Thursday, December 4, 2008

the loneliness of the long-distance blogger

Many have talked about how our increased familiarity with celebrities, and their overexposure, paradoxically makes them seem less important or glamorous. The more that people encounter a celebrity everyday in the pages of a magazine or on a celebrity website, the less mystery there is about them. Familiarity breeds contempt. Like I said, this is a pretty common saw.

I think there's something a little similar to blogging. Not that people particularly care about bloggers as people. But there's a related interchange involving ideas. What happens is, readers read certain bloggers and start to love what they say. This is often a product of that blogger cogently expressing ideas or feelings the reader him or herself has had but couldn't or didn't express in the same way. Some of the most potent blogger crushes (for lack of a better term) come from this attraction-through articulation. When you read someone who says something you believe in, and says it in an intelligent or beautiful way, and it happens several times in a row, you develop an affection for that person's ideas and writing.

But those things tend not to last. Bloggers have to write a lot. The reality of posting several times a day, usually a prerequisite of having an audience, is that you end up sharing many, many of your thoughts and opinions. No two people, meanwhile, have identical ideas, and the curious thing is that you tend to be more disenchanted by the small differences in your ideas with someone else than in big, glaring disagreements. We tend to be most annoyed with the people who are most like us. Personally, I think it's pretty common for someone to discover a blog, love it immediately, then end up disillusioned by one disagreement or another. Whereas someone who has more profound disagreements, or who just isn't quite as initially enthused, will keep a more even keel throughout. Or so it seems to me.

I do think that there's sometimes more space for people who disagree a lot to get along, blog-wise, than there are for people who are largely in agreement. Internecine argument can be the most vicious kind. Fellow commenters at Megan McArdle's place sometimes ask her why she continues to put up with me. (Her patience is indeed the stuff of legend.) Partly it's because Megan is a cool and laid back person. (Lest my screeds against libertarianism convince you I am a zealot, it should be clear that I have great affection for MegArdle.) Another reason, though, is because we disagree so fundamentally that there isn't much invested in our disagreement. Because we aren't involved in the same philosophical or ideological project, we can just sort of shoot the breeze and snark at each other and not get too mad. Whereas if we were battling for the soul of an ideology, or whatever, there would be more at stake.

Speaking of blog crushes, you should be reading Elizabeth Nolan Brown. That's one that shows little sign of waning for me.


ryan said...

I think there's also the possibility of coming to like the blogger as a person through what they write. As you've said, bloggers write a lot, and it's all but impossible to prevent one's personality from showing through in the process of cranking out a few thousands words a week. I find this far more interesting than the mere ideological differences, as I tend to start from the assumption that I'm going to disagree with most people--even most Christians.

So yeah, you're an atheist existentialist, and I'm a confessional Christian, but hey, who cares? You, like Megan and the pomocons, are a person who articulates interesting ideas well, and I'm far more interested in knowing why you believe the things that you seem to than in whether or not your ideas fit perfectly with my own personal ideology. The don't, and I don't give a damn. I hope this comes through in my comments, though I wouldn't be at all surprised if I mess that up on a regular basis.

Gypsy Cat said...

Word. I totally have a crush on you.

BP said...

I am less interested in blogs as social crutches and more as mental entertainment.

Elizabeth said...

Oh, goodness. Now I am guaranteed to unintentionally post something you vehemently disagree within, like, the next day. ;-)

For now, I agree completely with what you said about the small differences mattering more than the big. I can find myself not really being bothered in the slightest that most of the other bloggers at Ladyblog think everything I say is blasphemous, and vice versa, and even still find myself commenting lightheartedly and without animosity on their lighthearted posts. But a few weeks ago I remember being very disappointed when I found out about some minor divergence of viewpoint with something Peter Suderman, whom I normally agree with all the time, wrote (although, I know him in real life, so that may be different). I suppose it's really not just a blogging thing, though — it's the same way with people you generally agree with and disagree with in the real world, too.

Anyway, I think the larger more interesting thing is what you mentioned in the first paragraph, the para-social relationships people develop via blogs and—oh god, even worse—twitter. I have so many para-social twitter relationships right now it's frightening ...

raft said...

i approach bloggers, or writers in general, a little differently. i think this might be because i don't easily get "crushes" or fall in love with things. Instead the key question is whether the blogger has something worthwhile to offer me for my time.

so, broadly speaking i read and like three kinds of blogs (which overlap):

1) news and reporting blogs, i.e. Ben Smith @ Politico. Smith's function is to aggregate a lot of information in digestible ways. What I don't want from these blogs is excessive editorializing--the less i know about their personal opinions, the better (analysis is fine).

2)) blogs that make fun of people i don't like. Balloon Juice is a great example. there is little i enjoy more than relaxing behind my computer after a hard day's work, popping open a can of beer, and read John Cole take down the latest wingnut asshattery (recent post: "The Final Middle Finger As He Drifts Off Into the Sunset"). It's a wonderfully cathartic experience. now, i have many ideological disagreements with Cole. but that doesn't matter so much; the important thing is that we share a common enemy. he gives voice to my deep hatred for wingnuts in profoundly beautiful ways--for that, all else is forgiven. this category of blogs most closely resembles what Freddie is talking about in the OP.

3) blogs from which i can learn things. that doesn't mean i like the blogger or that I share the blogger's ideas. John Derbyshire is one of my favorite bloggers and I don't agree with him on anything. But I LEARN a lot from reading him; he always has interesting, weird, unexpected things to say (or link to) which helps me deepen my own thinking. this is a very diverse category of blogs: L'Hote, Andrew Sullivan, Calculated Risk, The Corner, Digby, etc. are all included.

The running strain through all these categories is a respect for the work that these bloggers put out, whether that's good reporting or good snark or good thought. Respect is, i think, something very different from liking or agreeing. It's some combination of ethos plus earned trust. for example, i think megan mccardle is a perfectly nice person. But I don't respect her work (even when i agree with what she's saying); and therefore i don't read her.

anyway that's how i view things.

Bob said...

Hey raft, regarding your second point, you might want to take a look at

It's not really a blog but I'm sure you will find some folks you don't like.

As you might guess by the name it's a parody of Wicki.

It's cute but I got tired of it pretty quickly.