Monday, November 24, 2008

Why do we blog?

Depending on how news and technologically savvy you are, you may have heard of the college student who committed suicide while on a live streaming webcam. If you haven't, here's the news story if you care to read it.

Jimmy Stewart knew how to do it

While the events are saddening to be sure, a college student or teenager committing suicide is not exactly unique in this world. Committing suicide for the public to see is not a new thing either; people have been jumping off bridges and buildings for the whole world to see for decades, dating at least as far back as It's a Wonderful Life. Last year a man hung himself live on his webcam in Britain and just a few months ago a man in Utah shot himself while his girlfriend watched over the streaming video.

A quick Google search reveals other similar events; others who have committed suicide using various methods done publicly over live webcams.

These are no doubt tragic events. As cold as it is to say, I don't really focus or think much about them. They don't really phase me much; I don't even flinch when I read about them. Perhaps it's our saturation of violence and depression in the media or simply that because of globalization and an interconnected world we hear about these events far more than our parents or grandparents did growing up in small town farming communities. After all, if one in a million people commit suicide, then the more people you have in a community the larger the chance of someone doing so. The internet is a community of hundreds of millions - if not billions - of people. Basic statistics say that some of them will commit suicide.

What struck me about this particular story was the comment made by the assistant professor in popular culture saying:
Biggs' very public suicide was not shocking, given the way teenagers chronicle every facet of their lives on sites like Facebook and MySpace.

"If it's not recorded or documented then it doesn't even seem worthwhile," she said. "For today's generation it might seem, 'What's the point of doing it if everyone isn't going to see it?'"
It's an interesting thought. I somewhat begrudgingly admit that at times I've thought "this would make a great blog post" while doing something. I say begrudgingly because it feels so trite, so wannabe-trendy to think about how you'll blog about something. This is not a popular blog in the grand scheme of things. I get maybe 40 unique hits per day; hardly the several hundred or even thousand that others get. Why then do I write about my life for anyone in the world to read about?

Part of me fits into this category. There is a very real part of me that wonders what's the point of doing something if you can't tell people. It's little more than vanity; my reputation is what I care about and am worried about; what others think of me or will think of me when I tell them. At times I have actually done things that are either very stupid or just plain weird largely for the sake of being able to say that I've done them.

Coolest. Bloggers. Ever.

I can only surmise the reason for this, aside from reputation and the associate fame/infamy that comes with it, is that I'm so constantly bombarded with the actions of celebrities or those I aspire to be like that I mimic their perhaps bizarre actions. I'm not a celebrity nor famous; the news and tabloids won't tell the world what I did and so I must do so myself, thus giving me a small chance at being noticed. From this it's possible people will read my blog and think "gosh, that's crazy, I should tell my friends about this guy" and thus become popular in the virtual blogosphere.

There are people who make their living solely from their blogs or websites. Statistically it's almost an infinitesimal amount. Trying to become one of those few is ridiculous at best and isn't even my goal. Aside from being a very volatile and unstable occupation, being a blogger generally is not how someone achieves fame but rather what someone does to sustain it. Many successful bloggers also have books they've published, write for magazines or newspapers, are current or former television stars, etc.

He knows what white people like

They achieved a level of notoriety prior to starting their blog, thus elevating the popularity of their blog. Very few people have come with no former media attention or background and become successful bloggers. Even then they usually have a somewhat impressive background - the author of
stuffwhitepeoplelike was a Phd student and 2006 public speaking instructor of the year at Indiana University, within 9 months of his blog being up he had already tallied over 40 million total hits and had a $300,000 book deal. My blog has been up for over 15 months and I've maybe hit about 1,200 total hits and I have no book deal.

Bringing this back to the comment of the current generation thinking something isn't worth doing if everyone isn't going to see/hear about it is somewhat understandable. Most people are somewhat cynical to the thought that they can grow up to be the next Johnny Depp or Hannah Montana; they know the chances of such are minute at best. Like myself, they aim to achieve popularity through other channels and blogs allow anyone and everyone to write and be published. It doesn't come with the paycheck that most authors get if signed by Harper Collins, but it comes with being able to say "look what I wrote" which holds it's own sense of pride. I like to think I avoid doing things solely for the purpose to write about them, but more than once I've found myself creating a blog post in my head while doing something. On one hand, we should do things because we want to, because it'll make a difference or because it's fun or just because we want to, but on the other hand, what's the point if no one will know?

Memories make reality

History is simply a collection of memories, perhaps memories that are written down or recorded, but memories none the less. If something isn't remembered, can I say it ever happened? Over time the consequences of all actions are blurred and lost in the chaotic interactions and physical laws around me. At that time I can no longer say "the event happened because I can see the results of it" because it's impossible to follow cause and effect. If something isn't remembered, isn't written about - isn't blogged - can I still say it happened? I suppose in that sense I blog about my life to ensure that it's there. I do it to validate my actions, my thoughts and my existence. Chaos theory would say that my actions do effect my friends living in Austria and Scotland but cynicism says they don't. As such, by blogging about my thoughts or my actions, they become real to people who would otherwise have no way of knowing about them. Suddenly my life and existence has more substance to them.

That's the best response I can give to the thought that my generation has a mentality that something isn't worth doing if we can't tell others about it. We're so interconnected that if we don't blog about it then half of those we know won't know it happened. Just as friends and family tell each other details about

I look like this when blogging

their lives or talk about their weekends, we blog about it to reach a more spread out audience. I can't call Wisconsin, Seattle, Toronto, Poland, Austria, London, Fargo, and Minneapolis everytime something happens. It's easier to just blog about it and let those who wish to read about it do so at their leisure.

That, and I just like to write.


Brooke said...

It is interesting that you would blog about this today of all days, as I have been pondering this questions all day long. I find that blog, not out of vanity, but more sanity. I use the blog to empty my head of thoughts that are not necesary for me to be carrying around. I also use it to keep my family up to date with what I am doing, but as I am neither doing much and they aren't checking the blog, that is a redundant point anyway. I think because we as humans are usually very social creatures, that having the capability of extending our reach and connecting with those farther away than our local circle is highly appealing. But you bring up a very valid point. It's the old "If a tree falls in the forest" question, but in this case it would be "If I stopped updating my blog, facebook, myspace, etc...would I cease to exsist to the world?"...and in most cases the answer would be yes

Mark A. said...

as far as blogging for sanity goes, my mission president always told us to keep a journal, not because future generations would like to read what we ate for lunch one day, but because its a way of dealing with the stresses we faced working 12-14 hours a day seven days a week. by writing things down it helps clear the mind of clutter. we can focus better, whether at work, our personal lives or where ever.

nae4blue said...

About the purpose of your blogging mission at the end: ain't that the truth. That's what I'm all about. I can't keep my friends up on my life fast enough (even if what I write is very weird and usually pointless).

Tim said...

Brooke and Mark - I've written a previous post regarding the cleansing and sanitizing power of writing. On Wednesday I've got a blog post that will cover that.

Renee - I realized that I really don't care about attending a five or ten year high school reunion anymore since I already know what pretty much all my friends are up to thanks to blogs and facebook.