Co-opting the Future

It’s no coincidence that the most-read blogs are created by professional writers. They have essentially suckered thousands of newbies, mavens, and just plain folk into blogging, solely to get return links in the form of the blogrolls and citations. This is, in fact, a remarkably slick grassroots marketing scheme that is in many ways awesome, albeit insincere.|Unfortunately, at some point, people will realize they’ve been used. —John C. Dvorak

Co-opting the Future (PC Magazine)

This article seems to presume that many (if not most) bloggers are trying to blog for profit.For a person who has Internet access, the cost of producing a blog is minimal or nil; likewise, reading a blog costs nothing. One reason I bloog, and give away my ideas for free, is because I know that I benefit so much from the freely-given ideas I have read on other people’s blogs. I hope there will always be professional writers, but I also rejoice that so much amateur content is being produced, shared, enjoyed, and put to use in the world. The vast majority of bloggers aren’t in it for the money.

“Writing is tiresome. Why anyone would do it voluntarily on a blog mystifies a lot of professional writers,” he says. But that presumes that professional writers don’t write voluntarily. Yes, writing is tiresome, and except for a few superstars, writing doesn’t pay very well, so many professional writers have made economic sacrifices to feed a compulsion that drives them to write. I recall a conversation I had with a struggling young actor who finally announced her decision to stop taking acting roles that were good opportunities but that didn’t pay anything — yes, they looked great on her resume and yes, she learned a lot, but all the time she was spending rehearsing or auditioning for free wsa time that she couldn’t spend looking for paid work. I feel the same way about my blogging, but quite frankly I’ve been fortunate enough that, while I don’t get paid directly for my blogging, as a new media teacher I feel that I need to blog in order to participate in the cyberculture I am teaching and studying.

Most academics don’t get paid for the academic articles they write, and get paid only very little for the books they write. When I give a talk at a conference, my university will pay my way (up to a point). Of course, this wasn’t true when I was a grad student — since there is very little research money in the humanities, I had to pay my own way to conferences, while students in engineering (for instance) had travel budgets from the corporations bankrolling their professors’ research. While grad students in the sciences thought of their research as a job, we in the humanities often didn’t even earn enough money to pay our tuition, so we ended up paying thousands of dollars for the privilege of marking stacks of papers and teaching lower-level classes. It came with the territory.

There are professional speech-givers who wouldn’t dream of giving a speech and getting reimbursed only for travel expenses, but as an academic, I’m expected to deliver papers at conferences. Yes, it’s a bother, but it comes with the territory.

I feel the same way about blogging… on a Saturday night after the kids are in bed, what am I doing? Blogging. A few years ago I might have been watching Saturday Night Live; now, rather than sit still and absorb media produced by someone else, I am spending a half hour or so creating someting of my own, and posting it for whoever finds it.

Dvorak cites the statistic that most blogs have a readership of 12. So what? If they are the right 12 people, and the blogger gets sufficient satisfaction, what’s the problem? Traditional diaries theoretically have a readership of one, but that shouldn’t devalue their importance in the culture of literacy. I think most professional writers do understand concepts such as self-expression and personal discovery. If each of a blogger’s 12 readers also has a blog, and each of those reader-bloggers is read by an overlapping but not identical group of 12, then the dynamics of producer and consumer, author and reader, authority and readership are completely re-written. This is part of the whole paradigm shift in new media.