Digital Hipsterism

Blogging is dead.

I know what you’re thinking…and it’s not did he fire six shots or only five. You’re thinking the irony of blogging about the demise of blogging is pretty rich. It is. But bear with me.

The death of blogging has been widely reported in the online world lately, on Twitter and Facebook, and by any number of prominent authorities, not the least of them being Virginia Heffernan, the high priestess of all things digital and lately uber-correspondent for Yahoo! News. In fact, in the wake of the recent calamitous Facebook IPO, Heffernan wondered if social media might also be headed for the dustbin of digital history.

Virginia Heffernan

As welcome as that prospect might be…wouldn’t it be great if we could all get back to doing real work…I suspect most of the social media and even blogging are not dying but are instead evolving. I think all of these forms, as they adapt and refine themselves to the conditions in the digital ecosystem, will not only survive but get better. Let’s face it: How could they not?

They’ll survive by getting smaller and smarter and much, much less democratic. Information does not want to be free and it doesn’t want to come from everywhere all at once. Information wants to have value. What the heap of words reduced to bits and bytes that is the blogosphere needs now is a little natural selection. Let the hacks and the poseurs and the self-indulgent and the wingnuts of every persuasion go extinct.

There is a kind of digital hipsterism in force in the online universe…a constant, lurching, desperate search for a ride on the Next Big Thing. This leaves behind a trail of semi-useful tools that got discovered, over-used, and that are being gradually abandoned by people who no longer find them worthwhile, or who hate the loss of privacy that comes with every new digital identity, or who simply never had anything meaningful to communicate in the first place.

Where it once seemed that someday everyone would have a blog that nobody read, it now appears that just the opposite may come to pass: We have begun to look for voices that matter, prose that tracks, judgments that are more than the idle head-scratching of the uninformed. The blogosphere isn’t dying…it’s just ready for a heavy winnowing out. In the future, not everyone will blog. Those who remain will be those are read.

The same thing is happening with self-published books. Until recently, it appeared that ebooks had thrown open the door to anyone wanting to call himself or herself an author. The reality is that the odds of success with a self-published book are vanishingly small and are a function not only of the vastness of the competition but also the fact that most of the people who give this a try are, however earnest, simply not any good. The door may be open, but rarely does the real thing walk through it.

For those of us suffering in the transition from the analogue past to the digital future…the very subject of Virginia Heffernan’s forthcoming book Magic and Loss…that new sound that can now be heard faintly amid the din on the Internet is the the sound of our analogue hearts still beating.

12 thoughts on “Digital Hipsterism

  1. Joe Loveland says:

    Really interesting post, William.

    I wonder, though. Because there is no price of entry into blogging, I think many of us will keep writing the occassional blog even armed with the knowledge that almost no one is reading them.

    After all, if Blog A has millions of readers and my Blog Z has just dozens, profitability will not force me to shudder Blog Z, as it would if I were in most other types of endeavors. If my ego and or love of bloviating is large enough, and goodness knows it is, I’ll just keep bloviating, as gazillions of lightly read bloggers currently are. If niche bloggers needed a sizeable audience to justify the time, we would have been gone years ago. Most of us have long known how nichey and irrelevant we are, but are pathetic enough to be okay with that. And again, market economics don’t force the issue in the blogosphere.

    So, I’m just not sure whether much has really change in blogging. It has always been a vast sea of mostly lightly read blogs, and a relative few heavily read ones, and I don’t know why that might change.

    But maybe I’m missing something. It’s not a field I follow that closely.

    1. William Souder says:

      Good points, all. Perhaps what is more threatened than blogging per se is our conception of how valuable it may be. But you’re right about thing: These words we post are like trees falling in the forest. If nobody hears them they make no noise.

      1. Joe Loveland says:

        Re: “Perhaps what is more threatened than blogging per se is our conception of how valuable it may be.”

        What, you mean we bloggers are not all contemporary Thomas Paine’s producing modern day uncensored pamphlets fueling a new democratic uprising in the countryside and town squares? I’m crushed!

        Seriously, you make a very valid point. If some of that brand of early adapter hyperbole died off, I’d sure be fine with that.

        In many cases, writing to relatively small audiences like we do at SRC is surely self-delusional self-aggrandization. But some bloggers write their nichey blogs with their eyes wide open about the limited impact of it all, but do it anyway just to spark a conversation and engage in a bite-sized community. And there is something kind of sweet and uplifting about that side of blogging. There are plenty of discouraging parts of blogging too — anonymous bullying by trolls, echo chamberism, ego-tripping digital hipsters, fact-averse ranters. But there are some parts of it that I sometimes find kind of endearing. I’ve almost retired many times, but I guess that’s what keeps me ego-tripping back.

  2. PM says:

    Seems to me that the thing people are going to pay for isn’t necessarily the information (or blog) itself, but rather a gatekeeper–someone you pay so that you don’t waste your time. An aggregator, like Browser (http://thebrowser.com/), for example. A personal concierge–and there is no reason that this can’t be digital–but then you get into that inevitable race between ways to outsmart whatever screens you put up and the spammers/advertisers, etc.

    But, yeah, how do you tell a trend from a fad? Blogging won’t die out, it will just be a lot smaller. tweeting hasn’t replaced texting, texting hasn’t replaced e-mail, and e-mail hasn’t replaced the US Postal Service–but each new innovation has reduced the size of the previous “new thing”.

    Plus ca change and all that…..

    1. Ellen Mrja says:

      You are right, PM. We need smart people such as yourself and other friends on this blog to read, annotate, curate. People would pay for that service. It’s one of the areas where current journalists who are getting cut could actually carve futures out for themselves because they are used to writing, distilling, editing.

  3. William Souder says:

    Right. Another way to put it is that I’d still rather call my kids on the phone…but they never answer. So we text, which is about a thousand times LESS convenient than simply talking. Sometimes the technology owns us and not the other way around.

    1. Ellen Mrja says:

      The CEO of AT&T says that within 2 years, it will be forced by consumer demand to offer data-only plans on mobiles. Then you’ll never hear your kids’ voices. When I need to reach anyone under 25, I text. Phone calls may/may not be returned. E-mail? Don’t make me laugh, grandpa.

      1. PM says:

        I had to force my 21 yr old son to actually set up his voicemail, and texted him telling him to call his grandmother so that she could wish him a happy birthday…..

  4. Welcome back to the sinking ship of blogging, fellow wing-nut Souder. Good stuff.
    One force that may help people choose what forms of electronic communication and community they take part in is the selling of personal information and the selling of everything on the sites. It’s shocking how much the social sites sell us to advertisers and marketers. So maybe we’ll migrate to forms of communication that are just about communication — like your phone call to your kids.

    My brother Michael writes a blog that explains very well all the commercial snares social media put out.to grab customers for the marketers.
    His blog, if you’re interested, is at:
    http://goldencompass.com/

  5. William Souder says:

    The “commercial snares” that lurk among the social media…oh boy. Do I want to even know?

  6. Ellen Mrja says:

    You don’t. You didn’t really think Facebook was free, did you? Every bit and byte, as you put it, have been archived for the benefit of selling you to America’s corporate/business interests. Google? Oy vay. Google even know whether your search topics have been naughty or nice. (Too late to change it now, too.) What to do? Well, you could try to move to a cave– Please, I beg of you, watch this: http://www.theonion.com/video/google-opt-out-feature-lets-users-protect-privacy,14358/

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