Tuesday, March 30, 2010

since I am apparently incapable of human communication...

So I'll tell you a story.

A long while back, when I was still at the League, I sent a query in to Conor Friedersdorf for his brief "Ask Conor" (or whatever) blogging advice column. In my query, which I wrote in a certain stylized way, I pointed out my frustration with never having earned the coveted Matt Yglesias link, Yglesias being my favorite blogger. Conor ran it, I thought my email and his response were both pretty funny, and then Yglesias linked. Which made me happy: I enjoy blogs and blogging, and it was cool to see that.

Now, the response in the comments of his blog, the post he linked to and the post Conor made all depressed me a bit, because the most common response was to mock me for making my various status anxieties and the fact of my fandom public. "Ho ho ho, I think Freddie was showing his insecurity!" And, you know, to a degree I was. What I couldn't and can't understand was why the commenters were incapable of seeing that, of course, the whole episode was going to make me look a little silly, and that there was no way I could have failed to predict that fact ahead of time. Making just a little statement about the various status anxieties, hierarchies and strange open/closed systems of blogging was part of the point. I thought that the obviousness of that would show people that I wasn't unaware of those things, so that perhaps they might take part of my point about it.

Anyway, that is all antecedent to say that the point of the vlog was actually to show that I am fine, but to do so in a way that makes you understand that "being fine" is a process. Look I'm not turning on the oven over an argument about philosophy on a blog, and-- you know-- I wouldn't have weighed in at all if I wasn't interested in or capable of dealing with argument. And, yeah, look I was a leetle upset about the number and tenor of comments that the post got, but hey. I'm a big boy. What I want to make plain is that it is at times I care a lot about the criticism, at times I don't; at times I feel strongly that I've been misinterpreted, and at times I don't; at times I am emotionally invested with it, and at times I'm not; and I don't see much particular value in acting like I have some sort of unified front about it all.

Look the point is just that there are some very consistent and perpetually strange ways in which bloggers at once reveal themselves to their readers and at the same time restrict what is revealed. I wouldn't have it any other way, of course, in the basic "now you see me, now you don't" quality of blogging. You certainly won't ever read about my social life in this space, nor do I want you all to know exactly what I spend my days doing. What does sadden me is what people choose not to reveal the parts that are most valuable to me: ideas as process; shifting attitudes towards ones ideas and work; the process of feeling upset about negative reaction and then gradually developing a more useful response to it; being grouchy; being thoughtful; acting out; gradually accepting your own limitations. See to me that's where there is the possibility for the limited but transformative power of the Internet.

Instead what I mostly see are people trying to sell themselves as some unified Platonic whole of opinions, acting professionally and refusing vulnerability. Now I know why people would do that, and I particularly understand it for people like Yglesias or Ezra Klein, who are at once people and brands in the weird way of the Internet. It's just that to me, the real value is in demonstrating the human process of idea generation, value acquisition and staking opinions. Showing people the gears, to me, is at once more intimate and more useful than saying, "I'm taking sweetums out to the clam shack tonight so blogging will be light."

I just don't think the human experience, for most of us, is a matter of walking around as a discrete whole of well developed and carefully weighed opinions, but rather an always swirling mix of cognition and emotion that changes from moment to moment. At times I contradict myself. I try not to, but I also try to remember that part of the reason for contradicting myself is that I am a process, and that process is influenced by everything in my intellectual environment-- including, most certainly, all of you.

To me that's the value, to show people the endless process of revision that, I think, is the reality of being human. Far better to show that than to try to sell myself as a discrete, ordered and uncomplicated collection of carefully balanced and presented opinions. That's been all my gamble. It seems, though, that a lot of people really don't like it, so maybe I should reconsider.

Anyway: as for my mood, never fear. I get upset about things, I act out a bit, I get over it, and I will show you all of it.

7 comments:

Phillip said...

"What does sadden me is what people choose not to reveal the parts that are most valuable to me: ideas as process; shifting attitudes towards ones ideas and work; the process of feeling upset about negative reaction and then gradually developing a more useful response to it; being grouchy; being thoughtful; acting out; gradually accepting your own limitations."

Freddie, my wife started blogging two days ago. You might like her stuff. While, she may be an amateur blogger, she's an exceptional writer.

Now, this is shaping up to be a fitness/nutrition blog, and that's probably not your thing, but I hope you'll at least read her first post and consider an RSS subscription.

http://bigeandthequickness.tumblr.com/

Daniel said...

Now I know why people would do that, and I particularly understand it for people like Yglesias or Ezra Klein, who are at once people and brands in the weird way of the Internet. It's just that to me, the real value is in demonstrating the human process of idea generation, value acquisition and staking opinions. Showing people the gears, to me, is at once more intimate and more useful than saying, "I'm taking sweetums out to the clam shack tonight so blogging will be light."

I think for a lot of people they try to copy that "brand" approach because they, like everyone who blogs, wants people to read them but can't quite figure out how to attract readers (I'm one of those people) so they see people like Ezra and Matt and say, hey, why don't I try and present myself in the same way/' That doesn't work these days though as far as I can tell.

But I'm with you, reading the processes to which people come to conclusions is not something to avoid, it's something to pursue.

Andrew said...

This post describes why I became a regular reader here... it seems like many bloggers have political agendas or other aspirations that leave them afraid of being pilloried for some loose rhetoric, changing their mind, or some other sin against the pretense of being a "discrete, ordered and uncomplicated collection of carefully balanced and presented opinions." I also think people tend to gravitate toward voices who sell themselves as such. Common wisdom says that the road to blogging success is to become this sort of tightly integrated personality-brand with fully-developed (and unchanging) stances on all issues.

I read blogs in part to help me examine my beliefs/prejudices, etc., so it's nice to see someone else expressing a measure of self-doubt.

Anyway I hope you keep your current style.

Josh said...

I remember the Friedersdorf thing, and it just struck me at the time that you are pretty fucking funny at times, but your funny side is (IMHO) not the side you showcase most often with the blog. And people have, you know, roles they ascribe to the folks they read online, which are a combination of the voice you present and their own response to it. Your role isn't usually "funny dude," from what I've seen, and people tend to be confused when a role shifts on them abruptly. And then, the Internet as a medium just engenders a certain dickheadedness that has no trouble lashing out when someone demonstrates vulnerability (deliberate or not).

Anyway, I like what you do; it's just not always been clear to me that you like it. But as you say, you're a big boy, so keep it up, please. It's a hell of a lot more interesting than having another fewer-dimensional brand out there.

koke said...

'Instead what I mostly see are people trying to sell themselves as some unified Platonic whole of opinions, acting professionally and refusing vulnerability.' Unless Washington irony is a way of 'refusing vulnerability', I don't think Yglesias does this.

Steve said...

The best innovation for you would be some way to tell how commenters arrived at the post, e.g. "via theatlantic.com"...

Brett Johnson said...

Contradicting self or no, blogging at least provides a record of what has been thought and put out there. If the things blogged are true expressions of the blogger, than I think even seeming-contradiction gives a more honest, fleshed-out expression of the individual behind it.

Thanks for this post.