Ye Are Many, They Are Few: In Praise of the Blog
The compulsion to express oneself hasn’t really changed much since the paleolithic cave paintings. The means of doing it, though, have undergone revolution upon revolution. In the years before written language, self-expression would take the form of visual art, which was (and still largely is), limited in the ways it can be reproduced. Written expression, though, has historically offered more means of reproduction.
For a long time, written expression was a very exclusive game: most people couldn’t read, let alone write, for a start, and even if they could, books would need to be copied out by hand. With Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press (the precise technology was mechanical movable type), though, texts could be copied and disseminated relatively quickly and easily, and the book became something which could be produced on a large scale, so the ideas contained therein could reach an unprecedented number of people.
Different kinds of printed material would decline from the book: many people’s first experience of what we now call literature, stories, plays and poems, would come from chapbooks, very cheap collections of printed material (“chap” is cognate with “cheap”, although it means something closer to “deal”, as in “a good deal”, than it does now.) As the book continued to find maturity as a format, we would get monthly journals and magazines offering specialized comment and opinion, newspapers printed every week or every day, and collections of scientific research disseminated via print.
And then, the internet.
I think it’s fair to say nothing since the book has democratized the written word in such a revolutionary way. Suddenly, there are no practical issues relating to the written word. Circulation is, theoretically, limited only to those with an internet connexion. Also theoretically, every piece of text could be made universally accessible, but copyright laws stand in the way of that. What does this mean for books, journals and newspapers with their highly specialized and influential readerships?
In the early years of the twentieth century, some of the most influential ideas would first get in exposure in very narrowly-circulated and short-lived journals like BLAST.
But in the age of democratized expression little magazines and journals of this feel like an octogenarian langue d’Oc Pétanque player having to pitch to Ken Griffey, Jr. The New Statesman was once a venerable London publication dedicated to advancing left wing ideas. Look at the state of it now:
Whereas journals would historically been able to rely on a steady stream of subscription revenue, the rush to free content moved all the power into the hands of advertisers-- it’s fairly obvious that the website has little control over the animated ads that appear next to their content.
After the comet’s hit, and the dinosaurs are breathing their final, pay-per-click funded breaths, what simple life form crawls out of the smoke? The humble blog, initially in the guise of social media. A web developer friend summed up the success of social media thus: “Everyone wants to have their own website, but no-one wants to learn how to code one”. And so we entered the Wild West of social media, with sites offering their members far too many customization options.
Facebook, whose lasting contribution has been to clean up social media and limit how far its users could modify their pages, added a function called “Notes” in 2006, which joined up the concept of blogging (which had existed before in stuff like blogspot and LiveJournal) with the concept of social sharing. Now, the blogging and social worlds are well-integrated, and platforms like WordPress offer a range of options for sharing and publicizing your work.
Blogs are the place where one person can write about what interests them without worrying about readerships, click totals, or revenue. Some blogs use ads for funding, but for a very fair price you can buy some webspace and have it dedicated to nothing but your own thoughts. As I’m an old Romantic, the blogger having total control over their own personal journal is a thrilling concept. Here’s a quick blast of Percy Shelley to get my point over:
My own, my human mind, which passively
Now renders and receives fast influencings,
Holding an unremitting interchange
With the clear universe of things around;
Blogs give a chance for individual minds to shine, to combine influences in new ways, and to make sense of the world at their own pace. So here’s to blogging. Bloggers: blog on. Should you so choose, you can use the Genius platform to further explain your blog posts, and take readers behind the text. It’s an exciting time to be a writer, and to be a reader.
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