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Milestone?

A few weeks ago, I read somewhere that Jason Kottke was written up in The New Yorker in 2000. Wow, I thought, how'd I miss that? Then I realized that I hadn't missed it. Finding Rebecca Mead's "You've Got Blog," in the issue for November 13, 2000, was no trouble at all, thanks to The Complete New Yorker. Reading the article a second time was an experience loaded with dramatic irony.

Although I no longer have any proof with which to support the claim, I date my Web site, Portico, to the beginning of 2000. (I'm still using some of the code that Miss G wrote for me.) No sooner was the site up than I was oppressed by my ignorance of the care and feeding of a Web site. I knew that I had to keep it "fresh," but what did that mean? Years later, I would conclude that "fresh" means "daily additions," but in the beginning I spent a lot of time assuring myself that writing every day would not be necessary. Who could expect such a thing? What on earth would there be to write about? And then, before the year was out, I read "You've Got Blog." (I think I still had an AOL account.)

As I recalled, the article made blogging sound adolescent and ephemeral, an amusement, barely superior to video games, for geeky singles. And that was pretty much the last bit of thought that I gave to it until October 2003, when my nephew told me that I ought to have a blog. He couldn't say why; he couldn't really explain to me how a Web log differs from a Web site. So it took a while for me to see his point. If I fought doing so every step of the way, however, it was thanks largely to Rebecca Mead. Reading her piece again, I'm amazed by its infantilizing tone.

Most of the new blogs are, like Megnut, intimate narratives rather than digests of links and commentary; to read them is to enter a world in which the personal lives of participants have become part of the public domain. Because the main audience for blogs is other bloggers - blogging etiquette requires that, if someone blogs your blog, you blog his blog back - reading blogs can feel a lot like listening in an a conversation among a group of friends who all know each other really well. Blogging, it turns out, is the CB radio of the Dave Eggers generation. And that is how, when Meg Hourihan followed up her French-boyfriend-depression posting with a stream-of-consciousness blog entry a few weeks later saying that she had developed a crush on someone but was afraid to act on it - "Maybe I've become very good at eluding love but that's not a complaint I just want to get it all out of my head and put it somewhere else," she wrote - her love life became not just her business but the business of bloggers everywhere.

If I've learned anything in the last two years, it's that Jason Kottke and Meg Hourihan are truly serious people who have devoted their adult lives to developing the World Wide Web as a social space. Their intelligence and maturity, however, are glossed over in The New Yorker. Although Ms Mead does note that Mr Kottke "is widely admired admired among bloggers as a thoughtful critic of Web culture," this is the only statement in the entire essay that does not contribute to the suffocating atmosphere of cute solipsism that is conjured by the author's fixation with romance. In fact, the narrative arc of the piece is, rather vulgarly now that I think about it, the approaching consummation of of a budding relationship.

Sentences such as the one invoking Dave Eggers, moreover, create the impression that blogging is for kids. Interestingly, Ms Mead does not include the detail that no such article today would omit: the address of a site for finding out more about blogs, and perhaps for setting one up. It is clear that she thinks that blogging will remain cool and viable as a subject for New Yorker articles only so long as they're the property of the cool kids (to whom she tacitly compares her subjects at every turn). Fifty-two when I read the piece for the first time, I was leery of taking up youth-stamped pursuits and looking ridiculous. Kathleen and I had just celebrated our nineteenth wedding anniversary, and the part of our lives that wasn't too boring to write about was, given Kathleen's profession, too confidential. It's no surprise then, that I came away from "You've Got Blog" both anxious about a mystifying challenge - would anybody read my site if it weren't a blog? - and resentful about having been dismissed from the lunch room.

Yesterday, Mr Kottke announced that he is not going to continue to regard kottke.org as his principal project. A year ago, he raised nearly $40,000 in a fund drive pitched to visitors to the site. As long as six months ago, he began to doubt the viability of the project. In part, he wasn't giving it the attention that he thought that it needed, largely because of undisclosed but positive changes in his life (so much for indiscretion). Also, however,

I haven't grown traffic enough or developed a sufficient cult of personality to make the subscription model a sustainable one for kottke.org...those things just aren't interesting to me.

It seems that I'm to be a mystified by this as I was by "You've Got Blog." If traffic or personal branding weren't objectives, what was Mr Kottke out to accomplish? That's what I started wondering about when Mr Kottke began to have his doubts, and it explains my moving the link to kottke.org from the personal "affinities" roster to the list of useful sites. A year after becoming one of Mr Kottke's micropatrons, I haven't learned much about his life, beyond a knack for packing light and a taste for travel to exotic places. I certainly have never learned anything at all about his relationship with Ms Hourihan, which is funny in light of "You've Got Blog."

I'm not complaining. My purpose here is to note how wildly unpredictive the New Yorker article has turned out to be. Ms Mead all but promised us children; in the alternative universe that she foresaw, the happy couple would have documented pregnancy and delivered a bouncing media product. (Think of the naming rights!) It is evident that Mr Kottke would regard such publicity as a nightmare. Only deeply uninteresting people can afford to be Internet ingenues; anyone with a profession or a spouse will have to develop a robust persona and inhabit it as intimately as an actor inhabits a role. Blogging turns out to be a lot more serious than CB radio.

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