I can't imagine anyone who self-identifies as a blogger not having a strong reaction to the endless New York Times Magazine ramble by one Emily Gould, who is apparently a Well-Known Blogger (of whom I've never heard until today, since I've never looked at "Gawker.com"). In a nutshell, Ms. Gould has spent her journalistic youth in a snarky self-created fishbowl, and now regrets her more disastrous Internet overshares (except for this one last time when she'll tell us all about them in gruesome detail). The online readers' comments on the piece are predictable and devastating, of the "Why would the Times give 10 pages to this narcissistic drivel?" variety, with a Paul Lyndian "Kids Today!" harrumph factor.
Ms. Gould and her post-adolescent agonies are of secondary interest to me; what would be a shame would be if her angst were mistaken for "typical blogging." As someone pointed out at the recent Brooklyn Blogfest, the term "blog" has expanded so wildly that it is now no more informative than the word "book." The political screed-howlers and the Who-I-Boinked gossip girls apparently pull in the big numbers (filling, therefore, some demand, even if it's only for cubicle time-sucking, I guess). But the world of online journaling is as vast as...the world itself. Many of the Times commenters sternly advised Ms. Gould to do something worthwhile with her copious free time, to "get a life" (building latrines in Guatamala was recommended). In doing so, they betrayed an earnest innocence of the staggering amount of work, prayer, art, activism, exploration, learning, and fellowship that already takes place in the blogosphere, once one gets out of the tawdry front window of sex and politics. One could argue that Ms. Gould could save the world more efficiently by staying in her symbolic pajamas and blogging about Guatamalan latrine-building, thus knitting together through the mystery of Google every latrine-construction wonk and Guatamalan do-gooder on the planet into a force for good.
Of course, the real question raised for those of us who blog is: Why am I doing this, and am I a solipsistic oversharing ninny, too? I've given it plenty of thought, actually. Both my blogs began as ways to write for pleasure, to get back the joy of writing about what I love instead of what I'm paid to promote. (Even if that happens to be New and Effective Pharmacological Options for a Serious Medical Condition; Ask Your Doctor for More Information!) I've set myself some basic limits on how far family and friends are involved or identified, on what kind of language I'll use, on how personal I'll get; occasionally I bend those rules. In choosing topics, I usually opt for personal delight over readership stats, although I recognized Ms. Gould's crackhead-like response to a spike in readers just as Frodo recognized a bit of himself in Gollum, slavering for the Precious.
I've come to the conclusion that "blogging" is at heart about two things: our passions, and our longing to share them (which is to say, our dire craving for human connectedness). If my governing passion is my ego, then a blog about myself will be an extension of that self: vulnerable, narcissistic, and ultimately empty and sad. But so many people are sharing so many other passions--and not just the infinite sexual permutations that define the Internet's mucky bottomlands. It would be a shame if Ms. Gould were seen, especially by the Times' cautious old-media types, as the Ur-Blogger, wallowing in pointless self-exposure.
In the few years I've been noodling around the blogosphere, I've been gobsmacked at how many ways passion and connectedness can combine to make a better world. There are bloggers out there (funny, wildly readable, deeply moving) who are creating virtual communities for every rare disease and devastating disability known to man. There are photographers documenting secret gardens and public places in ways no one's ever seen before. Skills that once were esoteric and daunting--from cycling to knitting, from manuscript illumination to coding HTML--are now vast open workshops filled with eager neophytes and seasoned mentors in fluid, endless communication. Weasels are being exposed, flim-flammers outed. There is also endless silliness--I lost count at 50 when I tried to enumerate the Web's pug-dog blogs--but sometimes, silliness is what's needed.
And there are house blogs, where people who struggle with creaky old homes can trade stories, find sympathy, and get tips on grouting. I understand there is even a blog where some gal in Brooklyn brings you along every day to Prospect Park and shows you something marvelous. If in the course of reading my stuff, you find me, myself, and I appalling or fascinating, my Gollum-ego will, I admit, throb with some pixellated satisfaction. At some level, we're all "attention whores." But I can't imagine a blog that was All About Me any more than I would fancy a life that was All About Me. There are so many more intriguing things to blog about, and to live for.
I will give the last word to George Bernard Shaw, who would have made one mad mother of all bloggers, baby:
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no "brief candle" for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
--Preface, Man and Superman
Illustration: Edward Gorey