Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Don't -- and Why

fiLination, a wonderful blog out of Israel done by a total Taiwanophile, blogs on one of the things I said in my post on the presentation at the blogging conference (I didn't make such remarks at the conference). He notes:

Here are some of the highlights from Michael’s presentation:
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."
:) Nasty. I think blogs about life in Taiwan are important. I actually enjoy Michael’s posts and photos about his adventures in Taiwan more than I do politics, even though I do care for how things are in Taiwan.

Several people took that one the wrong way, so, like any media personality, I am going to issue a wave of denials, obfuscations, and clarifications....now where is that dog? Checkers, Checkers, c'mere boy.....

Actually, I didn't mean to be nasty....here's what happened....

Had an interesting talk with a local campus newspaper reporter after the presentation, from Chengchih University. She opened her interview of me by apologizing: "Actually," she said sheepishly, "I don't have a blog." I signaled approval, which triggered further comments along the lines of: "I've found that every word I put on the blog is a word I could have written down in something like this," she said, indicating her notepad, but by inference, implying the newspaper.

And that, in a nutshell, is why my first advice to would-be bloggers is "Don't." It's not arrogance -- but in fact the opposite -- recognition that blogging is not for everyone, and that for many bloggers, it takes away time from being productive doing something else. As a couple of my closest friends are fond of asking, "how much did you make off that last blog post, Michael?" "What's your business model, Michael?" It's a hobby, and for the same reason I don't recommend my personal interests like Chinese porcelain, pre-Columbian archaeology, spiders, early Christian history or Axis and Allies to everyone I meet, I don't recommend blogging for everyone (however, I do reserve the right to post pictures of big beautiful spiders from time to time).

Many people have commented on this in their own blogs. My friend and budding writer Daniel Wallace, who has an excellent blog called Suitcasing, stopped blogging because he found it interfered with his writing. Anyone who wants to experience the anguish of exploring the why of blogging should listen to Daniel's conversation with What's Up in Taiwan founder Henry on this topic. Eventually, WUiT shut down. Just couldn't find a reason to exist. Another blogger I know has said the same thing to me privately -- blogging interferes with his serious writing. So far this has not been the case with me -- I've completed one book and almost finished another, and published stuff in academic journals during the two years I've had this blog. I have plans to turn this blog into a book at some point. Still the "why" question nags constantly at me.

It helps (meaning that I can hold the Why Demon at arms length) that I've evolved pretty desperate clear rationalizations goals about why I blog (Demon to Michael: Quit fooling yourself! You are an addict! And there are no 12 step programs for bloggers! Burn in hell, failed poet! Mwahahahaha!). But on the whole, even if I am not asking myself the why question, someone else is usually asking it of me.

This is not to say: don't blog. But really, my response is intended to make people stop and think: why am I doing this? What's my purpose/goal? Why I am taking up space on servers, bandwidth on the net, and most importantly, time out of my life? And like any other activity, if you don't have a good answer to those questions, why do it? I've been pretty active on the net since the late 1990s, and I've found that it is a huge timestealer, highly addictive, if not properly kept on a leash. Net-based hobbies are not like other hobbies -- if I want to indulge my taste for Jun Ware, I have to wait until a museum has an exhibition. If I want to see big spiders, I have to go hiking. If want to learn about the Gospel of Luke I have to go look up the scholarly literature on it. If I want to play Axis and Allies, I have to find a way to coordinate the activities of five busy adults. But not so the Net. If I want an interaction, I just need to fire up the computer. It's like the caged rat that keeps pressing the bar for the pleasurable sensory stimulation until it dies of starvation......

Soapbox off. Back to our regularly scheduled Taiwan rants....


Anonymous said...

I think people who say blogging 'interferes' with serious writing are making excuses. IMO, the real reason is that they take themselves seriously as writers (some of them, too seriously) and think they'll make much more money in more conventional literary pursuits. They don't want to give the stuff away, in other words.

As far as WUiT, I'm not surprised they shut down. They just didn't interview many interesting people. After a while, it became weekly episodes of foreigners praising the wonderful friendly Taiwan people and their 'great food' to the skies. There are far more substantial foreigners (and issues) than these on the island.

Michael Turton said...

LOL. That was pretty much my take on WUiT. They kept my interview on a shelf for more than a year because of its political content.

I don't think people who say blogging interferes with serious writing are making excuses. But some people are better suited to blogging than others.


Mark said...

I've had good experiences with blogging.

1) Blogging's great for the social life. It's let me reacquaint myself with quite a few people I never would have met again, otherwise, and I've made a lot of new friends, too.

2) I find regularly writing helps me organize my thoughts. Writing essays in a notebook is okay, but with a blog, you get feedback. I also write a bit more carefully in my blog than I would in my notebook.

3) I've basically started re-learning Javascript, and even picked up a bit of PHP just from the blog.

I still think you made a good point, Michael. Like anything else, blogging takes time. In my case, since I actually enjoy my writing, I see it as 5 hours a week or so of leisure time. If I really wanted to further my career goals, I'd probably do something else with that time.

Also, I wouldn't feel bad about not making money from it. Not everything one does in life has to be "monetized".

Mark said...

Oh, yeah. And WUiT totally dissed me. Two friends I know of directly recommended me to Henry and Julian, but they skipped past me to go for smaller blogs.

Michael Turton said...


that's pretty much how I see it. But lots of people blog, and don't get those benefits. I see lots of orphaned blogs out there, opened to fanfare and now dead.

Also, I'm constitutionally-opposed to bandwagon jumping. If I see a fad, I get suspicious, and if someone wants me to jump on, I reflexively say "no." So naturally, since blogs are big, I think some questioning of motives and effects is in order here. As I get older I start wishing I had all that time I spent on Master of Orion back. LOL.


Anonymous said...

The debate reminds of the opening of a classic of English literature and it should go to remind us that nothing is ever new:

"Why should I not publish my diary? I have often seen reminiscences of people I have never even heard of, and I fail to see—because I do not happen to be a ‘Somebody’—why my diary should not be interesting. My only regret is that I did not commence it when I was a youth."

-Diary of a Nobody, 1888, by George Grossmith and Weedon Grossmith