On blogging today

I’ve been reading many articles about the state of blogging – it seems to be a self-reflexive theme at the moment for many blogs, and understandably so. My take on this issue, while connected to some of the articles I’ve read, stems from my own perspective.

I’m sure some of you would have come across the term ‘the death of blogging’, or, ‘the death of blogs’. I’ve been thinking lately about this so called ‘death’. I’m sceptical when I encounter the words ‘death of’ in relation to any type of media, communication and art.

I wonder if we’ve become so immersed in the logic of capitalism, which defines so many of our personal and collective interactions, that the idea that certain media and communication can be ‘killed off’ is an expression of this logic. For example, one of the dominant ways of engaging with the world is via a logic of consumption; things are consumed, emptied out, and discarded. This is a simplified version, I know. And I’m not really about critiquing capitalism per se here. I’m trying to understand how it is that we can assume things can so easily evaporate into nothingness, when there is so much evidence to the contrary, and, when things are far messier than this because people are messier and engage with media and art in messy and complex ways.

Some of the arguments I make here are big claims, and I’m not sure I can support them all at this stage. I’m working through some ideas, experimenting, testing them out. I may come back and read this at a later date and decide it’s all bullshit. But I like experimenting with ideas, so here I go ...

The ‘death of the blog’ is like a version of the ‘death of the author’. Academics would be familiar with the latter concept. For anyone who isn’t, the concept of the ‘death of the author’ refers to a 1967 essay by French critic and theorist, Roland Barthes. In it, Barthes argues that approaching books and literature through the process of focusing on the author’s biography and intentions is limiting, and that the writer and his or her creation are two separate things. What he was arguing for – the location of the meaning of writing beyond authorial control and intent – is something that has been put into practice in many postmodern novels. These novels often place the process of interpretation in the reader’s hands. The process of moving away from authorial intent was labelled ‘the death of the author’ because it was a metaphorical ‘killing off’ of the author as the God/creator of meaning.

The idea of the ‘death of the author’ works on a certain level. It’s certainly convincing as theory. And yet, when you look at the breadth and diversity of writing out there, when you examine the way the author is still so dominant in other art forms (i.e. film), when you consider that the author never really ‘died’ beyond a specific literary genre and cultural theory, and more importantly, when you realise that the ‘author’ in this ‘death’ really refers to the ‘male, white, middle-class author’ because every other type of author figure has not yet been ‘born’ in the cultural imagination, then really, the idea of this final ‘death’ seems like pure theory.

I related this to the ‘death of the blog’ yesterday. I thought about the idea that perhaps what is meant by the death of the blog is really just change in the way people engage with blogs and perhaps the decline of a very specific type of blog. Just like postmodern literature (where the author is symbolically ‘killed off’) doesn’t reflect all of contemporary literature and art, specific types of declining blogs don’t represent all blogs. I see some blogs thriving in the current context, while I see others losing their relevance. This is simply change. I see fewer comments on many blogs, but I see smarter, more engaged interaction with others. This is also change.

In the case of my own blog, comments have dropped considerably. But then, I never had a huge amount to begin with, so this loss is not as palpable. And I’m not so sure it’s a loss. Sure, my ego doesn’t like it – it’s nice to get feedback and compliments. But rather than abandoning my blog, people who have stuck with it loyally, or who have only recently discovered it, have found other ways to engage with it. As my comments have dropped, my emails from readers have doubled.

Here’s what I think, and I may be wrong here. I think the term ‘death of the blog’ is often about the specific model of the monetised, mainstream blog – i.e. the blogging model that was held up as an example of how to make a living from your blog and quit your day job; the ‘mainstream’ blog model that requires full-time work to make it professional, like a magazine. Those types of blogs are indeed more difficult to maintain now as many more people have joined the game and you need a creative head in order to make sure your own blog survives. Because people’s behaviour is not static; they change, their priorities change, their finances and spare time shift, they learn to engage with media differently, and there is always competition for their attention, time and money. If my blog were my living, I’d also be worried. I don’t begrudge or judge anyone for that worry, it’s a genuine one.

However, it needs to be pointed out that this blogging model is not the only one that exists. Many blogs aren’t affected by this ‘death’. These include blogs that aim to raise awareness about specific issues or discuss social problems and concerns, which I personally think are thriving. Many of the feminist blogs I follow for example, have taken the space and time I used to devote to design blogs. I still like design blogs, but my priorities have changed.

It’s worthwhile pointing out that the idea of ‘the death of’ comes in such repetitive cycles within our culture: the death of art, the death of the author, the death of film (when TV came about), the death of magazines (when blogs came about), the death of books (when kindle came about). And yet, this ‘death’ often works in theory rather than practice. I don’t particularly like change myself in my personal life – I react against it, but it seems to enter my life in big dramatic gestures that are futile to fight. I may hate change at the time, but it’s usually necessary for me. So yeah, things are changing, it’s not always fun or pleasant, but it’s not death, it’s life.