A Treatise on Blogging and the Future of Culture Shock

Just about a year ago, I began to read “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman,” the florid, digressive mid-18th century novel by Laurence Sterne. (That's Mr. Sterne in the picture). Originally published in nine volumes, the book is considered unreadable by some and a work of comic genius by others. I planned to treat the book as a year-long reading project. I confess that I have not finished the project … yet.

The book’s most distinctive characteristic is the narrator’s tendency to meander in his telling--backwards and forwards in time, and rambling from topic to topic. The book is also full of idiosyncratic punctuation and eccentric typographic insertions. For example, following the death scene of a key character Sterne ends the chapter with a page printed with only a solid black field. Later, he leaves another page blank, encouraging readers to use it to illustrate their own conceptions of the character he has described.

But this isn’t a blog post about Tristram Shandy. Rather, it is a post about blogging. I’ll get back to Mr. Shandy in a few moments.

Our readers may have noticed the paucity of posts on Culture Shock over the past few months. We seem to have lost our verve.

Let’s start by blaming Newton’s first law of motion; also known as the law of inertia, it states that “an object in motion will stay in motion and an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an external force.” In my case, a busy autumn was the external force that slowed my writing momentum to a halt. Getting back up to speed has felt like pushing a waterbed from a hotel balcony; i.e., seems like a fun idea, but getting it over the railing is hard.

Next, I’m going to blame Twitter. If you are a Twitternaut, you will now find me squeezing the pith into 140 juicy characters (or less) at a time as @MightyToyCannon. I won’t bore you by descanting about the allure of the tweet, other than to say that participating in this new social media circus has absorbed a portion of the mental capacity I once devoted to musing on Culture Shock. It has also constricted considerably what was already a narrow attention span. Side note: David Carr, cultural reporter and media critic for the New York Times recently wrote an insightful piece about the power of Twitter. (Mr. Carr tweets as @carr2n, and is also the author of the memoir, “Night of the Gun,” which was one of many books I did complete this past year).

Then there is new extracurricular activity that is eating up my time and creative capacities. After an eighteen-month hiatus, the little musical combo of which I am a part has reunited. Portland’s most ill-prepared honky tonk band, Bourbon Jockey, will be performing on January 7th at Roots Organic Brewing Company. I will be the leader of said band. On the assumption that all of you will be attending and will want to be entertained, we’ve been rehearsing weekly (or weakly). I’ll tell you more about that in another post anon.

All of this excuse-making is a preamble to reporting on a recent email exchange between myself and my colleague, Culture Jock, in which we considered whether this joint venture has reached the end of its life cycle. Is blogging as a communications platform already collapsing under the onslaught of new modes such as Twitter and Facebook? Is blogging a narcissistic indulgence? A passing fad? In the struggle to keep pace with the unremitting feed of tweets and status reports, does anyone have the time (or interest) in reading someone else’s personal musings? What are we ABOUT for God’s sake?

None of the authors on Culture Shock have paid much attention to our purported theme of providing “keen observations about art and life in Portland, Oregon.” Rather, we carom about in both style and content. Sure, we have disseminated cultural news, posted critical reviews and even gotten out a scoop or two, but let’s be honest: We’re amateur hacks. I am bemused to think that anyone would consider Culture Shock to be a part of the new “citizen journalist” movement or a reputable source of reporting from Portland’s cultural front. One other thing: Sometimes our day jobs keep us from telling you things we would like to be telling you.

We could ask our audience what you want from Culture Shock, but I predict these results: 94% of our readers won’t have read this far, 2% will have an opinion but won’t comment, another 2% will shrug their shoulders, and the final 1% will say, “Keep going!”

Since I started posting on Culture Shock, I’ve willed myself not to worry whether we have an audience. I am grateful to know that I have a least a few fans (other than my mother), and I write with you in mind. But I pass this advice along to any neophyte blogger: Only do it for yourself. You will do more to make the world a better place by putting a lower wattage light bulb in your refrigerator than you will by blogging.

For me, the value of writing for Culture Shock is in the act of writing itself. For once, I am writing for the fun of it, not for the business of it. I am experimenting and playing around. I am testing out different voices. It's a lark, but because the final step is to click a button that reads “PUBLISH” I am stepping beyond scribbles in a secret journal. I am forcing myself to put my writing out into the public realm and getting over the fear of doing so. I am committing. As a bonus, I get to say that I am a published writer.

