Monday, February 20, 2006

Numbers, Relationship, & Writing

Perusing my StatCounter report from the past week, it came to my attention that my blog has now received more than 10,000 hits in its thirteen-month lifetime. What this arbitrary number really means is debatable. It may mean that a great many people have sailed through while surfing the web and perhaps had a glimpse into my life, or perhaps were turned off by the title and subtitle at the top of the page and didn't hesitate to continue on their merry way. I'm certain, of course, that there is a fairly sizeable group who have actually lingered long enough to read an entry or two, some perhaps even offering a comment, and that is in itself gratifying. Better yet, over time I have developed some "cyber-friendships" through the medium of blogging, and these relationships have added qualities of personal connection and some level of either professional affinity or emotional intimacy. And for me, those interpersonal connections are the heart of this experiment of electronic communication.

Over the course of forty-some-odd years of life, writing has always played some part in my world. Like many people, journaling was often the venue: attractive hard- and soft-cover journals, often received as gifts from well-meaning friends, many of which were begun in earnest and then fell by the wayside, the majority of their pages remaining empty after a flurry of soul-searching scribbling. Some of those journals were hard-covered sketchbooks and were illustrated with drawings and cryptic doodling. Still others were records of my travels through Europe, Israel, and Morocco in my 21st year, filled with stories of my misadventures as a peripatetic young adult in search of the Europe he had devoured in the books of Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, Italo Calvino, Baudelaire, and Victor Hugo, not to mention the dozens of films (too many to mention) glorifying and extolling the virtues and attractions of that distant continent that feels like an ancestral home to me.

Those journals, however, were always disappointing, and could never quite hold my attention for more than a few months at a time. Later in my twenties, I actually attempted to write a novel imbued with the notions and details of my young adult lifestyle as my new wife completed her thesis, seated at a typewriter (yes, a typewriter--it was 1990) on the other siide of the room. That project also sits in a box along with several other projects which also held my temporary interest. The idea of actually going to the trouble of trying to publish my poems or writings indeed crossed my mind several times over the years, as did returning to school for formal training as a writer. Those plans also sit in a dusty box.

Blogging, however, has come to hold a more firm fascination for me, and there are aspects of it that happily keep the ideas fresh and flowing on a regular basis. Obviously, the most attractive part of blogging is ease of use and instantaneousness (is that a word?) of publishing. No sooner does an idea spawn in my head and it begins to take shape on the screen before me. There is no editor or publishing company to dictate content or style, and no censor (that I know of) who will request certain ideas or words be deleted. Artistic and journalistic freedom rule the day, and better yet, readers are free to comment and leave their reactions for all to see. As the host, I of course hold the executive power to delete unwanted comments or disallow comments entirely, but that open door of intercommunication and reaction is what makes the process so interesting for me.

Is blogging the new vanity press? Does it open the door for even more mediocre writing to populate the seemingly limitless expanse of cyberspace? Are the majority of blogs never read by anyone, or perhaps only by a handful of readers? Does it even matter? I would venture a guess that an unequivocal "yes" could be answered to all of these questions, but many of them could be argued as an equally unequivocal "no". If this is the ultimate vanity press---ultimate in the sense that it is a virtually free venue for the publishing of anyone's blogorrhea---then so be it. If newer venues for self-expression and self-publication come into being, so be it as well.

The other day, my son remarked that perhaps blogging and other forms of electronic communication only serve to cut us off from others and keep us all isolated in our homes, glued to computer screens instead of interacting in cafes and other public spaces. I agree to a certain extent, since one can develop such an addiction to computerized interaction that face-to-face becomes increasingly uncomfortable, the anonymity and facelessness of cyber-conversation being more safe and secure. That said, if one has writing and ideas to propagate, one could choose to print them on paper and hand them out to strangers on a street corner, but the reaction to such distribution might be less than enthusiastic. Who knows, though? Perhaps street-corner blogging will be a Luddite response to on-line blogging? Or maybe there can be face-to-face blogging meet-ups where people interested in sharing ideas can mingle and chat and exchange snail-mail addresses and phone numbers? Remember the idea of salons? There are many ways to interact, all of which are valid and worth pursuing. Blogging is simply a way to reach people in disparate geographical areas and across social strata, free of the encumbance of being in the same place at the same time.

So, as for the meaning of the 10,000 hits, it is simply a number, and a number cannot qualitatively measure the human and emotional value of the interactions recorded within it. My experience here is more than a number and is measured by my satisfaction, my interactions with others, and by how blogging has enriched my life. As long as it does not interfere with my interactions with others here in the "real" world, I see no reason for this practice to cease. Addiction or not, it feels healthy for now, and anything that keeps my mind nimble and ideas percolating is good enough for me. 10,000 or 100,000, the numbers are simply a measure of the larger relationship to the world engendered by this most post-modern of activities.
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