JulieLeung.com: a life told in tidepools

pictures and stories from the water’s edge

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You can be one too

June 15th, 2004 · 6 Comments



Saturday afternoon we caught the boat to Seattle and met the lovable luggable pink Patrick who sat in a chair along with a bunch of bloggers hanging out on the waterfront for the Anon-o-Con. It was a fun meeting, one that made me realize why I blog.

Elisabeth met Patrick (see above – and see here for more of his adventures…). Abigail and Michaela met Mr. Man who is a little bit older than they are, and full of fun ideas. Mom offered to watch “the kids table” and her summary explains why the girls came home talking about “properties” while clutching piles of paper labelled with “information from the sea”. Thanks to Mom, Pops and Mr. Man for organizing the great get-together.

I briefly chatted with Amanda and Staci and learned about freecycle. I said hi to Mike. It was fun to see Myk O’Leary whom I met through Lenn Pryor. I was glad to talk with Michael Hanscom and his friend Prairie. Of course, I recognized Michael immediately from the Utilikilt featured in his Manly Pink portraits. Although I can’t remember how I found his blog, I must have discovered it – as I’ve discovered many others – through Anita Rowland– who, by her example, encouraged Ted to enjoy the tomato-based seafood stew. I didn’t get to talk much with Richard Silverstein– but I wish I had read his blog and then congratulated him on the twins! The conversation – at least that I caught – was somewhat (surprisingly?!) technical compared to other gatherings I’ve attended – what do bloggers discuss? Spam!

Everyone in the family seemed to have a good time. The girls – all three- downed a plate of clam strips and fries (gulp!) – and then said they were still hungry (gulp again!). We had to make a quick dash to the boat and abrupt goodbyes.

On the way to Seattle and on the way home, we rode together with Chip Gibbons. I’d first met Chip through makeoutcity.com. I like Jay McCarthy’s taste in blogs, and I’ve begun subscribing to a number of the writers he links. One day as I was reading one of Chip’s posts, I discovered that he also lives on Bainbridge. I was glad to meet the only other islander blogger we know!

I wish Jay could have been there. And Lenn too. But I think that they were there, in some sense.

Chip had let me know about the Anon-o-con. It was fun to travel with him on the ferry, and I especially appreciated his patience as he waited for our family of five to get our act together, stuff a bib and a baby into a backpack, and try to make the boat….

Reading Time magazine’s article on blogging later that day [via Scripting News], I felt that the writers, Lev Grossman and Anita Hamilton, missed the boat in their piece Meet Joe Blog which begins…

A few years ago, Mathew Gross, 32, was a free-lance writer living in tiny Moab, Utah. Rob Malda, 28, was an underperforming undergraduate at a small Christian college in Michigan. Denis Dutton, 60, was a professor of philosophy in faraway Christchurch, New Zealand. Today they are some of the most influential media personalities in the world. You can be one too.

While I agree that anyone can become a blogger, I disagree with the tone of the Time piece, especially the beginning. It makes webloggers sound like competitors on the latest reality TV show, belting out songs on American Idol, desperate has-beens or wanna-bees seeking discovery and fame. Yes you too can be the next Britney Spears or Bill Clinton. You are an undiscovered-but-powerful media personality, sitting in your underwear, the attention of the world awaiting your typing.

Yet it’s not as if anyone can become the next Instapundit. Blogs that have large numbers of readers and high traffic volumes are rare – and there are often particular reasons why these writers are popular, thereby reasons why “Joe Blogger” is not. Plenty of discussion has already occurred around these issues.

The issues of instant easy Internet fame aside, I think that the writers at Time have missed the point of weblogging. Or at least one of the big reasons why I continue to type up entries each night.

Time makes blogging sound like another form of entertainment, another way to make a movie star. We live in a pedestal culture. That’s how many magazines sell copies. How tons of TV shows and films generate income. People want to worship someone. People want that pedestal. They want to see someone on the stage. Or peer behind the curtain.

Sure, I think blogs are entertaining. They are the way I relax and unwind at the end of the day, reading through my aggregator feeds and composing my thoughts into posts. Blogging brings much amusement to my life.

And yes, there are bloggers who receive tons of traffic. Among (some) other bloggers, they receive both admiration and envy. They’ve become super-human, at least for a small community of humans.

But I think that blogging in principle is not about pedestals. It’s not about superstars. It’s not about creating celebrities.

Blogging is about giving everyone a voice. The idea that anyone and everyone can have a blog reveals a basis of equality, at least in principle. No one’s blog is inherently more important than another’s. They don’t come with built-in spotlights or pedestals or stages in some versions but not others (or at least not in the version of Movable Type I’m using). Unlike other electronic or print media, there isn’t an editor or corporation endorsing my opinions, promoting me or censoring me, favoring me. In my aggregator I have feeds that are read by thousands and feeds that might only be read by a few. It doesn’t matter to me. And they all look the same in RSS.

Not only is everyone equal in some sense, but this shared activity creates community. The Time article focusses on individuals and achievement (as is the empasis of American culture) but I believe that the group aspect to blogging is powerful. There are associations that form on-line and there are communities that meet in person. Each blog is a community in itself, a gathering place. And there are distinct groups of people who get together on a regular basis or at conferences. Yes, there are people who know each other better or longer, have more in common, perhaps even create cliques. Being exclusive is a part of human nature, I fear.

