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What Keeps Bloggers Tied Down?

Surely most internet readers have learned from experience to temper their expectations about websites that are new to them. How many times have you gotten excited about a newly-found website, only to learn that your first half-dozen visits have shown everything that you are ever going to see there? Then, when the sting of disappointment sets in, you just want to grab the blogger by the throat and scream, "Come on! You can do it. Take a step upward." But they seldom do. [*]

What is stopping them? Are they just dummies? Or completely static? Maybe they are afraid of something.

Lately I have been fixating on a simile from Arnold Toynbee's abridged "A Study of History," Vol 1, Chapter IV. Maybe it will mean something to readers:
Primitive societies...may be likened to people lying torpid upon a ledge on a mountain-side, with a precipice below and a precipice above; civilizations may be likened to companions of these sleepers who have just risen to their feet and have started to climb up the face of the cliff above...

...and since the next ledge is out of sight, we do not know how high or how arduous the next pitch may be. We only know that it is impossible to halt and rest before next ledge, wherever that may lie, is reached. Thus, even if we could estimate each present climber's strength and skill and nerve, we could not judge whether any of them have any prospect of gaining the ledge above, which is the goal of their present endeavours. We can, however, be sure that some of them will never attain it. And we can observe that, for every single one now strenuously climbing, twice that number have fallen back on the ledge, defeated.

The problem with most websites is not that they are 'falling back on the ledge.' It is that they aren't climbing the cliff at all.

This non-growth is probably easy to explain for blogs that work for eyeball-income: they think they have already found their maximum audience and income, so why take chances? Any genuine opinion on any non-trivial subject is bound to offend somebody, so the blogger keeps everything light, sugary, and non-controversial. And in return, the readers give the blogger credit for being a "positive" person. (Mindlessness, triviality, and arrested growth are positive traits, apparently.)

Thus commercial bloggers are really no different than a television sitcom or soap opera trying to gain audience market share. What more is there to say about them?

Let's look at the second category, where a bit of hope is reasonable. Consider non-commercial, amateur bloggers. Why should it matter to them if some reader stops reading their blog because a new topic was tried or an opinion was offered that offended the reader? The blogger is not being paid. He can say what he wishes, and if the readers don't like it, well, then don't let the door knob...

More times than not, the blogger succumbs to the trap of measuring success and boosting his self-esteem by having lots of "readers." (And yes, even I am susceptible to this disease.) The blogger might actually think he is climbing Toynbee's ledge, in the simile above. But for him, 'climbing' means winning a few more votes from the demos, the rabble. The blogger might as well be back in 8th grade, trying to be popular with all the little blockheads in his class, so he can get elected class president. The blogger tries to ignore the unpleasant truth that most of his mighty readers are just moochers looking for a little free entertainment.

King Numbers. Quantity rather than Quality. It's an old problem that goes back to the beginning of democracy. Nobody has ever found a solution to it yet.

What a difference there is between an abstract shibboleth such as "Democracy" and the effects it has on some concrete part of life, not just blogs, but also food, movies, music, sports, or just about anything. The general democratic mindset of pleasing as many blockheads as possible is anti-growth, anti-quality, and anti-life. It is the democratic mindset that will keep the internet in the gutter.

It does motivate me to attempt reading Plato's "Republic" again. I've had trouble with it before. Maybe it was the translator.

[*] Recently I saw a blog take a step upward. My jaw was actually dropping as I read along.  The change wasn't announced with a new format or layout. There was not any statement by the blogger that it was even happening. But it thrilled me to see it happening. I was proud of myself for identifying it. Maybe that is what caused me to wonder why more bloggers don't "step up." The blog was Mish Shedlock's "Global Economic Analysis."


XXXXX said…
I actually don't read that many blogs except yours and a few others but I do relate to your greater message just in terms of the types of conversations between people. There are definitely people who prefer safe conversations in the sense that they don't take chances on offending anyone. In a way, these conversations can't be anything but superficial and have a quality of chit-chat. That would be the person who isn't even climbing, whether it be blogging or in person. And if one has a way with words or can add humor throughout, they can attract quite a following.
Of course, there are those bored with this and who seek to challenge.....the ones who climb and who may fall back and that describes the unpleasantness of conflict, negative emotions, etc. that can destroy friendships.
Managing this edge well allows for some transition in thought processes, for long held beliefs have been challenged and altered, hopefully for the better. It is the exact opposite of "anti-growth, anti-quality, anti-life."
I think as people get older they often get tired of the conflict as they quite realize they aren't going to change others nor themselves and prefer to retreat into safer waters, enjoying a sense of camaraderie and a joke or two and leaving it at that.

"Tired of conflict" Yes indeed, I notice that in myself when it comes to face-to-face conversation. Settle for a little conviviality, and don't ask for anything more.

But there is an implicit defeatism in that. It isn't a happy ending, really.

So I expect people to punch harder on the printed page.
edlfrey said…
I think I am at that place in life also. A little conviviality when in face-face conversation and punch a little harder on the printed page.

I do try to keep the punches light and the adroit at slipping punches can avoid them. It is only the slow and those that are weighted down with a lot of ideology that take the punchs hard.
Jim and Gayle said…
In my entire life I really can't recall anyone changing their minds based on a conversation that I was part of. So what is the point. All one has to do to get a taste of the typical is to read the comments on any website that has a political or religious subject. It always surprises me how the gutless will respond but shouldn't be given the safety of their anonymity.

In the end, who cares what our opinions or thoughts are on most topics. Opinions often are like hardened arteries and simply aren't going to open up to differing views. We tend to be lazy and poorly informed as a result and yet have no shortage of opinions that we believe to be fact.

While I realize that everyone isn't like what I have described I have seldom met anyone who isn't. Perhaps I travel in the wrong crowd.

Jim, I don't necessarily disagree with what you said, but I don't see how it fits in with the theme of this post.
XXXXX said…
Yes, Jim, I agree completely. It is true that people talk to be understood and hopefully appreciated for what they are, and not to be engaged in the unpleasant business of being challenged and changed.

When one reads an editorial, it's purpose is 100% the ideas being expounded on and I suppose some blogs fall in this category but yours, KB, does not. You have many personal friends here and it's a friendly place even for those like myself who don't RV nor share your lifestyle. So there is a personal element here which you cannot deny. You seem to have an eye on the relationships at the same time you expound on your ideas and, if you did not do so, I would guess the entire character of this blog would change.