October 2, 2007

Manifesto

Occasionally when starting a large project, I've found it to be helpful to write a manifesto first as a way to organize my thoughts and state my goals for whatever it is I'm doing. If I put what I want down in words, I'm more likely to acheive it. If I list my goals first, I'm more apt to remember what exactly it is I'm trying to acheive. And, if I don't get exactly where I want to be with the project, looking back at the original manifesto is an entertaining way to see where exactly the whole thing went off the rails.

So, that's why I'm writing a blog manifesto. It's potentially a large enough project that I should take some time to define its scope. And, I've held such resistance to this idea of blogging for so long that it's helpful for me to define exactly what my objections are and how to overcome each one.

Several people have asked me "Do you have a blog?", "You're one of those internet people. I bet you have a blog." and "Surely you have a blog." I've always said "No", and then proceeded to lay out whatever objections I could think of to the very idea of me blogging. Over the years, they became more and more ridiculous. Here, in its entirety, is the list of every objection I've ever had to me having a blog:
  • It's feels pretentious to assume that anyone would want to read what I wrote. The very act of me putting words to paper (or web page, as it were) assumes that there's someone out there who actually wants to read what I wrote. It feel that it's the height of hubris for me to just put articles out there assuming that there's a large contingent of people who have been spending their whole lives up to now just waiting for me to grace them with my witty word.

  • I wouldn't be able to come up with anything interesting enough to hold the audience that I was so pretentious to assume existed. My writing would be boring, and since it's somehow a reflection of me, I would be boring. Anybody who was interested in reading would no longer be, and I would be talking to myself.

  • If I said, "This blog's for me, I don't care if I'm talking to myself", I would still be hurt to find out that no one was actually reading it. I would then have to resort to sensationalism to get readers. I would be so dependent on seeing positive comments to ensure that people were actually reading articles that I would start writing just to get a reaction. I think this is the problem with many blogs that I've read, and quite frankly, with much of people's writing, period. Quite often, something is written in such a way to elicit a reaction in the reader, which is quite fine if you're trying to bring the writer around to your point of view, or if you're trying to evoke a specific feeling in them. However, a lot of the things I read on the internet are written just to get someone riled up or inflamed, and not even in a particular direction. It's just written to get someone to keep reading or make a comment (usually, so that the writer or their site can get more page views or more ad impressions). It's not honest writing, and I'm afraid I would find myself so desperate for attention that I would quickly head down that path. Either that, or I would have to stoop to things like announcing I would cut off my own toe and "liveblog" it so as to assure a large mass of readers.

  • It's nerdy. Let's face it, maintaining a blog is still a pretty nerdy thing to do. Yes, it's true that nobody would ever mistake me for anything but a huge nerd. However, there's still this little part of me that tries to deny it, and assumes that people like me because I'm cool and not because I can fix their computer or do their taxes. I'm also still holding out hope that somebody, somewhere, will only like me for my body.

  • I was... "involved" with a writer once. It didn't really end up as a positive experience for either of us. It took me a while to realize that she was living her life as if she were writing it in real-time. Thus, all of her actions and the choices she made were geared towards whatever would look best in words. This usually resulted in doing whatever would garner as much sympathy as possible from her imagined audience.
    I don't think the same problem would befall me, but I have noticed strange changes in my thinking and consciousness when I write. If I'm writing something big, or preparing to write something and thinking it through, I've noticed that my thinking will change. I will no longer think thoughts and feelings; I think sentences and paragraphs. I noticed even in the last couple of days of thinking through this manifesto my thought process changed as if I was narrating my thoughts instead of just experiencing them.
    This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It could definitely help me become a better writer, because when in that mode my ability to experience feelings is constrained by my ability to articulate what I'm feeling. It provides a built-in incentive to improve the process of constructing thoughts in the form of sentences. So, it's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is weird, and feels funny. If it just affected the way I thought things, no big deal, but if it started to color the way I experienced things, or made me think of something in a different way than I would have otherwise, that has the potential to be bad.

  • I don't know if I want to spend the time. Frankly, I have a lot better things that I should be doing. My house is perpetually falling apart, I'm constantly behind in my work responsibilities, and my kids require constant attention. If I do have free time, I don't necessarily want to spend it writing.

  • I can't think of a catchy title or theme. Sure, a name doesn't seem that important. So I do need to pick something as an address, and the title will be the first thing that readers see on every page. So, I'm trying to think of something good. I've never had a nickname that stuck or anything particularly identifiable about me. So, I can't use anything like that as a name for a blog. I don't have a particular theme in mind, so I can't really pick a name based on a theme.
    Any halfway clever names that I could think of are already taken, although without fail, every name I have checked links to blogs that haven't been updated in years. The most recently updated one was from 2004, and everything else hadn't been updated since 2002 at the latest. Fully half of the names I looked for linked to blogs that only had a single post, usually of the form "This is my new blog. I'm totally going to update it all the time and keep everyone up to date on me and my life." I just really wish there was some sort of blog eminent domain that would allow me to just take over one of those completely useless sites for the greater benefit to mankind.

