Weblogging is for winners: backlash

Joi Ito recently wrote something about his weblog and the commentary he gets from people. He was concerned that the responses were making him wary of what he wrote, and this, in turn, was making him boring. Several people responded–over 90 comments at last count. Most were sympathetic.

One response in particular stood out, repeated over and over again in several weblogs: too bad weblogging has changed and how a person can’t even have a conversation now without one person or another writing a ‘negative’ comment or post. Not like in the good old days when all of this was so much more fun.

I’m reminded of people reminiscing over the good old days when they were a children, growing up in a small town. “We used to be able to play out in the streets after dark,” they’d say. “And never have to worry about being attacked or harmed.” Not like today, they’d say, sadly shaking their heads.

Yet the same sun that shines now, shined back then, forming the same shadows. Scratch the veneer of most of these “home towns” and you’ll find much of the same ugliness as exists today; except back then, people kept things quiet. When the wife with the bruised face and sore arm told people she fell down stairs, no one believed it–but no one would challenge it, either. The little girl of six who fell suddenly silent after a weekend being baby-sat by the 16 year old neighbor boy is just going through growing pains. The middle aged guy who drinks too much is treated with humor, or even affection.

People are people, and as such equally capable of noble sacrifice and petty want. All that time does is change the mode and means and maybe some of the rules.

Time also breeds familiarity. That old saying of familiary breeds contempt is rather extreme, but there is something about familiarity and its ability to polish away shiny newness.

Consider Joi. Years ago, people saw Joi as a person who was on easy terms with members of his country’s government, was wealthy and influential, and who attended prestigious events all over the world. Now, though, we’ve seen Joi as someone who makes mistakes, loses his temper, gets stealth disco silly and even, at times, veers more to the ‘petty’ side of the pendulum. Just like you and me, as a matter of fact. Except that, unlike Joi, no one was in awe of us when we started blogging.

Six months or two or four years ago, when we wrote something, people took it at face value and reacted–to the writing not to who we were. If we wrote something that moved people, they responded. Perhaps not as many people who would respond to Joi, but the emotional reactions would be the same. Conversely, if we wrote something that riled people up, they responded–and not always nicely.

Most of us who are reading Joi’s recent entry are scratching our heads and saying to ourselves, that’s the nature of the beast; except for Joi, it hasn’t been the nature of the beast. At least, until that old familiarity came along and buffed away some of Joi’s sparkle.

The same can be said for others, though for different reasons. Getting flack about trips now, when you didn’t a couple of years ago? Well, a couple of years ago, we hadn’t heard the complaint about airports and no Internet access for the 20th time. Neither had we seen so many photos of so many beautiful people–most of them eerily similar.

After a time, after so many trips to Spain or Japan or England, and so many glamorous or fun get-togethers, people just aren’t impressed. Damn, most of us are doing good not to be destructively envious.

(I am reminded of David Weinberger writing about an uncomfortable plane trip and how the person in front of him infringed into his space–lordy, I thought we were going to see a re-enactment of Joan of Arc, the reaction was that hot.)

As for others, well, a lot of folks have been given a pass on their writing for whatever reason. This is a state that cannot sustain itself, though, and eventually if they say something controversial, they’re going to get a strong response and no amount of their personal unhappiness about the state of affairs is going to change things.

I had a disagreement with Halley in her comments recently, which she has since written about in her weblog and at the Worthwhile Magazine weblog. At Worthwhile she writes:

Joi Ito started it over here. It feels like the better known you are as a blogger, the more people write nasty or critical comments about you, so you stop blogging about certain subjects — or stop blogging as frequently — or stop blogging completely. A number of us jumped on the subject.

I wrote about it here, but also did a little experiment — writing a very edgy piece about how alienated I feel in my kid’s school community of mostly married moms (I’m divorced), but I also wrote that blog post just to REMEMBER how it felt to let loose and express my opinions in my blog. It met with mixed results.

I also wrote that blog post just to REMEMBER how it felt to let loose and express my opinions in my blog. I would suggest that Halley check out another weblogger expressing his opinion and the reaction to same. And his wasn’t in the nature of a little experiment.

Halley implies that there is a correlation between being better known and people being critical of the person. Anyone who has been weblogging for any length of time knows that this is not the case. Your audience and your influence may be larger; you may get more voices clamoring in disagreement among all the nodding heads; but no matter what, no matter who, it all comes back to what we write and how we write it.

If anything what’s happened recently is that there’s a whole group of people who have been weblogging for years, but this is their first exposure to what weblogging really is: every difficult, entertaining, sometimes boring, all too often frustrating/silly/discouraging/enlightening/contentious bit of it.

Lonely, too, at times. But unlike Jeneane, I’m not too shy to ask for comments.

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