kind).

Mostly blogs ebb and flow with the life rhythms of their creator. Graduate students with blogs get deep into their dissertations, or finish a dissertation, and decide to put aside a blog. Babies arrive, or people get seriously ill. Work makes new demands, and takes energies away from a blog.

However, I think there’s also something about the form itself that poses a problem, and that the problem has gotten more acute as blogging has evolved as a practice. A self-aware blog writer eventually starts to recognize static or repetitive patterns in their posting that threaten to devolve into schtick. Readers may not object: in fact, the larger and more stable a community of readers a blogger has, the more they may in fact come to rely on the blogger to merely convene or spark a rolling conversation among commenters, to be the rhetorical equivalent of comfort food.

For anyone hoping to sharpen and complicate their own writing, or to use a blog for exploration and discovery, however, this repetition and cumulative expectation can become a problem. I’ve talked here before about how much I find my sense of humor drains out of me when I’m writing here, because I’ve gotten trapped by compulsive reasonableness. When I write in this format, I find that my humor is sharpest when it’s snarky and a bit cruel (I don’t think this is true in person), so I often put it aside. There are times where that and other self-imposed limits and expectations frustrate me as a writer and even a thinker, however.

I’ve also hit a point where I’m frustrated by the rigidity of discussions across the blogosphere. I honestly see a big difference between the kinds of conversations about academia that used to happen in the comments of the Invisible Adjunct’s site and the meta-conversations about academic and disciplinary issues that now roll across a range of blogs, from Erin O’Connor to the Valve to Long Sunday and so on. We’ve gone past the point where many conversations had the plasticity to go in unexpected directions. We’ve gotten instead to the point where many participants in the meta-discussion are defending fixed terrain, sometimes terrain that they’re paid to defend by institutions with a largely instrumental interest in blogs as extensions of some larger project.

So I have to say I was recently tempted to go the way of things Berubean, and close up shop. I don’t think I will just yet. There are still a lot of things I enjoy about blogging: conversations I find rewarding, discoveries to be made, skills to be honed. Plus if I don’t blog, I’m going to start excessively unloading on anyone unlucky enough to be in earshot with my opinions about everything under the sun. For their sake, I’ll keep this outlet going.

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12 Responses to Berube Stops Blogging

  1. meg says:

    I’ve read this a lot lately, that blogs have a lifespan of three or four years, usw — not only here and at Bérubé’s, but elsewhere and pre-MB-retirement. And I think I disagree.

    I don’t disagree that is that way for some folks. How could I, after all? But blogging is more than one thing, and for me, it takes a more durable shape — and I know I am not alone there. And without having the blog become the center of my life (as MB mentioned).

    It may have something to do with what we did with this energy before we had blogs. For me, it was Usenet; blogging is just a replacement for the always-already stinking corpse of Usenet, and about a third of my readership is people I met on Usenet in the early 90s. For others, it was letter-writing; that’s probably the case for many of the parenting and other welcome-to-my-life blogs. And there’s keeping a journal (my spousal equivalent keeps a blog faithfully, despite a readership comprised entirely of me and his momma). No doubt there are a host of other outlets folks had as well.

    If letter-writing and Usenet and lord-knows-what had lifespans for us, it wasn’t because our energies petered out but because better outlets offered themselves up. Nothing better for my purposes has heaved to on the horizon, even if it has for others.

    Eh, I’m starting to meander, but suffice it to say that not all blogs have the same lifespan. They’re not all the same species, after all — even if they are the same genus.

  2. I agree, Meg. Though I don’t maintain my own blog — I post at the Valve — at least some of what I do at the Valve derives from my previous practices of using long emails to think things through and keeping extensive notes and journals. I still do those things as, but much of my blogging effort is carved out of that time and that space in my intellectual life.

  3. Timothy Burke says:

    I think this is a good point. For me, this is the extension of a long effort of digital epistolary writing that goes back to GEnie and early email. I think to some extent if I’m restless, I’m restless for the same reason that I was on GEnie and Usenet and listservs and Howard Rheingold’s Brainstorms: because, once again, the room is starting to feel a bit small and claustrophobic.

  4. meg says:

    The enclosure/claustrophobia issue is exactly right. Community is one of the things I look for in my digital worlds, but, as you say, not too much. I only lasted about two weeks on Brainstorms, for example, and LiveJournal has never been a comfortable fit. Social software, c’est-ne pas moi.

    For me, the blogosphere is still a good balance of known and unknown, metropolitan and cosmopolitan — possibly because I have a very mongrel readership. I wonder if I achieve that by giving no one entirely what they’re looking for. Similarly, my RSS feeds are a dog’s dinner of high, low, and no culture.

    Community vs. clique: that what it’s all about (cue the Hokey-Pokey).