  • Everybody's doing it. Notwithstanding the scores of abandoned blogs I encountered, I still know of lots of people, companies, animals, and inanimate objects that have their own blogs. I still try to fancy myself as some sort of trendsetter or rebel or iconoclast, and I'd be hurting that by jumping on the blog bandwagon. In fact, what I'm trying to do is position myself at the forefront of the Great Blog Backlash, should that ever take place. Then I can say, "Oh, the rest of you all just started not blogging when not blogging became trendy. I've been not blogging for years"

  • I don't particularly like the word "blog". I actively dislike some of the related words, like "liveblog", "vlog", and expecially "blogosphere". I'll use the word "blog" or "blogging", but that's about it. I also don't particularly like that there are a lot of misconceptions about what a blog is, or arguments about what a blog should be.
    There is a huge collection of people that think a blog is a political commentary site on the internet that espouses some far-right or far-left view, since that's the only context in which they've ever heard the term. There are people who define blogs as meta-commentary on the web or the user-driven foundations of Web 2.0 "leveraging the mutificiencies of social networks", or "using the meta-synergies of the blogosphere's anthropotopography to inspire an new generational parashift" or something that's only really apporiate for Wired magazine or some such. I'm not even sure what stuff like that means other than they imagine their "blogosphere" as one gigantic circle of one person writing something, another person linking to that and commenting, a third linking to the second and so on. Yeah, that happens, but that's a small subset of what I see out there. Still others would assume that if someone has a blog it's nothing more than that person's online journal. Yeah, that's true in some cases, but not nearly all. Some people have discipline and only post interesting things. Some people are much less discriminating than they would be with a real journal. I'm not going to attempt to define what a blog is, other than to say it's a collection of crap thrown up on the internet that someone may or not read. In other words, pretentious wankery.

  • People will assume they somehow know me just from reading the stuff on my blog. I still have this impression of myself as a terribly complex person. I fear that someone who reads my blog as a way to get to know me better will either make incorrecty judgements because they weren't getting the full story, or assume they have the full story when they really don't. That would be unfortunate. What would be more unfortunate would be for me to find out that no, I'm really not that complex, and yes, you can derive every bit of my personality from a few postings I made on an internet site somewhere.
    I read an Onion article a while back called "Mom Finds Out About Blog". One of my favorite quotes in the article was the blogger, Kevin Widmar, saying, "With the raw materials in my blog, she could actually construct an accurate picture of who I am." Yes, that's terrifying. Believe it or not, it's actually a great concern of mine that someone reading my blog will try to assemble an accurate picture of who I am and then fail, or worse, succeed. (When I was setting up the blog, I was overjoyed to find a help file in the Blogger help called "What to do if your mom discovers your blog..." that addressed this exact situation and even quoted the same Onion article! The weird part is that between the day I started this manifesto and the day I finished it, the Blogger link went dead, and no amount of searching brings it up, although it's still in the Google cache. Hmmm.)

  • Someone will hold it against me later. As a corollary to the above, it's possible that I may miss out on some future job offer or something because someone somewhere Google's my name, reads what I wrote, and thinks I'm a dork. I much prefer to keep that little bit of information secret until later.

So then, if I have so many objections, why am I doing this now? Well, it turns out that a lot of those objections are not good ones. Who knew? It also turns out that anything else that's left can be fairly easily overcome. Some of my objections require just a little bit of rationalization on my part to overcome. Some require viewing things from a bit of a different perspective. Some require just a bit of stubbornness in the other direction. So, I can get past all of these objections, but still, why blog? Why take the time?

I can think of a few good reasons:
  • I need practice writing. I'm not as good of a writer as I ever was before. I can't articulate my thoughts clearly and succinctly, and I have a hard time getting the exact meaning of what I'm saying to come across in text. I need a reason to write occasionally so as to keep what little skill I have.

  • I don't remember things very well anymore. I still remember my name and things like that, but I don't remember the fine details of things that happened years ago. My hope is that if I write more about them, the act of writing will cement them better in my memory, as well as providing a published narrative to remind me what I was doing or thinking at the time.

  • I quite frequently come across some thought or problem and hit Google to see what other people on the Interweb might have done about said thought or problem. Sometimes I'm alarmed when I can't find anyone else reporting on the same experience, and in those cases, I begin to feel all alone in the world. I decided that if I have a blog, everytime I search for something on Google and can't find it I can post what I know about the topic to my blog to assist anyone who might be looking for said topic in the future.

  • I don't keep in touch with people well. I don't write letters, and I don't call often. However, I want to keep in touch with my friends and loved ones; I'm just not good at following through for some reason. In recent years, I've really come to depend on other people's blogs so much to keep me up to date on whatever they're doing or thinking. This is a line of communication that's pretty much one way, though, and it's time that I do my part to give back to those who give of themselves.
I'm sure I can think of more good reasons as time goes on, but those are enough reason to get started.

3 comments:

Scott said...

It was shrewd of you to wait until you had some momentum before you let people know about the blog. Such restraint should be mandatory when starting a blog.

In the spirit of congratulations for starting your blog, I point out that your manifesto and disclaimer links in the blog template appear to be broken.

Aaron said...

Those links were still pointing to the first URL I picked. Thanks for pointing that out.

I tried to keep the blog on the down-low until I finished my first spurt of posts at least. However, Joey found it (probably through my profile), and that ended up being a good thing because it spurred me to finish getting it ready sooner.

Cheeth said...

I love your body, Larry.