Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Blogging Conference Presentation


On Saturday I was a speaker at a blogging conference in Huashan Culture Park in Taipei (pics below). Here is the section from the conference on the foreign blog world here. Scott Sommers and I had a long talk on the issues after the conference, and I hope he can find the time to put up his insights and comments so I can repost them here. Ive added a few comments of my own.

It was Scott's blog that inspired mine. I had seen Poagao's excellent blog as well.

Here I'm making the point that basically few blog. There are two million Chinese language blogs in Taiwan, enough for 1 for every 10 people or so. Not so with foreigners. Most foreigners who blog in Taiwan don't blog on Taiwan; they blog on their own lives, which happen to be here. Note that it is not a bad thing to not be a blogger; my first advice to would-be bloggers is invariably "don't."

Here I think is one of the key points I wanted to make. Taiwanese blogging on Taiwan are blogging on something that they live and breathe. Americans blogging on Taiwan are blogging on something they have to learn. It requires specialized knowledge -- you have to study some aspect of the island, and some knowledge of Chinese is a good idea. The amount of study required acts as both a deterrent to blogging on the island, and an incentive to go on and actually do something with the knowledge -- like publish real papers instead of blog posts.

Here I divide the English blog world into three parts for ease of discussion.

From the perspective of communication with the outside world, representing Taiwan abroad, the missionary blogs are the least useful. They are by far the most me-centered, being adherents of a totally me-centered religion, they don't know very much about Taiwan (or anything else), and they only talk to each other. The most heavily-linked blogger on Taiwan, by a huge margin, is Amanda's Following an Unknown Path, well-intentioned, no doubt, but terminally ignorant of the basics of science. I have long since gotten over the idea that people are Christian because they are stupid, but you couldn't prove that from the missionary blogs. Sadly, it seems knowledgeable long-term missionaries don't blog. Johnny Neihu hilariously ripped some missionaries heading to Taiwan on Saturday.

The short-termers here blog mostly on their own lives, which is as it should be. The news stories they tend to focus on are flashy ones, like the exploding whale story.

It's important to note that long-term expats largely don't blog. The group that does blog is pretty small and not really very diverse. Few of them blog on Taiwan, most are like other bloggers anywhere else, focusing on whatever interests them.



It's always hardest to see what's not there, and what's not present in Taiwan's English blogosphere are businessmen and academic experts, to name only a few. Nobody blogs on history or art or music or literature with any regularity. Nobody blogs on law or business. No credentialed academic experts blog on Taiwan, with the exception of Mark Harrison. Only one local foreign journalist blogs, but only tangentially on Taiwan. The "Taiwan" English blogosphere is not a very well-rounded one.

11 comments:

Thoth Harris said...

Man, that Neihu article was so funny, it nearly killed me! "Don't they have elevators in America?" Ha, ha! Actually, if I were Johnny Neihu, I would have added, "In Taiwan, even three floor buildings have elevators. Their purpose seems mysterious, but when it comes time for Ghost Month, you'll understand. In America, there are literally hundreds of thousands of slum-highrises where old people have to climb up 20 flights to your apartment because the landlord is a name you send cheques to."

Shocking, how the most condescending of these missionaries have the most preconceived ideas about Taiwan. In Mainland China (Guanzhou, for example), yes, there are in fact skyscrapers that don't have working elevators, just like in many of our Western countries.

I am horribly suspicious of all those people out there, I'm afraid, who want to tell us how to think, how to have sex, how to eat, how to see, etc. Yet, these same people are just so incredibly foolish about how to survive or even about what constitutes reality twenty metres around them. I suppose if someone like us helped them, they would claim it was God who helped them, but then if one of us does anything that is, according to them, unclean...don't get me started.

It always seems to be monotheists who act like that too, doesn't it? Everyone else, according to them, belongs in Hell. Where's the humility? Oh, I forgot, they have a monopoly on Truth, warped as it is.

TC said...

I would have liked to have attended this conference, though after looking at your presentation it would seem that I hardly represent the majority of expat bloggers here.

Michael Turton said...

Shit TC, they broke the mold when they made you!

Scott Sommers has some thoughts over on his blog you might want to check out.

Michael

Joe W. said...

So as a future expat (not a missionary)living in Taiwan for an undetermined length of time, what advice would you give me for creating a "good" or "worthwhile" blog other than "don't blog"? Must I live there for five or more years before contributing? It seems alienating to discredit people's blogs who have only been there for a few months or years as being less valuable to the Taiwan blogosphere simply due to lack of significance or relevance outside of their daily lives. Sure, they may be uneducated in matters Taiwanese and still in a Western mindset, but that does not mean that their insights or observations should not go undocumented, does it? Surely they have the ability to improve?

Did you give tips to all of these underling bloggers at your conference, or was it strictly a complaint forum? Should they try to fill the role of educators to the entire Western world, or should they convey the knowledge and experiences that they've gleaned in Taiwan in a personal format?

Michael Turton said...

Joe W,

the reason I say "don't" is because 99% of blogs are a total waste of productive time for their owners. Every moment you spend blogging you could probably spend more productively doing something else. Blogging is like anything else -- unless you have clear goals about what you want to do, you're just going to waste your time, which is better spend elsewhere.

I can see that you totally misread me, which means I need to put up some more disclaimers. Also, I didn't give any advice at the talk, formally. I didn't feel comfortable doing that.

