Remember the Web Sabbath and blog it slowly

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Early blogger Moses announcing,
“God told me bloggers love
linking to top-ten lists.”

Andrew Sullivan is pondering aloud what many other early and prolific bloggers (I confess) are wondering these days: Are we losing our ability to read (and write) in the long-form.

Two quotes:

“When it comes to sitting down and actually reading a multiple-page print-out, or even, God help us, a book, however, my mind seizes for a moment. After a paragraph, I’m ready for a new link. But the prose in front of my nose stretches on. I get antsy. I skim the footnotes for the quick info high that I’m used to. No good. I scan the acknowledgments, hoping for a name I recognise. I start again. A few paragraphs later, I reach for the laptop. It’s not that I cannot find the time for real reading, for a leisurely absorption of argument or narrative. It’s more that my mind has been conditioned to resist it….”

“…Some have suggested a web sabbath – a day or two in the week when we force ourselves not to read e-mails or post blogs or text messages; a break in order to think in the old way again: to look at human faces in the flesh rather than on a Facebook profile, to read a book rather than a blog, to pray rather than browse.

I could point to lots of early and prolific bloggers who have “struggled” with where blogging fits with other forms of self-expression — both long-form and short. I appreciate when long-time bloggers openingly share their inner debates regarding whether or not they should keep blogging at the same pace.

However, unlike Sullivan (and the Nick Carr book article that spurred his essay), many of those I follow are not pining for the return to long-form, but are being pulled by shorter and shorter forms of communication and expression. Yesterday, for example, Fred Wilson wrote, “I think its time to acknowledge that long form blogging every day may be coming to an end.” He was reflecting on his recent use of “micro-blogging” tools like Twitter and Tumblr. Steve Rubel has written several times on the topic and has cut-back considerably on his blogging as he has stepped up his usage of microblogging services like Twitter and FriendFeed.

Other bloggers are heading in the other direction. Jeff Jarvis (who still blogs and tweets prolifically) is writing a book (For the record, I don’t recall ever reading anything from Jeff questioning whether long-form, short-form, video — or using chalk on the sidewalk have priority over any other form of self-expression). Hugh McLeod will also have a book coming out soon. Hugh is one of my favorite bloggers on the topic of sharing-out-loud his personal conflicts with different forms of what I call “conversational media.” He is an early adopter and tremendous role model for effective use of each new service, but he’s also an artist who struggles (aloud) with how such new forms of communication can impact — both positively and negatively — his work.

Historically, my favorite blog post on the topic of giving up blogging was written by Dave Winer on March 3, 2006. The topic was “Why I Will Stop Blogging” by the end of 2006. Of course he didn’t. And I personally have thanked and continue to thank him for not. His continued blogging has led to some great ideas that he’s constantly developing. It’s also led to some very focused political commentary that has probably helped interest many in the political process who previously have been less focused on the topic.

Personally, I definitely see “blogging” evolving. I’ve never really liked the word “blog” (despite the name of this blog) and have always said that “blogging” may not last, but having a platform where an individual can “broadcast” (or, as Doc Searls describes it, send and e-mail to the world) will be around forever. For example, on our company website, Hammock.com, every employee has a “People Page.” They’re very blog-like and even run on MovableType. But no one is required to use them — and for some, they’re merely a bio. We’ve specifically said, this isn’t your blog, and have provided guidance on how to use such a platform in a work context. I use mine to say whether or not I’m in the office and comment about work-specific topics. (We have other blogs on the site where people are encouraged to write about professional topics — and activities related to work. And we’ve encouraged and assisted employees in setting up personal blogs.) Like Fred, I also have a Tumblr-powered website — RexHammock.com — that is completely unrelated to anything I do professionally. I am very random about what I post there. It has no theme other than I’ve found something interesting that I want to share with the half-dozen or so people who have discovered the site.

Finally, I have this theory: People don’t read past the first paragraph of a blog post (or the first sentence of an e-mail). If you are reading this sentence you are completely blowing my theory. You are to be commended and you prove that at least one person — you — still has an amazing attention span. Congratulations. Now, go read a book and enjoy your day.

Oh, and Happy Father’s Day.

  • Rex:
    I don’t think long form writing or long form blogging (kind of an oxymoron, no?) are dying off, but rather are finding their natural level. In the past, with fewer media choices, it was easier (even necessary) to spin lower quality arguments into long form writing. However, it is a rare concept indeed that needs that kind of extended attention. Still, business models need product, so publishers continue to push out mediocre books brimming with BS – and we often feel compelled to at least try to read them. When we put them down half way through we reflexively blame ourselves rather than question whether or not the work itself is flawed. There must be something happening wit the way we think… the internet must be doing something to us. We find it hard to stop and say no… this book just sucks.

    Hope your having a great Father’s Day!

  • If you are reading this sentence you are completely blowing my theory. You are to be commended and you prove that at least one person — you — still has an amazing attention span.

    Sorry, but I have a very short attention span. I skim a lot, though.

    Thanks to medical malpractice in 1994, I can’t even enjoy a 60-minute TV show unless I’ve seen it before. I end up watching TiVO, so I can back up and replay, because my mind wanders.

    It’s not new. People have been reading the first graff and moving to something else, ever since Gutenberg. That’s why writers spend so much time on their leed. Too much to read, too little time….

  • Does this reflect a larger trend of shorter learning and communication cycles? The 20 year internship/journeyman process is all but dead because it no longer serves our learning needs. Scale the idea forward to today, and we are communicating in a myriad of quick and short forms that match our needs.

    I did read all the way through your post, probably only to dent your theory. Though I must admit to a rather tall pile of unread and partially read books staring at me from across the room.

    Happy Father’s Day, Rex.

  • Ryan

    Hahaha, I only read the first paragraph, then decided to continue on, but then saw the last paragraph and had to comment.

  • Nah! Maybe it’s just me. Ok, it is just me. My answer is that good content is good content no matter what substrate it is on. I have my preferences for long form reading, but I will read whatever is good on whatever platform it is on. The fact that there might be less “good” content produced should be the point of your blog-fest observatory.

    Bloggers are prolific, that doesn’t mean they are good or worth reading. Some are just worth skimming and some are just worthless.

    I read lots of your “stuff”, and like my stuff some is better and some is not. Blogging is nothing new, just the distribution path and the quantity of possible readers. We used to have pen pals. And before that diaries. And before that thousands of years of letter writing. Well you can kiss the art of good letter writing goodbye. Now we have email and blogging to take it’s place.

    Back to the point I wanted to interject in the first place. If it is good I will read it. If it isn’t, I won’t. It doesn’t matter if it is a blog, the front page of the New York Times, or the centerfold of Playboy.

    BoSacks
    -30-