  5. Meg, Bill, Tim: you’ve all put your finger on exactly what I was thinking about when this came up on Unfogged earlier. There are plenty of “amateur” blogs–where the blog isn’t a paying gig, isn’t the obsessive center of one’s life, isn’t formally tied to one’s profession–that seem to be able to come and go, and yet they’ve sailed past the three-year mark and keep going. What is it that allows those blogs’ creators to maintain their balance? Probably nothing more or less than the fact that blogging is the way to do something we’ve always done: write e-mails, communicate with friends far and near, create discussions in an ad hoc and informal way. If that’s what it’s all about, then the blog doesn’t have to be a daily burden, doesn’t have to require the attention that MB described it requiring, any more than staying in touch with one family or keeping notes on a reading project has to.

  6. back40 says:

    Back in the old B.S. days you seemed to have a wider range. Have your interests narrowed or is it just that you don’t want to step too far outside your domain on your own blog? Or something else?

    I ask because it seems like that would enlarge the room, and because IMO that’s when you were at your best. I could almost see the wheels turning, slipping then gripping. It was the process that was most valuable and it is when engaging new material or navigating uncertain terrain that the process was most visible.

    I know that was a private, protected place. A less threatening environment in many ways since there were rules to limit exposure to the world. But I think that you could publish every word you ever said there and not diminish yourself.

  7. Joey Headset says:

    This is interesting… I think my site has escaped this bloggy life-cycle. My “blog” hasn’t devolved into schtick. It was conceived as schtick and so it shall remain. Furthermore, my site was initially met with total indifference, and continues to receive little to no reaction from anyone. So far as I can tell, this baby is built to last.

    Unless this medication finally kicks in.

  8. Look, Berube’s a drummer, so I can’t help but read his lines about repetition and repetitiveness and about no longer pushing the form as anything more than an elaborate joke. But maybe that’s why he’s stopping the blog–no one can tell when he’s being serious any more! I was convinced he was joking about “the last throes” of the blog until a couple of days ago, to tell the truth.

    My own solution to the “getting locked into a voice/persona” thing is to have different blogs for different purposes. One to get a wider audience for dueling columns I (used to) do in the local paper with a colleague on a two-week cycle; one for primary-specialization work that I try to write every day on; and one for fun that I contribute to whenever I feel like.

    I think people have come to expect you to always be the voice of reason here, so why not create a pseudonymous blog for fun and for yourself? If it’s good, people will read it. And if they figure out it’s you, the pseudonym should encourage them to keep it to themselves. Bitch Ph.D. semi-outed herself at MLA, but she’s still asking bloggers to stick with the pseudonym.

    Or, if you like the audience you’ve built, let ’em know your more professional blogging is headed elsewhere, and those who stay should expect the blog to live up to its title more….

    What I’m trying to say is, don’t you go stopping too!

  9. Timothy Burke says:

    Gary, on Brainstorms I think it was partly that I was replying in many cases to what other people said, so to some extent the topics I wrote on were generated by other people’s interests or statements.

    I do feel a bit constrained here not to shoot my mouth off about every single thing that catches my eye, partly because on some issues I don’t have opinions that are in any way different than the norm. I don’t think the world needs one more blogger repeating the conventional wisdom on Nancy Pelosi’s latest plan or what have you.

    One thing I think I will write about more here is popular culture, though.

  10. I think some of the aspects of the institutionalization of blogging are actually kind of cool. In literature, the appearance of period based group blogs like The Long 18th and In the Middle (Medieval studies) seems like an interesting development.

    In one way at least this development might seem sad — in the past you’ve talked about the need for academics to break out of only writing within their narrow subspecialties (and I’ve agreed with you), and this new emphasis might suggest that people aren’t doing that as much. But what’s notable about those two blogs at least is that their authors aren’t limiting themselves at all to narrow discussions. And they’re actually pretty exciting to read.

    Perhaps academic blogging has moved past the “I’m rebelling against mind-deadening disciplinarity” to a new kind of space. It’s more conventional in some ways, but I find I’m learning from my blog-colleagues more now that I’m arguing with them less about fundamentals.

    BTW I think pop culture is definitely a good release from hyper-blogo-self-importance-itis. Your review of “Hellboy,” for instance, made me go see it — I would have skipped it otherwise — and I haven’t seen as much of that here lately. (Maybe it’s just been a down year for quirky “B” action flicks based on comics and/or video games)

  11. Timothy Burke says:

    I actually agree that those kind of specialized blogs are a very good thing, not sad at all. I think this is a point that many have made about blogs, that those which successfully specialize themselves around a topical area achieve a kind of stability and solidity that ego-blogs like this one may not.

  12. Doug says:

    And the blog discussions remain open to an interested but non-academic (or at least non-institutionalized academic) audience in a way that discussions in printed journals and professional mailing lists are not. That still seems a good thing.

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