Virginia Postrel wonders in her intelligent way about the “what and the “why of blogging. Clearly, blogging is a medium still searching for its message. What is blogging for, how does it contribute to other forms of discourse, and, especially, how does it serve as a place of idea generation?
Virginia is concerned that there is a certain “hit and run quality to the exercise that fails to “deepen the bloggers own thinking on the topic at hand. Bloggers are, to shift the metaphor, in danger of remaining the short order cooks of the intellectual world.
Let me begin by acknowledging the problem. Its a problem. Blogging taxes me the way a particular university Dean used to do. It interrupts just enough each day to prevent certain kinds of intellectual activity.
But the risk of blowing my own horn, I think I have a way of solving this problem.
My head works a little like a lazy susan. I never know what topic will catch my attention, but I have noticed that there is, finally, a limited set of topics that do. Something in Virginias blog, the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times spins the lazy susan each day and, before I know it, I am working on one of my defacto themes.
One of these themes turns out to be the interaction of culture and commerce. One of the subthemes turns out to be creativity. Over the 300 posts or so, I have accumulated several that address creativity. Each was written with a distant memory of the last one. Each looks forward in a vague sort of way to the next. But they are, finally, ideas on their own, so many bottles in the stream.
The good news is that there is an unsuspected mutuality here. When I look at the posts all at once, I am interested to see that while I repeat my themes, I dont repeat my approach to them. As a result, the posts end up piecing together a multi-dimensional view, I would not managed were I to treat the topic head-on and all-at-once. Yes, things overlap, but they do so in that interesting post-modern way where one image is made out of many images. This is, in short, a good way to think. It may be a better way to think than head-on and all-at-once contemplation.
The posts we write over several years could be seen as so many pylons peeking out of Long Island Sound. Eventually we wonder if we couldnt fashion a wharf out of these. Hey, this could be the beginnings of one of those pocket yacht clubs that run up and down the Sound. Several hundred members. Small to middling sail boats and kayaks. A small community of people who want to moor here, even as they take advantage of reciprocal memberships in other clubs from here to New Haven. (Really, when you think of it, the blogging world was probably invented for metaphors. They wanted a place where they could happen profusely, safe from editorially intervention. Blogs are a metaphor’s idea of heaven–the way we are merely carriers of the meme.)
Anyhow. My point and I do have one: posts accumulate. And, when brought together, they begin to network. Created discretely, they begin to interact with one another. Larger themes, and posts, begin to emerge. Before we know it, weve got a book on our hands. Or at least a larger constellation of some kind.
This method of book construction is, as I noted, actually better as a way to approach certain topics. Parallel processing brings us back to the same topic over and over, liberated from the perspectival tyranny of the classic French intellectual.
But if that argument doesnt move you, this one surely will. Writing books out of blogs, proceeding by fragment and overlap, is vastly easier than the traditional method. In the old method, we work from the big idea down. Here we are working from small increments up. Bottom up?
Anything to ease the pain of writing must be a good thing. Blogs don’t have to apologize as the second class citizens of the intellectual world. They may be the next new thing.
For Virginias post, “The Cost of Blogging, go here.
For an example of posts accumulating: “Where do ideas come from: the M&Ms way, go here.
For another take on posts accumulating: “Blogging: what its for, how it pays, go here.