Blogging has taken the wired world by storm. Technorati says they track over 50 million blogs (kind of reminds you of McDonald's saying x million burgers sold, doesn't it). The Pew Internet and American Life Project says that 8 percent of American internet users, 12 million people, blog. For every blog tracked, there are many more that escape notice. Most blogs are not about making money. They tell the stories of my life and yours, and the wisdom we have accumated through the years.
Old school media critics say blogging is a bad thing. They (the dreaded They) write it off as Vanity and Exhibitionsim. As Alexander Halavais of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut told the Washington Post, "The average blogger is a 14-year-old girl writing about her cat". (And the average college professor wears turtlenecks and corderoy jackets with those way cool leather elbow patches, smokes a pipe, has a goatee, and sleeps with his attractive female students who want to get an A. I really want to take your courses now.) Of course, they probably write off the work NPR has done with StoryCorps as Vanity and Exhibitionism, too.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in Flow, discusses the keeping of personal history as a creative experience that furthers our personal growth. The whole concept of journalling focuses on the same thing. While he was being interviewed by Gordon Hurd on After The MFA, Lewis Buzbee said
Every person certainly has a unique path through reality, and each of those paths suggests some important testimony, some witness to a life on the planet.
Mr. Buzbee was talking about novel writing, but the same thing applies to journals in general, and blogs in particular. For most of us who blog, it isn't about money. It isn't about exhibitionism. It isn't about vanity. It is about creative expression, testifying to what we have learned in our time on this planet, and adding to the score created by the society in which we live.
In Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi differentiates between instrumental and expressive skills. Instrumental skills are those we learn to cope with our environment - to survive and thrive in the physical and social world. In many cases they don't bring joy, or make us better people. They simply enable us to exist.
Expressive skills are those we learn to externalize our subjective experience. Before people could talk, they danced and acted. The first men who found pigments painted cave walls and their skin. After we learned language, we talked and sang . When we learned to write, we wrote down our stories and poetry. As long as people have existed, in whatever form, we have used words and pictures to interprete and communicate our experiences and discoveries - most often not because we had to, but because that is how we learn to understand ourselves and our world.
The same activity can be instrumental or expressive, depending on the motivation. In the Washington Post article cited earlier, B. L. Ochman is quoted as saying "It astounds me that people are willing to do this stuff without getting paid." Ms. Ochman, if you weren't motivated primarily by extrinsic factors it wouldn't surprise you. Blogging is a new medium, a new channel to communicate with ourselves and the world around us. Unlike many, though, rather than being available to only a few, it is available to everyone, and so the thread of life each individual blog portrays immediately enters the public consciousness and becomes part of the history of the world.
And yes, I am sure there is a fourteen year old girl out there blogging about her cat. But, do you know what? That girl is important, and so is her cat.
I'm sure Mr. Halavais doesn't teach like this quote makes him sound, and Ms. Ochman actually does have an interesting blog.
09/25/2006 I apologize to Ms. Ochman. I originally identified her as Mr. Ochman (If you like, you can call me Ms. Cockrum for the next month :-) ).