I think a lot about blogging, about why I like it, what I think I can accomplish through blogging that I can’t accomplish, or not easily anyway, through other kinds of writing … and that leads me to metaphors. For instance, I have appropriated from Brian Eno and others the distinction between architecture and gardening, and have described my blog as a kind of garden. But lately I’ve been revisiting the architecture/gardening distinction and I have come to think that there is something architectural about writing a blog, or can be – but not in the sense of a typical architectural project, which is designed in advance and built to specifications. Rather, writing a blog over a period of years is something like building the Watts Towers:
Simon Rodi didn’t have a plan, didn’t even have a purpose: he just started building. His work was sustained and extended by bricolage, the acquisition and deployment of found objects – and not just any objects, but objects that the world had discarded as useless, as filth. You put something in here, then something else, you discover, fits there … over time you get something big and with a discernible shape. Not the regular shape envisioned in architectural drawings, but nevertheless something that can be pleasing or at least interesting to look at – an organic and irregular shape. A geometry of irregular forms.
Of course, if everything goes wrong this site could end up as an example of Horror in Architecture.
I’m not sure we have a proper language for understanding either how to produce or how to receive something like this, and we may not get one, because the most of the people who were building a culture of blogging were pulled away from that culture by the more frictionless and yet far less rich and diverse social media factories. It’s as though a bunch of people who were building their own Watts Towers ended up setting those projects aside to work for a factory that makes prefabricated housing.
My only real hope in this regard is that people have increasingly come to understand that the frictionlessness of social media is not its primary feature but rather its defining bug. They just don’t know where else to turn, and I think the difficulty of knowing where to turn is a result of the collapse of the variety of blogging possibilities over the past decade. At one point you could choose from among a pretty wide range of platforms, including TypePad, Movable Type, Blogger – created by a company called Pyra Labs before it was acquired by Google in 2003 – and of course WordPress, but now WordPress is for to all intents and purposes the only one left standing. (The others still exist but are close to the life-support stage.) There are of course a wide range of blogging options for the technically astute, but there aren’t very many for people who are just beginning to get interested in blogging, who think they might want to dip a toe in the waters.
The open web is worth saving. We need to reject the monocultures of the walled factories. So let me make just one more plea, for those who feel that they can’t quit social media cold turkey, for micro.blog. Get a micro.blog account; it’s easy to set it up so that you can crosspost to Twitter. (You used to be able to crosspost to Instagram but of course Meta put an end to that.) Let the crossposting be your training wheels and then, after you’ve spent some time away from the hellsite, you might find yourself capable of disabling the crossposting and living only in the smaller and healthier community of micro.blog.
I should say, in the interests of full disclosure, that I very rarely weigh in at micro.blog – I do almost all my writing here and only post photos over there. I am not by any reasonable standard a public figure, but I’m public enough that when I post anything anywhere I get more comments and questions than I am capable of handling. I am simply a profoundly introverted person, and interacting with strangers or even acquaintances is stressful for me, and my life right now doesn’t have room for any unnecessary stress. So I’m not going to be participating in any online conversations at all. But if you want social media to be in some sense social, there are better places to find that than on the megaplatforms.
Anyway, all that to say: I want to build something strange on the open web, and I wish more people were doing the same.
UPDATE: I posted this draft by accident. I guess I will need to … maybe do a sequel later? Sigh.