Given all that, I’ve decided that I want to keep going with this. You can expect to read more from me in 2010, though I’m not going to set any target for frequency of postings. Whether other co-authors join me, I leave to them. (A few of them have retreated to the coast over the holiday weekend, so may be hatching their own plot while I write this). Perhaps we’ll unveil a “rebranding” and change our format in the upcoming weeks. I'm ready to suggest that we change the tagline to something like:

An olio of observation, a mishmash of miscellany, and a hodgepodge of humor.

Now let’s get back to Tristram Shandy, who I think would have been a blogger had the technology existed in the 18th century. This passage from an early chapter in the book describes how I feel about my own blogging:

You must have a little patience. I have undertaken, you see, to write not only my life, but my opinions also; hoping and expecting that your knowledge of my character, and of what kind of a mortal I am, by the one, would give you a better relish for the other: As you proceed further with me, the slight acquaintance which is now beginning betwixt us, will grow into familiarity ; and that, unless one of us is in fault, will terminate in friendship. ---- O diem præclarum ! ---- then nothing which has touched me will be thought trifling in its nature, or tedious in its telling. Therefore, my dear friend and companion, if you should think me somewhat sparing of my narrative on my first setting out, -- bear with me, -- and let me go on, and tell my story my own way : ---- or if I should seem now and then to trifle upon the road, ---- or should sometimes put on a fool's cap with a bell to it, for a moment or two as we pass along, -- don't fly off, -- but rather courteously give me credit for a little more wisdom than appears upon my outside ; -- and as we jogg on, either laugh with me, or at me, or in short, do any thing, ---- only keep your temper.

8 comments:

LicketyGlitz said...

I don't like the new tagline. But I do like you. And I like this column best of all of them. Well, I can't remember the others 'cause I was drunk when I read them, and I'm guessing you were partially or fully drunk when you wrote them.

Keep going!

rhinoman1947@gmail.com said...

I am of the 1%, keep going. Thanks.

Mead said...

Naturally I want you to keep entertaining me, and so selfishly I urge you to keep posting. But your demurrers about the process echo my own closely. Remember when part of the fun of blogging was that it was supposed to be a "short form" for expressing and/or sharing your somethings with your ... someones? In the wake of Twitter, FB and whatnot, blogging does seem cumbersome and prolix, even antique. And I wonder if its future use will be relegated to compulsive scribblers and those who need to keep visible for one reason or another.

Beyond that, though, I relish all the musings that turn up on Culture Shock; they're refreshing and iconoclastic and I like it that different voices contribute to it. So please keep it up, and don't worry about frequency. Google Reader or its equivalent lets most of us know when there are new posts, so it's less true than it used to be that you have to post constantly to keep an audience.

Miss Laura said...

Well, like, duh. Thanks for all that and more to come. I've debated all those whatnots about blogging, too, but I think it does serve a purpose in that you can experiment and say a heckuva lot more than 140 characters will allow. It's a place for a more extended conversation. You've fueled plenty of that. And besides, I just can't see Santa and the elves hammering out a new mission statement in the Twitterverse. Like Mead said, forget the frequency. Monkey Mind all the way, baby.

shobiz said...

I haven't yet been a direct part of the conversation about whether to continue, which is fine, considering how little I have really contributed. But I want to add my support for continuing, and my agreement that the purported format should be expanded a bit. I like the idea of remaining nominally Portland-centric, but I also think we could officially open the door to more varied subject matter. As someone who works in the arts in a mostly "tech support" capacity, I often find that I am just two or three steps behind my Culture Shock colleagues in knowing the latest arts topics of interest. Combine that with my work and parenting duties getting in the way, and it's a wonder I've written anything here at all. But there have been times when I really wanted to publicly air my thoughts about something and had the time to do so, but chose not to because I felt the connection to Portland "art and life" was much too thin. I won't promise anything, but I do think I'd be more likely to post if I knew the parameters were even more open.

Also, on a personal note, I have really enjoyed everyone's posts here, and although I don't post often, I always feel honored just knowing I've been asked to be a contributor in the company of such clever and insightful wordsmiths.

David said...

MTC, I'd certainly prefer to read your work 140 sentences at a time than 140 characters at a time. I've tried both extensively, and here is more betterer.

Expand the parameters, push the envelope, keep showing us how to blog our way out of a wet paper bag...do what you like, but I'm glad it will include your continued contributions, here.

MightyToyCannon said...

Thanks for saying all that nice stuff everybody. I've written a longer response to your comments and posted it here:

http://cultureshockpdx.blogspot.com/2010/01/zuzus-petals.html

Allison Harris said...

See, if it were me, I would just add some pictures to the sidebar or something. That's the extent of my creative genius when it comes to blogging.