Is a newsletter a blog? And if it is, does that make what I do with Tedium blogging? And if so, is that practice in decline as we enter 2018?
That’s not exactly how I approach this process, certainly, but I think it’s worth discussing at length at the moment, as the culture of blogging evolves away from what it once was. Over at JSTOR’s excellent daily news site, author Farah Mohammed analyzes blogging in the past tense, pondering whether the medium is in broader decline, as big-name bloggers like Nicholas Kristof leave the game.
Certainly, I don’t personally think blogging is dead or declining—there are a lot of amazing writers out there, many of whom have been active for many years. But I do think that the culture of what represents a “blog” has changed.
We’re less likely to call these things blogs—maybe we’ll call it a newsletter, or a publication. Or a Twitter feed. Or a Facebook feed. Or a YouTube channel. Or maybe even just a blog post, on its own, separate from a formalized blog.
But at the same time, I feel like blogs, whatever we end up calling them, are worth grasping onto as an ideal. The reason for that is that they represent some of the best examples of independent publishing that have ever existed.
They also represent something else: The lives of their authors, post by post, page by page.
Last year, Del Hoal, a reader of mine, drew attention to the fate of The Presurfer, a blog that originally dates to around 2000 or so. A linkblog in the mold of The Daily What, it was run from its launch by Gerard Vlemmings, a man who had been using computers since the 1970s. The Dutch blogger’s approach wasn’t all that dissimilar to my old site ShortFormBlog—short blurbs done quickly—though he focused mostly on less-heralded parts of the world at large, and would often surface some worthy bits of vintage or offbeat culture.
For nearly 17 years, Vlemmings wrote thousands of pithy items, and while he never changed the world with The Presurfer, he built up a bit of a following over time—which is impressive and should be respected.
It’s hard to write a site like this for such a long period of time (especially as you have to keep finding new, interesting things on an almost-daily basis), but he made it look easy. Even some of the most prominent long-term bloggers out there, like Andrew Sullivan, eventually gave up the daily content grind.
At the beginning of February of last year, however, things sharply changed for Vlemmings. He revealed that he had started suffering from health problems regarding his lungs. Over the span of a week, he posted three times, offering his readers updates on his situation—a sharp change in tone from his prior posts.
In the comment thread of the final update, the truth was revealed: Vlemmings had died just three weeks after revealing his health problems to his readers. The outpouring was emotional, and comments came to his site from far and wide.
But his site—full of his interests, his ideas, and his big thoughts—outlives his passing. It still feels just as vibrant and as interesting as it did when he was writing it on a daily basis. His about page makes him sound like one of the world’s most interesting people.
And his posts, even years after the fact, still bring to light interesting questions, like: Is it possible to nail jelly to a wall? What do condiment packets look like around the world? And should we see Valley Girls as innovators?
Sure, going back to Mohammed’s point on JSTOR, maybe blogging was a generational thing. Perhaps the world has moved past the idea of merely having a webpage that’s your own, and nobody else’s. Perhaps we’re expected to do everything, instead, on social media or in someone else's walled garden.
But what if a lot of bloggers were never really in it just for the importance of being on top of the cultural pulse? What if the goal was to share a piece of ourselves through the mechanics of shoving new thoughts into a database every day?
Maybe we needed an onramp to the information superhighway. Blogging was just that: An important starting point for a culture where many people chose to both consume and create in equal measures.
I would hate the concept to be gone or even in decline. I’d prefer to think it was an essential stepping stone—that we’re still just blogging, in ways big and small, without actually using that term to describe our actions.
I like the fact that way back then, we actually owned our own stepping stones, rather than letting someone else build the paths.
Let’s keep those ragged little paths alive.