Social media can be a good place if you tweet the Twitter you want it to be and work to ignore the rest. However, if there is something you really dig, I strongly encourage you to start a blog.
The year 2019 is, according to Merriam-Webster, among other sources that track such things, the 20th anniversary of the origin of the word “blog.” Anniversaries are welcome opportunities to renew vows, to rejuvenate traditions, and to build on foundations.
My website, Disquiet.com, began in December 1996, a few years prior to the arrival of the word “blog,” so it’s grandfathered in. (Prior to that I had, for a couple years, pages posted via FTP to a URL provided by my first ISP, mostly links to online comics and music resources.) I was resistant to the word “blog” at first, and while I still don’t employ it often, in spirit and practice I treasure it.
Technologies, like hemlines, go up and down. It was all about the web, then AOL, then “push,” then Web 2.0, then email was “dead.” Then came social media, then Slacks. Along the way newsletters popped back up, almost as if they were a new thing (my first one, which I founded while an editor at Tower Records, ran for a decade, beginning in 1994), and the podcast has had a second, robust economic and cultural life. Throughout, blogs just worked, even if they’ve seen better days. Self-publishing is at the heart of the healthy internet. It’s truly self-publishing when the URL and the means of production are your own. Celebrate the 20th anniversary of the word “blog” by thinking of something important to you and then blogging regularly about it.
It’s a common subject of conversation: “What music websites do you read?” The (sad) fact is, most music-coverage sites are burdened with literary equivalents of spam: hot takes and me-first news links, the sole “context” being maximizing eyeballs. (True of many subjects, not just music.) Algorithms existed before computers. Editors, writers, and publishers had a deep sense of what people wanted to read before social media and cookie analysis provided a digital window on our souls. It’s different today, but also no different. When I write about Autechre or Radiohead or Björk, I get way more communication/readers, even if the underlying topics (ideas, culture, technology) are widely applicable. It can be frustrating, but it’s also human. (We’re stuck with each other, so let’s make the most of it.)
But if big-league topics bring readers, they don’t necessarily bring better readers. When you blog you make decisions about what you’re writing. I believe that “why” should precede “what.” I believe that exploring ideas is a good reason to blog. Also sharing experience and asking questions.
The majority of what I read online is musicians, critics, coders, and others’ own sites, such as Ethan Hein’s ethanhein.com, Jason Richardson’s showcasejase.blogspot.com, Alex Ross’ therestisnoise.com, Westy Reflector’s westyreflector.net, aboombong’s penmallet.blogspot.com, Jessica Duchen’s jessicamusic.blogspot.com, Tim Rutherford-Johnson’s johnsonsrambler.wordpress.com, Robin Rimbaud’s scannerdot.com, Kira Grunenberg’s throwthediceandplaynice.com, Darwin Grosse’s alllthingsmodular.com, Richard Brewster’s pugix.com, and Simon Reynolds’ blissout.blogspot.com. There are tons more where these came from. But there used to be even more. Then came social media.
If this year marks the 20th anniversary of the word blog, next month marks the sixth anniversary of Google killing off Google Reader, despite it having been the most-used RSS tool. Around the time I read several tweets conspiratorially tracing the decline of the internet as a safe place for self-expression to that turning point, Reynolds penned a mea culpa about the lost act of “inter-blog conviviality,” as subsequently mentioned by Warren Ellis in his excellent weekly newsletter. I thought, in turn, about why I link less to other blogs than I used to, and I recognized it’s in part because there are fewer other blogs, leading to me being reminded it’s 20 years since the birth of the word blog, if not of the act. In any case, thanks to all them for the brain nudge and habit nudge.
My current RSS reader is packed with long-dormant links. Some return as zombies, filled with weird spam about eyelash extensions and carburetor parts. Some come back reborn. I’d love to see more old sites come back, and for new ones to establish meaningful presences.
Some of those above sites are professionals letting off steam and/or self-promoting. At their best, which can be very great indeed, they provide intimacy and insight. Other sites are of a smaller scale, but the intimacy and insight aren’t diminished. This paean to blogging doesn’t just apply to music. If you garden, blog it (please). If you have a pet monkey, blog it. If you are the repository of some dwindling or otherwise threatened culture, blog it. If you harbor considered thoughts about your profession, blog it. I think back to blogs I’ve encouraged friends and colleagues to start over the years: on gardening, relocations, engineering, arcane research topics. Few started, let alone continued, but I think it isn’t a coincidence that “gardening” is the one that I come back to. As Iago says in “Othello,” in a different context, “our wills are gardeners.” Blogs are gardens of ideas. (I mention gardens a lot when I talk about blogs. It’s because gardening is a key metaphor in generative music and my blog activism is a stealth campaign for generative music. Just kidding. Kinda. It’s mostly because it’s a useful metaphor for blogs, and I have a garden.)
I’m sure if we did wayback sleuthing we’d find lots of conference presentations in a range of professions and pursuits on how “blogging” isn’t a good use of time because of pageviews, or clicks, or SEO, or engagement, etc. Pay no attention to the man behind the podium. Just share what’s of importance to you. And don’t look at pageviews. Don’t seek claps. Don’t chase reposts. Don’t covet trackbacks. Seek the unique pleasure of having shared something you feel is worth sharing. And the conversations that sort of writing (that sort of blogging) encourages. And yes, it can take time. Good things generally do.
And don’t concern yourself with whether or not you “write.” Don’t leave writing to writers. Don’t delegate your area of interest and knowledge to people with stronger rhetorical resources. You’ll find your voice as you make your way. There is, however, one thing to learn from writers that non-writers don’t always understand. Most writers don’t write to express what they think. They write to figure out what they think. Writing is a process of discovery. Blogging is an essential tool toward meditating over an extended period of time on a subject you consider to be important.
In any case, part of blogging is knowing when you’re done with a post. I’ll begin to end by repeating something: 2019 is the 20th anniversary of the word “blog.” If you sense something went wrong with the internet along the way, you might ask yourself if that happened around the time blogging began to decline. It’s time to build back up the self-published web. Thanks for reading. And even more thanks for starting a blog. When you do, let me know.
This post originated as a thread I wrote at twitter.com/disquiet on June 13, 2019, between plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon.