Will blogs learn to age gracefully?

by Kristin on December 1, 2008

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by Jon Rawlinson

I attended my 20th high school reunion Saturday evening. It’s given me plenty of opportunities to reflect on youth and aging—who we were, who we are and what happened in between.

Everyone at my reunion has approached identity and aging in different ways, with different strategies (or, in some cases, the complete lack thereof). But we all shared this same basic narrative: We all struggled, as teenagers, to define who we were. And in the 20 years since, we’ve all had to adapt and adjust those identities—and our own perceptions of them—as the world around us has shifted and changed.

The identity crisis of The Blog

Blogs have been around for about 10 years, already. As a concept, it’s been doing some aging, too (though not as much as my classmates and I).

The aging of The Blog has inspired lots of thought and reflection, lately, about the current state and future of blogging. People seem more determined than ever to figure it out and define it, conclusively: What should a blog look like, and what purpose should it serve? How does the current state of The Blog connect to what it started out being?

It’s a classic identity crisis. The granddaddy of all Blogs is looking at himself in the mirror, saying “I’m not who I thought I was. I don’t serve the roles I used to serve. My identity is no longer anchored in the traits I thought I could always claim.”

Most identity crises are sparked by changes happening around us (and usually without our permission). We wake up one day and realize our hair is turning grey, or our children are becoming increasingly independent and don’t need us in the same ways.

For The Blog, it’s new developments like Twitter that catch it by surprise, making it suddenly feel old. Posting something on a blog used to be the most immediate way to get news and information out to the world. Now other applications are more immediate, and allow for more nimble interactions and responses.

The magic formula: part adaptation, part acceptance

I think successful aging requires two responses: adapting and accepting. To age with grace, you just need to figure out what to get feisty and combative about, and what to embrace and be grateful for.

That’s a hard task for aging people, of course, and it’s just as difficult for The Blog to sort out. Maybe that’s why The Blog doesn’t seem to be aging very gracefully.

Some people who are worried about the future of The Blog focus on the adaptation response. They’re problem solving, eager to get innovative and make sure blogging doesn’t become irrelevant. In today’s post on the FASTforward blog, The uncertain future of Blogging, Jevon MacDonald suggests some pretty interesting ideas about bridging the gap between long-format blog commenting and rapid-fire Twitter discussions, bringing the two together.

I don’t think the survival of blogs is in danger, but I’m all for exploring ways to improve the format and the conversation. Blogs shouldn’t settle into ruts and expect to be just as vibrant as they once were. That would be like realizing you’re getting weak and flabby, and just succumbing, rather than joining a gym or changing your diet.

There are others who see the changes brought by Twitter and Facebook as a natural evolutionary process, offering an opportunity for The Blog to move away from its frenetic teenage years into a more comfortable, sustainable adulthood.

The “Slow Blog” movement is an example of this. The recent New York Times article, Haste, Scorned: Blogging at a Snail’s Pace, suggests that blogs focusing on immediacy and the rapid-fire regularity of posts are “the equivalent of fast food restaurants — great for occasional consumption, but not enough to guarantee human sustenance over the longer haul.”

Embracing dynamic shifts

In the same article, Danah Boyd, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies popular culture and technology, says: “I think that those people who were writing long, thought-out posts are continuing, but those who were writing, ‘Hey, check this out’ posts are going to other forums. It’s a dynamic shift.”

I just want to suggest that a dynamic shift of this sort is OK. Really, it is.

And I don’t think we need to be worrying about The Survival of The Blog. The point, after all, isn’t the blog, for the blog’s sake. What matters are the ideas, the information, the stories, and the perspectives. If those things are solid, they will age gracefully and survive, even as the formats, the vehicles, and our definitions of the platforms shift and change.

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  • http://millersmeetsacramento.blogspot.com Lesley

    Very interesting post Kristin. I haven’t been a reader of your blog very long but thought this was one of the best posts I’ve read in the last few weeks.

    I’m with you– no need to worry about the future of blogging. Although I love when I get new readers and hope my blog continues to grow; ultimately it’s a space for me to create, get my thoughts out, make new friends, and hear different opinions. As much as Twitter or Facebook allows me to share information, it cannot replace my blog as a forum to be creative.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Lesley, thanks for reading and commenting! Your point about blogs being “a forum to be creative” is an important one. That’s a part of aging with grace: figuring out which aspects of you are most vital and necessary to hang on to, even as other things change.

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