Some thoughts on blogging and writing

There’s something about bloggers, isn’t there? Something you can’t quite bring yourself to say, for reasons of inclination or enervation, either will do, despite occasionally or perhaps frequently thinking it. That they’re… well, a bit weird.

Hunched for hours over the internet, filling their heads with its unending babble before adding to the general melee by posting their own very special opinions, comments, photos and links to cats doing cute things as if that’s exactly what civilisation needed right now. (Okay, here are the cats). And if that’s not enough, something new is only ever a click away. It’s all growing at such an exponential rate it wouldn’t be surprising if it overtook the universe any day now. Then what? Someone should look into that.

For people of a certain age, the sense of weirdness probably stems from childhood. In those days, people who spent most of their time on computers were seen as geeks: techy people not much good at sport or lading about in the park – important things like that. A hobby without human interaction was the answer, and in the eighties and nineties that meant computers – comics were mainly seventies and before, I think, although their appeal to a certain type still proves interestingly stubborn.

Computer geeks played games. Some wrote games, while others programmed the dos or whatever that thing was that made computers do stuff back then. There was a sense that these people were missing out in some way – on friends and girlfriends mainly, but also other things, the absence of which gave the impression they belonged to an odd sect of secluded youth.

But who is laughing now? The geeks, of course. Geeks, or swots as they are otherwise known, have always been the ones laughing in the end, because they learn useful things at school and university which they later turn into money-making schemes, often involving the word app. The former geeks are today’s success stories – Branson? Hawking? Tempah? (Tinie Tempah, the London rapper, if you don’t know). Geeks, the lot of them. Okay, so TT can’t spell, which you would have thought, being a geek, he would have sorted out by now, but that’s incidental.

Geeks rule! Remember teen movies? Of course you do. Still watching them, aren’t you. In the best of them, the jocks were the deadbeats, even though there was always a sense that they weren’t. Alongside the jocks (although seemingly in competition) were the ‘alternatives’, but they wore black and opted out not because they were proper geeks but because they were too cool for school, only in different ways – still deadbeats. But those paying attention, and adults, including the film makers themselves, knew who was going to amount to something in the end. Yes, the math-club-science-club dweeb. They kept telling us, for goodness sake.

So there’s still a sense – certainly in older generations – that people with their faces in computers, including bloggers, are a bit geeky and therefore a bit weird, despite the reality being quite different. In fact, if you want an explanation of the generational divide, then look no further than TV shows like the IT Crowd and the Big Bang Theory. Although created by people you might consider a bit old, like Graham Linehan and Chuck Lore, they have turned geek-jock lore on its head. Youth gets it. Geeks have now got it and the jocks are the joke – when they actually feature.

At the root of blogging is a desire to be noticed. It’s a cruel irony, therefore, that there is probably no better way to remind yourself how people aren’t noticing you than to write a blog post. We have the hyper-bloggers, of course – Andrew SullivanGuido Fawkes and the blogging teams at places like the Telegraph and the Guardian – but they are the exception. Everyone else – the everyday chumps – continue to be ignored. Take Twitter, the micro-blogging site – there’s absolutely no better way to get ignored by famous people than tweeting them your witty jokes. Go on, try it. If you really want to (and sometimes if you don’t) you can get noticed in other ways, such as by threatening to blow up an airport or saying you don’t like someone because they smell funny, but that’s not the sort of recognition most bloggers are looking for.

Except this argument is a load of old rubbish, too. Proper geeks (you remember – the people who actually get it and know their geekness is in fact their route to success), proper geeks know how to use these things properly. They don’t howl at the wind and wonder why the wind doesn’t engage them in stimulating, warm-hearted dialogue. They build and talk to networks of like-minded individuals or fellow tech people who can help them crowd source ideas and stuff like that which most people including me don’t really understand. For them it serves a constructive, Berners-Lee-type purpose of generous digital engagement and horizon expansion.

I’m not sure most other people get that. Of course, there will be the odd individual who just wants to write stuff down and put it out there for no other reason than that. They might fancy themselves as a professor-like character only interested in studying the properties of spider webs for its own mind-expanding sake. A bit like writers or diarists who just have to write because that’s, like, what makes them tick and without it they’d, like, stop breathing or something. Maybe these people exist, but I’d say not many. Most writers want to be noticed, and most of them want to sell you their writing, too, a bit like celebrities selling you the impression you have a special connection in return for you buying their stuff or perpetuating their fame.

Maybe I’m being a bit harsh, but, at the bottom of it, celebrities just want to sell you something. They try to do it directly (if they’re not very imaginative) or they try to do it indirectly. They might tell you about their day or what they had for breakfast in the belief that whoever is reading their missives will think that, in return for such personal information, the least they can do is buy the DVD box set or whatever else is being hawked at the time.

It’s all marketing, and you’re the mark. Think of it a bit like someone mugging you in the shopping centre aisles to buy their sparkly mobile phone cover, only it’s done cyberwebically and you’ve invited them over by liking or following them. They don’t even have to see you coming, you’ll come right over to their little market stall and ask for the damn things.

I keep getting pushed off this weirdness idea. Perhaps that’s because it’s not weird at all, and the thought that it might be only endures because of childhood misunderstanding. There’s nothing new in writing stuff no one will notice. People used to write diaries with no expectation of public recognition – the politico diaries one finds in bookshops were never proper diaries, always pension pots and opportunities to further the author’s legend or correct some inconvenient public misconception about their conduct in public office.

True, proper diaries are not shown to the public like blog posts, but so what, we’ve established that most blogs are not read by anyone anyway. Publishing them online merely represents the modern way of writing. If nothing else, it just looks a little more serious, professional, contemporary.

People also paint pictures and take photographs without expecting public recognition. A whole variety of hobbies and pastimes exist that result in little more than a memory of something done that they found interesting. And writing is just the same. People do it because they like to. Recognition would be nice, money better, but it doesn’t really matter. None of that will come anyway unless you write something in the first place. People write and blog because they like the shapes and images the letters make on the page and in their minds, just like artists; and if you think that’s weird, well, then YOUR weird.

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