Wednesday, November 2, 2016

You damn kids get your blogs off my lawn! (Repost)

I've been considering a sort of "Year in review" post towards the end of December, which led to a trip down Blog Memory Lane. This post was originally written on December 23, 2015, and I think it is highly relevant to what has been on my mind recently.

I remember the night in 2002, sitting at my brand new Gateway computer that was delivered weeks before in cow-printed cardboard boxes, when I sat patiently through the dial-up cacophony before typing into the search bar on my AOL homepage “online diary.” The internet, still in its infancy, was a world I wasn’t familiar with, but trusted in my naiveté that there was a website for everything. What I wanted was a place to put my thoughts. What I ended up with was Diaryland.

I had no idea that those simple steps that night by a starry-eyed n00b would, in less than a decade, become dubbed weblogging, or as we know it today, “blogging.” I was a part of the first group of people to sit down to a blinking cursor and start putting my thoughts and activities on a page where people could type in my chosen URL and reach, well, me. I was a blogger before blogging was a word. But let me back up a bit.

Diaryland wasn’t the only online diary site at the time. There were also sites like Livejournal, Deadjournal, and for a blink-and-you-missed-it time period, Scribble Journal. As the majority of my experience took place at Diaryland, I can only speak to the community I witnessed there, but I can say with absolute certainty that what the blogging pioneers did then isn’t even close to what bloggers do now. Early bloggers wrote for connections. We often wrote anonymously, prior to fancy things like image hosting, rarely using our real names, but relying on that invisibility to be our freedom to write the things that people just don’t say in real life. In fact, I think that’s the shortest explanation I can use to highlight the difference between then and now: people were real. And in that brief voyeurism that reading other diaries allowed us to see that, no matter how dark or how warped things were in our own lives, we were never alone. It was that connection that allowed real camaraderie to blossom in the early days of Diaryland, and I can honestly say the people who read my diary knew me--the real me--better than anyone in my day-to-day life.

The problem with having experienced the halcyon days of blogging (in my most humble and ancient of opinions) is that I know how good it can be. I know the way that allowing yourself to become vulnerable to strangers can lead to some of the most touching acts of human kindness. I know how satisfying it was to write and connect in those days, and when I stand back and look over these last 13 years I have been a blogger, I see that those days, like Hammer pants and disco, are over.

Blogging today seems more like an agenda than a form of catharsis. It’s a way for people to further brands, sell products, promote their businesses, or even worse, put up a façade that their lives are something other than what they are. Blogging used to be about seeing to the heart of what was real in people. Now it has become nothing more than a means to an end, and that end is money. The connection with people has been severed and when I read what is considered a blog today, I can’t escape the suspicion that I’m nothing more than a "page view", or even worse, expected to buy into the saccharine bullshit lines being fed to me. If I read the word “curated” one more time…

Look, times change. I don't begrudge people the right to be paid for something they create for another person's consumption, but I am allowed to be a little disappointed with the way this usage of the platform has bastardized something I used to love dearly. I know things can’t stay the same way forever, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. As the tide of blogging shifted over the years, I tried to keep up. I tried to change with the scene to stay a part of a hobby that I loved. I tested the waters at Tumblr, and here at Blogger, writing like the bloggers do now--talking less about my personal thoughts and experiences and more about what I could "teach" people. I even went back to Diaryland for a while a few years back, but it has become a ghost town, where all the residents have abandoned their posts in favor of the dopamine avalanche that is Facebook. I don’t fit in anywhere anymore, and the one place I did fit in, everyone else has moved on. For years now I have been trying to shave the sides off of my square peg to fit into the increasingly rounder holes and all I got from it was frustration and loneliness.

Diaryland, for as cheesy as the name was (Andrew, darling, what were you thinking?) was a place where magic happened. People would walk in 3 feet of snow, uphill, both ways, to reach through the screen and touch the soul of someone else, and it was powerful. It was real. And it was fun. This that passes for blogging today… It’s crap. It’s a cardboard cut-out of what the early pioneers of online diarists built. It’s hollow and empty compared to what I have experienced blogging could be. But the pull of the almighty dollar is strong, and the fear that you could be found out as a real human with hurts and failures, secrets and dreams, well it’s a lot stronger than the need to have someone see you for who you really are.

As I sit here at my computer, my 7 year old HP desktop that works when it feels like it and flips me the finger when it doesn't, on my ridiculously fast internet that doesn’t make a peep when I click on the Firefox logo, I think back to Diaryland and the early days. Blogging as I loved it is dead now, but I'm not ready for the retirement home just yet. I can't relate to what passes for blogs today, and I truly don't belong in this club anymore. I have no need to create something with the intention of selling it, and I don't believe that I have the writing skills or life wisdom that makes putting up ads anything more than pick-pocketing. I just want to write about my life, for my own catharsis, good and bad, and if I reach people, I want it to be because they can relate, not because I'm trying to build a brand. I can't see myself in what blogging has become, but I can stick to what I know, and that's being myself for my own sake.