At the Blogging Crossroads
A few days ago, Brooks Simpson posted a meditation on blogging on his new blog, Crossroads (very much worth following, by the way). In it, he confessed that last year blogging “had lost some of its initial attraction. Aside from reacting to certain events, I was not sure whether blogging had any other concrete purpose for me.” With Crossroads he seems to have recovered it, but the question of “to blog or not to blog” has confronted many of us at one time or another.
Indeed, according to this New York Times article, a growing number have concluded not to blog. Instead, there’s been a virtual stampede from blogs to other social media:
Blogs were once the outlet of choice for people who wanted to express themselves online. But with the rise of sites like Facebook and Twitter, they are losing their allure for many people — particularly the younger generation.
The Internet and American Life Project at the Pew Research Center found that from 2006 to 2009, blogging among children ages 12 to 17 fell by half; now 14 percent of children those ages who use the Internet have blogs. Among 18-to-33-year-olds, the project said in a report last year, blogging dropped two percentage points in 2010 from two years earlier.
Former bloggers said they were too busy to write lengthy posts and were uninspired by a lack of readers. Others said they had no interest in creating a blog because social networking did a good enough job keeping them in touch with friends and family.
I myself began maintaining a blog seven years ago. The maiden effort — and still the one to which I devote the most time — has gone by various names but eventually became Blog Them Out of the Stone Age. For me it served two major purposes.
First, it became a way to explore my views about academic military history at a time when I had become frustrated with the field and was thinking of moving away from it altogether. Several colleagues at Ohio State, having noticed this frustration, had encouraged me to re-cast myself as a nineteenth century Americanist. For a while the idea was a tempting. Blogging gave me a way to work through this issue. It played a major role in convincing me that, intellectually, my core interest was military history, not Civil War history, although most of publications and reputation centered on the Civil War.
Second, and even more importantly, blogging became a way to push through a protracted and really quite frightening period during which my writing productivity plunged. Like Joe Hooker, I just lost confidence in Mark Grimsley. Consequently I found it deeply ironic when colleagues, sympathetically or scornfully, voiced the opinion that blogging was a distraction from my real work. Because in fact it was the only thing that kept me writing at all. What few publications I managed to produce often originated as blog posts.
Both purposes no longer exist. I not only have long since recovered my commitment to military history, I have grown increasingly impressed by the rapid intellectual expansion of academic military history, which for a time seemed dominated by people who had circled the wagons around “the new military history” — which at age forty or thereabouts was no longer new at all. And somewhere along the way — I think during my two years as an Army War College visiting professor — I recovered much of my confidence. It’s a process that remains underway, but the trajectory is in the right direction.
Blogging, then, is no longer the lifeline it used to be. And I too have found that another purpose blogging once served — a way to connect with others — is much more readily facilitated by Facebook. (I’ve experimented with Twitter but so far haven’t found it a medium that appeals to me.)
You can certainly see this in my dearth of posts — quite noticeable on BTOOTSA but screamingly obvious on Civil Warriors and Facing the Demon (my blog about managing bipolar disorder, though with FD another reason predominates).
And yet I hate the idea of abandoning the blog. Not just this one. Any of them. I’ve always had a policy never to feel obligated to blog, and although the current hiatus has been longer than most, it still doesn’t feel qualitatively different from previous ones. This post, and a resumption of regular posts on BTOOTSA, testify to that. I still have a sense that the practice remains meaningful to me. It’s just that the nature of that meaning has yet to fully reveal itself.