So be of good heart.

Michael

Maoman said...

Hmm. I don't think I fit any of the categories in your presentation. I'm a long-term expat, know a fair bit about Taiwan, and I use my blog mostly to show my folks videos and pictures of their new grand-daughter, and also to post on whatever quirky stuff caught my eye. It could be an article on Du Zhengsheng or it could be a funny YouTube video. I've stopped worrying about what other people think about my blog. Anyway, with over 7,000 posts on Forumosa since 1999, that's kind of been my blog.

Anonymous said...

Does one have to be a blogger to attend these meet-ups? Or is it sufficient to merely be a blog reader? I read a few Taiwan blogs quite regularly and would love to come. If readers are welcome, and I'd guess they probably are, where should I look/check so that I know when and where the next one is?

Michael Turton said...

I'm not sure what you mean. the BOF is a once a year conference in TPI. The meet ups at shannons are expat meet ups and take place once a month, usually the first or second saturday.

Michael

Menghsin Cindy said...

Actually, I tend to be an enthusiastic advocate of the personal blog, those that contain nothing more than journalesque entries of everyday lives. Granted, such blogs often have a limited, familiar audience as their target, and most individuals never realize the potential for their blog to transmit something greater to an international audience, and thus find it difficult to move beyond superficial navel-gazing. Nevertheless, entries that are well-written -- borderline majestic, even! -- will occasionally slip through the cracks, serendipitously revealing subjective memories that somehow seem more authentic, more real than any soapboxing that takes the collective as its starting point. That's why I'm more prone to say "Blogs for all!" instead of "Don't".

Generally speaking though, give me a superficially written Taiwanese blog in Chinese over one in English, any day. If this is a formulaic nature to Taiwan blogs in English, that is the need to rehash the "Lookit me learning to initiate myself into a new culture -- woops, gotta go, bye!" narrative, I don't see it as a fault of the personal blog format, but rather the cultural baggage that nearly every expat brings, American or otherwise. At any rate, your dismissal of bloggers who blog on their own lives rankles me, as if there were no productive overlap between that approach and speaking on behalf of a collective unity, as if only "serious Taiwan-related topics" were the only legitimate output of bloggers in Taiwan.

As for credentialed academics blogging on Taiwan? Hey. Give me a few more years and a chance to return. These PhDs aren't cranked out overnight, y'know. ;) And given the state of the academy, few academics either prioritize or have time for blogging. I myself would like to see this change, but I think that will come as more generations of "credentialed academics" find themselves more comfortable with this medium, starting perhaps with, say, the personal blog.

Michael Turton said...

I don't see it as a fault of the personal blog format, but rather the cultural baggage that nearly every expat brings, American or otherwise.

That's ummm, pretty much what I said, though from a different angle.

At any rate, your dismissal of bloggers who blog on their own lives rankles me, as if there were no productive overlap between that approach and speaking on behalf of a collective unity, as if only "serious Taiwan-related topics" were the only legitimate output of bloggers in Taiwan.

Glad you enjoyed the talk, MC. I'll put down the same comments I gave J above:

the reason I say "don't" is because 99% of blogs are a total waste of productive time for their owners. Every moment you spend blogging you could probably spend more productively doing something else. Blogging is like anything else -- unless you have clear goals about what you want to do, you're just going to waste your time, which is better spend elsewhere.

I don't recommend blogs for all, MC, for the same reason that I don't recommend everyone adopt any other of my obsessions, hobbies, or enjoyments: they ain't for everyone. Blogging is one of many types of activities that can suck you in and suck down time and return almost nothing -- lots of computer/internet activities are that way. So that's why I say don't start to people thinking about taking it up. I have stumbled across '000s of orphaned blogs on Taiwan in my time, from people who discovered they are better off doing something else. "Why are you doing it?" "What's my goal?" is an intelligent question to ask of any activity one undertakes. Why not ask it of blogging?

As a couple of close friends of mine are fond of needling me with, how much money did you make from your last blog post, MC?

People do use the list of bloggers blogging on personal lives, because many people have thanked me for maintaining it (though, come to think of it, not a single person has ever thanked me for linking to them, unbidden). But the "productive overlap" appears to lie mainly in the area of foreigners thinking about coming here and trolling through the blogs to see how people live. Further, the saturation point, if you search through such blogs, is quickly reached. The productive overlap is limited and soon exhausted. Those blogs are easily described and pigeonholed. It's the long-term expats here who defy easy categorization, as TC and Maoman complained above.

And finally, I feel like Taiwan is a very urgent issue with great regional and global repercussions across many fields, and that yes, representation of a/the collectivity is vitally necessary. I assume that is also how you feel. And cruel as it is, output in any field IS legitimated, to a very great extent, to paraphrase the Wizard of Oz, not by how useful it finds its own topic, but how useful others find it.

Finally, there are fields where credentialed experts and enthused amateurs blog a lot (like another of my obsessions, New Testament Studies), but Taiwan doesn't seem to be one. Can't tell why... audience too small? More important things to do? Unaware of blogging as a trend?

I think it is great that I stimulated so many comments. Thanks, MC.

Michael

nostalgiphile said...

Hah, my existence refutes most of your generalizations about who doesn't blog, Michael. Which is as it should be.