But blogs are intentionally inclusive. Anyone here can leave me a comment or link to me. Anyone can become a blogger and join the meetup meetings.

The article does not mention comments, trackbacks or discussions. Perhaps some writers would continue to write without the interactive dialogue, and some blogs are like monologues, without asking for or incorporating responses. But I think that the best blogs are the ones that create a community on the site. The best blogs are living and linking, responsive and interactive.

The article gives the impression that blogging is about making it big. Little ol’ me can get fame and readers (fortune isn’t mentioned, although that’s possible too) by writing a blog. I can be bigger than the New York Times. Media, watch out for me!

Who wouldn’t want to be popular as Glenn Reynolds or Cory Doctorow or even share some of the traffic they receive? But I don’t think blogging is about celebrating superstars. (for one such “A-lister’s” response to this article see Scoble’s post) Human nature happens. Some will be more popular than others, for various reasons. People who have fame, reputation, experience or talent bring those to their blogs and may acquire more readers faster. But – at least to me – it’s not about popularity or technorati rankings or becoming the next high-powered pundit or taking on or taking down Time or the Times….

It is about blogging in your underwear, so to speak, but in a different way than Time paints the picture. It’s about being ordinary and common. Perhaps even intimate. It’s about being community. Being connected. It’s about sharing commons in blogs and in person, as Liz Lawley described this weekend.

It’s about giving everyone a pedestal. Taking turns. Sharing the spotlight. Letting someone else have your stage for a while. Passing around the microphone. Letting the inner thespian enjoy her monologue – but then opening a discussion afterwards with the audience that generates multiple one-act plays written in response and performed all over town the next night.

Blogging means that I can get on a plane and fly three thousand miles across that continent, to be met at the airport by a stranger I’ve never seen who already seems like a friend.

Blogging means Ted and I try to make the effort not only to engage with others through our blogs but also, as we can, we load up the van, kids and dinner and take the ferry to Seattle for a fun time meeting people we’ve never seen or read before.

Blogging means I can get to put on someone else’s glasses and see a glimpse through their eyes, from their street, what is happening with elections in Europe or gardens in Iraq. Blogging means I can connect across continents and cultures. It isn’t happening for me – or perhaps for others – as often as I would like, but it can and does happen. Or I can find people in my city and area, get to know my neighbors and make local connections I wouldn’t have made any other way.

As Saturday’s Anon-o-Con convinced me yet, again, blogging is about getting together and creating community even from random strangers assembled around a few restaurant tables near a pier in Seattle (with pigeons and Patrick).

Forget the superstars and celebrity status. Forget fans and beating the Times – or Time – at their own game. Those are nice if they happen. They will happen for some.

But blogging, at least for me, is about sitting down and having a cup of soup or a cup of coffee or a cup of something together, either in cyberspace or real space. It’s about creating a community of people who might become friends and allies or at least like to share dialogue – even a fiesty one! – over dinner. It’s public space. Anyone can come. Just a bunch of bloggers with their friends and kids eating clams, sharing spam stories, and petting Patrick.

You can be one too.

Tags: blog

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 pops' wife // Jun 16, 2004 at 9:31 am

    I actually felt sheepish (baaaa) about the science-experiment comment when I later browsed your blog and discovered that you have a background as a scientist. I now imagine there are things Mr. Man could have learned from A, M, & E 🙂 and if he had known ahead of time that you were a scientist, he would have hounded you relentlessly for more of the biological secrets of the universe … well, another time. P.S. When I told Pops I was going to send you a comment, he asked me to mention that Patrick is getting a big head from all the attention. We think he may be looking for an agent.

  • 2 pops // Jun 16, 2004 at 7:22 pm

    There’s this unseen alliance of New Jersey and Seattle bloggers. The Jerseyites had a better shot at going to Bloggercon2 than we did. They said that they were a put off by how impersonal a gathering it was. They wanted to connect a little more.

    It’s good that on this coast we’re doing a bit better job of it.

    OK – granted that Patrick is impossible to live with now.

  • 3 pops // Jun 16, 2004 at 7:24 pm

    There’s this unseen alliance of New Jersey and Seattle bloggers. The Jerseyites had a better shot at going to Bloggercon2 than we did. They said that they were a put off by how impersonal a gathering it was. They wanted to connect a little more.

    It’s good that on this coast we’re doing a bit better job of it.

    OK – granted that Patrick is impossible to live with now.

  • 4 Julie // Jun 16, 2004 at 10:57 pm

    Yes, you’ve got to get that Patrick an agent…or at least get him back in line by reminding him of his humble beginnings 🙂

    Thanks again to you, pops, pops wife, son and patrick..hope to see you all again for more experiments sometime…

  • 5 BugSplat // Jun 25, 2004 at 12:46 pm

    why blog?

    Well I’ve seen references to a certain Times article on blogging in a couple of places, so it’s likely that…

  • 6 Julie Leung: Seedlings & Sprouts // Jul 1, 2004 at 1:48 am

    Proof we exist: Anon-o-Con photos

    Not philosophy but photography…Here are a couple pictures Chip Gibbons took at the Anon-o-con on June 12. Now just in case you are still wondering whether Ted and I are figments of each other’s imaginations, or if you protest that…