By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, March 5, 2006
Last week, I asked: "Why do you blog?"
Blogs, short for "Web logs," have boomed in popularity over the past decade as folks have become more comfortable living online. They are created by individuals, companies, advocacy groups and so forth, and take the form of personal journals, journalism, jokes, jeremiads and just plain crazy talk.
As this column focuses on the intersection of Web content and culture, and what that says about us, I am less interested in how many people blog or who they are, demographically. Instead, I want to know why they blog. What drives them to live out loud on the Web? I had heard the standard blah-de-blah about "community" and "self-expression," but I was hoping that bloggers, who spend a lot of time and bytes thinking and writing about themselves, could lay some real introspection on me.
They did. I got more than 70 e-mail replies from such far-flung locations as Japan, Australia, Finland and Spain.
Some bloggers do it as part of their business "Internet strategy"; some blog to flack books and other products. Others flout niche issues, such as the "fiber arts," "calorie restriction" and the apparently alarming demise of fire-fighting aircraft. (Who knew?) Other enthusiasts blog to report on activities, such as opera and local politics, they think are undercovered by the mainstream media. Some chronicle their disabilities; others blog to stay in touch with friends and family.
In a bit of meta-blogging, some responded to my question in their blogs and referred me to them. Other kids were too cool for school and would not deign to answer such a ridiculous question that was so far behind the times. Instead, they flamed me on their blogs. Whatev.
Some outsiders believe bloggers are friendless shut-ins with hobbies so bizarre as to be shared only by a handful of people on the planet. Or, at best, they are the superstar narcissists of the look-at-me generation. Both are true, for some. But as with evaluating most groups, generalization is tough, dangerous and often damning.
Here are some of the more thoughtful, funny and pathos-laden responses I received, and thanks to all. (Some included names and addresses, others only e-mail handles. For consistency's sake, I've omitted all attribution -- it's the thoughts that count -- and cleaned up spelling and punctuation. Beginning tomorrow, the full list will be available for viewing at http://www.washingtonpost.com/technology .)
For some, blogging is not a hobby -- it's crucial:
· "Blogging is engaged democracy. It creates an end-run around power publication, in that the people with the most power control what is heard."
· "In a sense, blogging allows more than simple social feedback; it provides a digital foundation on which individuals, who frequently feel increasingly divorced from society, can build their relationship to the rest of the world. It is the new PlayStation, in many million more homes, and with a terribly far social reach."
· "I blog for the same reason lots of 20-somethings blog -- if I didn't blog, I wouldn't have any friends. Blogs may be the most complex pen-pal system ever created. . . . As sad or self-indulgent as it may seem to an older generation (of mostly Luddites), the Web log is just one facet of a new kind of community and a changing world. My Web log is the family newsletter, the virtual refrigerator door, the rotary club meeting, the office water cooler, the love letter and the town newspaper."
Some blog for one reason, then end up blogging for another:
· "I started blogging when I was deployed to the Green Zone in Baghdad and the funniest thing happened: I got an e-mail from my 13-year-old daughter saying, 'I don't even know who you are anymore.' The strange thing about it was that for the first time she actually was learning about who I am -- what I think, what some of my opinions are; things that did not come up in our normal daddy/daughter relationship."
For some, blogging is akin to a prison break:
· "Having lived with the same woman for nearly 20 years and learning from her that nothing I had to say was ever [emphasis in original] right, I discovered early that things worked best between us if I would just keep my mouth shut. Well, one can only imagine what it must have felt like after the kids were grown and we finally parted company. I could actually begin to write and speak my mind without the slightest fear of reprisal or being made to feel like an idiot. I understood what the freedom to speech was truly about."
Some are brutally honest about why they blog:
· "Everyone in America thinks that they can write an interesting book, open a great restaurant, or that their life would make an intriguing reality TV show. A personal blog is just the hot new thing along that line of thinking. It gives people the opportunity to live out the fantasy that they are special, without actually having to put in too much effort."
· "Ever found it easier to fess up in a bar, than to your mom or best friend? I also think that many of us are closet exhibitionists, the way society is structured does not allow us to be that way in every day life, but here we can hide behind our relative anonymity and strip away whatever layers we want others to see."
· "I blog because I have a desire to feel wanted or needed by people whom I've never met."
Some (if only more) blog to be polite:
· "G'day! . . . Friends can have a laugh or a think if they choose to visit my site, but I'm not bothering people with group emails. That is key!"
And there are the poets:
· "When I started blogging, I ran into a maxim, which I'll paraphrase: If only the birds with the best song sings, the forest will be very quiet."
Of course, we have the haters:
· "28.7 million blogs translates to almost 28.7 million illiterate fools with a digital soapbox who cannot manage to correctly spell the word 'definitely,' even with the help of a spellchecker."