To blog or not to blog, that is the generational question

Why are the Twitterati blogging less?

The New York Times reports that blogging is declining in the younger demographic, which, as we oldsters humbly accept, is the only important group online. For some, apparently, it’s just too much trouble to write whole sentences.

Here’s one response the Times reported:

Kim Hou, a high school senior in San Francisco, said she quit blogging months ago, but acknowledged that she continued to post fashion photos on Tumblr. “It’s different from blogging because it’s easier to use,” she said. “With blogging you have to write, and this is just images. Some people write some phrases or some quotes, but that’s it.”

A quote like the one above surely raises the hackles of readers and writers who were pessimistic already about the intellectual skills of the younger generations. So this seems like a good topic to follow a week of postings about literary tastes and reading skills, doesn’t it? And while the lead is negative, a closer look at the poll results yields some interesting information, little of which will surprise the over-30 demographic that ends up here.

It seems that more serious blogsites, like WordPress, are not losing users. The Pew Research survey showed that blogging by users over 35 continues to expand. It seems that while younger users are abandoning traditional blogs to use Facebook and Twitter to keep in instant touch with their friends and those who share their mass culture interests, those who care that you can’t solve the world’s problems in 140 characters or less continue to write and read “traditional blogs” like this one, where the average sentence, much less posting, is way more than 140 characters.

In the context of recent articles here, the particularly relevant part of Ms. Hou’s remarks above is, of course, the idea that blogging is inconvenient (which could mean hard, slow, boring — all of these?) because it requires you to write words.

I’d be more depressed about the decline of online literacy if I were going to miss the defectors, or their favourite subjects, or their level of engagement with my favourite subjects. If, like me, you spend any time reading newspaper and magazines articles online (that I get my print media fix online is a related but different topic), you know what you’re likely to find in the comments section: short, rude, superficial, self-congratulatory, off-topic, uninformed, disinterested, sarcastic, badly-written, and crude comments by people with screen ID’s like “BowzerBoy9” and “CryptoCyanideXXX.” So far I haven’t drawn the volume or breadth of readership to fall prey to these virtual vermin, but no one with any real profile avoids them. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, or whether the online medium is a local newspaper or an internationally-regarded professional journal. All the yahoos have to do is search Google for their favourite rant subject, find a target website or blog posting, and cut loose with “U suk!” and “Typical commie fascist libertarian peacenik crap!” Such fun.

Of course there are thoughtful and serious readers of thoughtful and serious material, and these readers post thoughtful and serious comments, some of which are better informed and more instructive than the articles to which they are attached. On some websites, in fact, the original posting or article is intended merely to introduce or frame a topic that will be discussed fully only in the comments. On these sites, reading just the posting is a good way to miss most of the information and all of the entertainment. One good recent example is the clash between Russell Jacoby (one of Chris Hedges’s major sources for Death of the Liberal Class) and Michael Burawoy over their estimations of the worth of a new book by Erik Olin Wright. Jacoby’s scathing review and Burawoy’s response in Wright’s defense reveal much about the internal paradigm wars in the social sciences. (Their clash of opinions will be part of my next posting.) Wright publishes a book; Jacoby trashes it; Burawoy defends Wright; Jacoby fires back at Burawoy. It’s a much different story than the comment wars I described in the previous paragraph. Here, the people firing intellectual broadsides are using not blanks but live ammunition — and neither of them has to call himself “BowserBoy9” to hide his ineptness.

So let the social networkers and the Twitterati have their fun. As long as they leave us alone, I won’t miss them.

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2 thoughts on “To blog or not to blog, that is the generational question

  1. One aspect of this subject being missed in discussion is the physical distance involved between teenagers communicating electronically. Examine the difference between the excited chatter of friends walking around the mall together and the same friends exchanging text notes. They are realizing something is lost. The richness of the immediate communication is not diminishing. Language is still needed even in the physical presence. Writing has always been a specialty to be learned and worked at.

    • Agreed. The irksome aspect is the notion that writing is an unpleasant task and therefore best avoided. Trying to write with clarity is one of the best ways to try to think with clarity. 140 characters is an awfully short span in which to be clear about anything other than the incompleteness of one’s thinking. Whether it’s the media that teach the avoidance or not, not thinking things through supports the sound-bite bleating of what passes for leadership these days.

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