Saturday, March 05, 2011

Pouring thoughts into new vessels

This blog is approaching its 500th post (this is #495), which feels like a landmark of sorts. I'm starting to wonder if it's really a good idea to keep it going, based on a few random confluential inputs:
  • Internet trendmongers are touting "the death of blogs". This is kind of silly, but not entirely. I already have moved to using Facebook and Twitter for the kind of look-at-this items that might have generated a blog post in the past. They aren't at all substitutes for longer forms of writing, but;

  • I'm actually trying to write some papers for publication, so my deeper thoughts are getting tracked into there rather than here.

  • And I'm finding the process of writing rather difficult, because I've always found it difficult to force my thought into any kind of serial form. It feels like trying to nail mercury to a wall.

  • And as it happens, Ted Nelson, an early influence and mentor, has just resurfaced with a new book (an idiosyncratic, self-published thing, like all his others), and it reminded me that one of his dreams was what he called "a decent writing system". I've taken stabs at creating things like that over the years, but there still isn't anything that actually helps me get my thoughts in order. But chronologically ordering them in a blog doesn't make much sense from a thinking perspective.
So, I'm thinking of ending this blog, or perhaps putting it on hiatus, and trying to organize my thoughts in some different way (probably a wiki of some sort), something that would start to approach a book, or at least contain book-like subgraphs.

I'm not sure why this feels so momentous. After all, wikis and blogs are both collections of chunks of linkable text, right? What difference does it make if they are chronological or something else? Well, even though it is the thoughts themselves that are important, not the form into which they are poured -- it does, in fact, make a difference. This is a lesson I have to teach myself over and over again, for some reason. Blogs and wikis have entirely different genre conventions. Blogs are inherently about the passing parade, they are inherently dated and nobody wants to read blog posts five years old. Whereas a wiki page is topical, it is supposed to be a timeless representation of some topic or concept, it is synchronic rather than diachronic. That sounds better, somehow, but in fact I'd probably miss the chatty, conversational, transitory qualities of a blog post. Writing wiki pages would feel pretentious.

In the Nelsonesque utopia, or my version of it, you wouldn't have to choose, one wouldn't be confined to one form or onother; chunks would be chunks and they could be effortlessly and semi-magically arranged into whatever structures were appropriate to a particular purpose or reader. Timeless truths would emerge from discourse; knowledge construction and knowledge in its finished forms would coexist with their relations clearly visible and navigable.

But nobody seems to be building a system like that. Nelson has famously failed to get his ideas into practical implementations, and nobody else seems to think it's very important. Hm, I smell another distracting side project coming into view...building software is probably easier for me than coherent long-form writing.


Anonymous said...

"building software is probably easier for me than coherent long-form writing" - I think that's the nub of the issue: it's tempting to think a new writing tool will make all the difference (I am always changing pens, adopting new software, fiddling with fonts in search of the perfect writing environment) but in the end these are secondary to the effort of actually getting the words out.

I suspect the "death of blogs" will get more press over the next year or two and I don't have a clue where it will end.

jlredford said...

I find that the chronological nature of blogs forces me to actually write something once a week. If it was meant for longer-term interest, I would be too intimidated to put down anything.

Plus, it hardly seems that blogs have died - they've just gone pro. The people who really can write something cogent every day are attracting a steadily higher proportion of attention, which is something you noted a couple of entries ago. That's not surprising or wrong, so long as there's a Long Tail expressing a great diversity of views.

fsascott said...

"Nobody seems to be building a system like that."

Actually, in the pre-computer era, lots of people tried - Raymond Lully, Giulio Camillo, and Béroalde de Verville come to mind. The philosophical encyclopædism of the late mediæval/Renaissance periods has many traits in common with it. What the digital age has created is the potential of a very powerful mechanism to assist human memory and the written or printed word. Just perhaps it might be applied to the realization of their dreams.

john said...

If you wanted to write about abandoning your blog on Facebook you would've been able get about 10% of your post in the first FB post. Facebook and Twitter smell like death to me so far as replacements for blogs and longer formats where someone might actually do critical thinking.