Remembering the Great Bloggers of the Early 21st Century

A few days ago I heard about a notable literary figure, whose name I have of course forgotten. He was apparently one of the first diarists, a man who recorded his life (or at least a part of it) faithfully, and his life was interesting enough — or perhaps I should say well expressed enough — to be good reading, even a few hundred years later.

My brother’s step-father-in-law has in his possession the diary of a man who was a landowner when the communists came. If the diary is half of what Jirka says it is (not a safe bet), there’s a master’s thesis there. The parts he told me about were fascinating. (The people in charge were asslickers, not farmers, and when the decree came down that they would be switching from horses to tractors, they did, over the objections of the people who knew better. The horses were shipped off, and the tractors sank in the very soft soil. It was a disaster.) In these volumes (so I’m told) are those magical moments of life that at the time appear to be the daily grind, a window into another person’s world.

Try this. Sit in a bar strike up a conversation with the guy sitting next to you, and eventually tell him you’re a writer. A little more time will pass, and then that guy will be telling you why you should help him write his autobiography. (Actually that won’t happen where I am now, but the response is nearly universal in the US.) While I sometimes deride these folks, they do know one thing, and it goes right back to what I said before. It’s not wheter the life is interesting, but whether the account of the life is interesting.

And then there are blogs. It is remarkable, actually, that there are so many people out there who are able to put their lives out there in a way that is both articulare and honest. There are thousands of blogs like that. Then there are the millions of others. Searching for that leg-up out of the “other” category, I thought about what it was than made some blogs interesting while most were just reminders that a large segment of our society needs more to do. I’m really thinking more of the journal-type blog than journalistic-type blogs like those dedicated to politics or sports.

So what might I do, I asked myself, to lift this blog above the vast, sucking pit that is most of the blogosphere? What can I do to make the Media Empire a blazing beacon of lucid, penetrating thought, shining through the locust-plague-darkened skies of unfettered free speech? I devoted some time to this, because as with anything you do, it should be possible to get better. Eventually I arrived at the answer: What I can do is nothing.

(Involuntary falshback to a cartoon from the 50’s or 60’s, with two white-coated men standing at one end of a gigantic computer. There are dials and wires and bigness and the computer says everything about what people thought Earth-shattering computers would be like, back then. One scientist is holding the tape which feeds from a slot in the front of the machine. “It says the answer is two,” he says to the other. A lot of effort to get a simple answer.)

Nothing, or at least not much. Blogging is like hitting a baseball, maybe. Most times, the batter walks back to the dugout, unsuccessful. Yet there are some hitters who can make contact with astonishing consistency (approacing 40% not-sucking!), while others are less consistent but sometimes knock it out of the park. In those terms, this episode probably counts as bunting for a base hit.

(This thought process started as “how can I use my blog to help establish my writing career?” “Stop putting out crappy serial fiction,” was the most obvious answer. But I like putting out crappy serial fiction, even though no one reads it. In fact, as soon as I’m done with this, I think I’m going to poop out some serial fiction. Because I can.)

What I set out to say before making this all about me, me, me, was that while the diary as a literary form may continue, I fear it will be lost among the journals, blogs, scrapbooks, and Muddled Ramblings of our age. We are, as a crowd, very eager to tell about ourselves, to somehow with well-chosen words elevate our lives from “same ol’ shit” to “a unique perspective”.

I tried to imagine bloging fifty years in the future, and to me it looks a lot more like You-Tube than wordpress. We could be living in the Golden Moment of underfettered self-expression via the written word. The next generation of successful bloggers will be more like actors that writers.

6 thoughts on “Remembering the Great Bloggers of the Early 21st Century

  1. Thank you both for getting past what on review was the most awfully-written pararaph in history. (I would fix it, but this comment saves me the trouble.) Joel, you are right, mostly, I think, but the new age will be for the instantaneous self-scripters, the talented ad-libbers — in the lingo of the old school, the quick wits. I’m not one of those.

    I picture a cyber-preserve for the ponderously-articlate and introspective. I picture myself living there, still frustrated that in conversation I never have the time to build what I want to say before people are off on another tack. I would guess that in a conversation only the simplest 30% of my thoughts ever come out. 40% are swept away before I can fully articulate them, and the best 30% I don’t even bother trying.

  2. just as backup: I’m thinking you’re thinking of the diaries of Samuel Pepys, world’s first blogger, until he went blind.

  3. There’s something to be said for old-fashioned journals. I remember one time when I was a teenager, and we were visiting the grandparents in Arkansas. I ran across a scrapbook that Aunt Lu had started when she was a teenager, and that also covered her college life.

    What surprised me at the time was how solidly she knew what she wanted to do with her future. When I read the scrapbook, I was the same age as she was when she started it, and I hadn’t the foggiest notion what I wanted to do when I grew up (I still don’t know for sure).

    I don’t know that blogs can ever substitute for the old-fashioned diaries and scrapbooks that exist in hard copy. The electronic medium is just too ephemeral, and it can’t encompass physical artifacts, such as a handkerchief from the senior prom or Polaroid photos of Aunt Lu getting her Florence Nightingale pin when she got her nursing degree.

    After reading Aunt Lu’s scrapbook, I was inspired to start a diary of my own, but that only lasted a couple of years. I just couldn’t find the discipline to keep it up the way she had. Blogging, on the other hand, comes easier, so that’s what I’m doing. Still, I can’t include the floral perfume on the handkerchief or the vinegar smell of the Polaroids. So what I’m doing is not as rich as what Aunt Lu did.

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