Commonplace Book

Blogging Shift

Posted at — Oct 31, 2019

Blogging, it has been pointed out, is in decline.

I agree with Alan Jacobs in hoping for a blogging renaissance, I don’t think it’s likely to come, at least not in the format he (and I) want it to come. In his recent post on the subject he writes:

I am still hoping for a Blogging Renaissance, but lately I’m thinking that one necessary element of a true renaissance will be to get the readers of blogs on the same page as the writers.

While he’s discussing in his post the benefits that writers gain from a blog that readers are missing. I want to talk about the shift from “writer” to a “reader” which happened, I think, in two parts. One was when the interaction medium for the internet largely switched from a creation-first technology to a consumption-first technology1. The second was when the avenues of easiest feedback were defined en masse by content brokers instead of the readers themselves.

First, let’s talk about the difference between a “creation first” and “consumption first” technology. The way I think about it is the move from people using a desktop or laptop computer to a smartphone. While a laptop is designed for consuming content (it has a screen and speakers), it is also attached to the most popular tools for word generation—a keyboard. Personal computer design always heavily includes a means of textual creation.

A smartphone, I would argue, is designed almost entirely as a “consumption first” platform. This is not to say that smartphones don’t create content at all, on the contrary, they create a large amount of content. This creation, though, takes a different form than things created by someone on a laptop2. A smartphone user is more likely to share a photograph of a recent trip than describe it in text, and more likely to respond to a message from a friend summarizing their reaction with a short response or an emoji than put it into a longer textual format like a blog post.

During the Internet’s adolescence, words (and thus blogs) were easier to come by, because for the most part, almost all of the interaction we had online was using devices designed for interaction via text. With the shift to phones as a more popular interaction device, the ease of pouring thoughts into a textual medium has decreased3.

This leads to the second shift I mentioned, the avenue of easiest feedback.

When someone reads text or views an image on most of the internet these days, there are a number of choices for how to react to content. I call these choices the “avenues of feedback”, and I like to think of them as channels cut into the ground from a source of water. The water prefers to flow through the channels already grooved than elsewhere, taking the easiest path forward. Today these channels are pre-cut for us—just look at “liking” or “retweeting” a tweet, or reacting to a Facebook post. Even some online news outlets have a quickfire reactionary method of reacting to a story with emoji or leaving a short, quick comment on the latest tragedy or political upheaval.

This is like a post-experience survey asking you to rank your experience on a scale of 1-to-5. It says “here is a pre-cut reactionary channel for some experience, it would be easiest to follow the template” and by doing so, limits the scope of considered responses. Simultaneously the pre-cut reactions provided to users by most content brokers (of which social networks are one of the largest) skew towards the passive—I’m registering my like or dislike in something with minimal effort—rather than the creationary. The bar for entry of opinion into the public sphere has been lowered at the cost of the diversity in the type of reactions.

These two things combined changed and continue to change the landscape of internet discourse and blogging. We’re now more likely to see threads of dozens of tweets typed out on a phone than we are to see blog posts. The “readers” in this case, embrace different avenues of both consumption technology and feedback than “writers”.

There’s a lot more I’d like to say about this, but I already didn’t mean for this to be as long as it is4; in short, start a blog!

  1. I use “technology” here, but maybe “medium” would be a better word. The word technology has a lot of hidden meanings, but I used it here to mean an extension of the human body and human faculties. [return]
  2. For the purpose of this post, I talk about “content” as words, but a whole discussion could be had on the shift from textual to visual content on the internet. [return]
  3. This doesn’t mean people don’t blog with phones or that they don’t write large amounts of text, it only means that it is much harder and less incentivized than other devices meant for consumption (laptops, or letters, for example). [return]
  4. Something this is conspisously absent from this post is the discussion of whether one form of interaction is “better” than another. That, however, is a whole different can of worms. [return]