Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Place Called Blogsville (Part IV)

AJ 2.0
Trends come and trends go; sometimes it’s easy to forget that. For example, back when my daughter Amy was in middle school, one of the many fashion trends of the mid-90s was the revival of the styles from the 1970s ― a time that I know quite well.

So enamored was Amy with an iconic man-made fabric of the era that was now once again wildly popular, she one day exuberantly declared to her mother and me, “Polyester will NEVER go out of style!”

Heh, we’ve NEVER let her live THAT one down…

But to be fair, haven’t each of us fallen victim to that same sort of short-sightedness at one time or another? Haven’t we all latched onto something new that we thought was “life-changing,” or was the next-big-thing-that-we-can’t-live-without; confidently asserting to anyone listening that nothing would ever be the same; that we would forever be changed by that wonderful new paradigmatic epiphany?

I’ve decided that to a large degree, personal blogging was that way for a lot of folks heading into the mid-2000s — at least that seemed the case in our Blogsville neighborhood.

In our early years together it was indeed life-changing, much in the same way that chatting was for people in the mid-1990s; a real phenomenon, and very important for a time. But in the end, it was simply another ‘next big thing’ and once it ceased to maintain that fashionable status, people began losing interest.

Don’t believe me? How much have you heard about MySpace lately?

However it’s unfair to totally place the two in the same boat, particularly given the somewhat well-deserved, seedy reputation that internet chat rooms subsequently earned as a breeding ground for cybersex and predatory behavior. Blogging on the other hand has always been on a much different level; it obviously requires a greater, more honest commitment, both emotionally and practically. It’s hard work, and is not an undertaking for the weak-willed — that is, the weak-willed who are also without conscience.

That being said, there are times when I really have to search my own motivations as to why I always return to personal blogging no matter how long my absence — almost as if my life depended on it. I’m pretty sure a lot of my former Blogsville neighbors have thought about it in a similar vein at one time or another. However in the end, not everyone has the time or perhaps the amount of self-loathing of someone like me to goad them into continually getting back up on that freakin’ horse.

I am now convinced that I must write; I am enslaved to the notion. Why? Who the hell knows? But one thing is for sure, when I got bit by this bug six years ago, it actually did change everything for me. Trouble is, the other things in my life that had also changed made it all the more daunting for me to keep up.

A Rude Awakening
With the popularization of the ‘Web 2.0’ movement, which I began hearing about sometime around 2006 (but which had actually been in the process of implementation since the late 90s), I knew I was out of step and wasn’t ready to deal with it.

The constructs of the modern, social web took a quantum leap forward on a number of fronts, from around the time I began blogging in 2004 to just beyond the mid-decade mark; and quite frankly, I was oblivious to it all.

Suddenly it seemed my long-winded, narrative style had become less and less relevant to the now-assumed reality of daily, social information-based posting. Most of the successful blogs I was seeing were no longer static, personal essays, but living, breathing, social organisms, teeming with useful information and comment interaction; cross-linked and shared via Delicious (formerly known as del.icio.us), Twitter, and Facebook. It all seemed to happen at once for me; but in reality, while the changes did come about quickly, they were over a much longer period — I just hadn’t been paying attention.

Looking back on it now, I was stuck in somewhat of a feedback loop. Lots was going on in my head, and even more in my life; I just couldn’t seem to get it all out of myself with any semblance of the consistency I had in the beginning, when the stories of my life and family seemed to flow out of me in a never-ending stream of content.

Besides, what was going on in my life at that time wasn’t stuff I really wanted to celebrate, as had been the motivation for my previous work. I second-guessed nearly everything I wrote, becoming tentative, overly self-conscious, and feeling like a hypocrite for letting it all ‘get to me.’

As I stagnated, it seemed as though the neighborhood was withering as well. Most seemed to begin making the same transition away from daily or even weekly blogging, and moving more toward social networks like Facebook and later, to a lesser degree, Twitter; where we slowly found each other and began re-asserting ties that had linked us previously in Blogsville.

And while I certainly can’t speak for anyone else’s opinion, I think the new landscape is certainly a beautiful one in its own way, but it’s just not the same kind of community we had before.

Having been part of the blogging’s inital wave as a mass medium — an early-adopter even though ‘weblogging’ had been around some ten years previously — there was a certain level of pride one felt in being ahead of the curve.

In 2004, blogging was still relatively unknown amongst the general populace; something that seemed ‘weird’ to the average Joe. It was far from the now-widely recognized medium it has become.

However it all seemed to change so quickly, and by 2006, my once-enviable ‘informed’ position had turned on me — or was it I whom had turned away from IT? I found myself in a position similar, social media-wise, to the one I was currently embroiled in professionally, having sailed through the first half of the 2000s as a web designer who didn’t know crap about something as game-changing as CSS, and was now in a mad scramble to step it up or lose my relevance — even my job.

As a result of both my sudden shift in motivation to become current with modern web technology, and the paralysis of my frustration with the changes in the blogging landscape, my blog post production — as well as a heapin’ helpin’ of my perceived personal relevance — all but dried up.

Now, nearly three years later I’m attempting to kick off that creeping malaise. I have already hit rock bottom professionally, having been laid off from my employer of nearly 12-years last November. And even though I did manage to bring my sagging web-tech skill-set up to standards over the last couple of years, the fact that my job performance was allegedly a non- factor in my demise doesn’t provide me a whole lot of solace. It’s more than a little unsettling to go from being indispensable for years, to suddenly finding yourself thrust back into the job market, entering your mid-fifties; competing for jobs in an industry inherently dominated by twenty-and-thirtysomethings.

Sometimes changing with the times is a personal option; for me, right now, it most certainly is not. I’m in a ‘roll-or-BE-rolled’ position for the first time in my professional life.

As to the extent to which I can do anything about the perception of my age as I seek new employment, only the market knows for sure. On the other hand, the blog world, for the most part, is ageless — and thanks to genetics and personality, I’ve never looked or acted my age.

As a blogger I have begun to embrace the change of the now-dated ‘Web 2.0’ moniker — albeit sometimes kicking and screaming — and I have also begun seeking ways to regain my relevance in this continually evolving medium.

Twitter was the biggest step for me, although it has in some ways been somewhat counterproductive to blogging. As a self-described micro-blogging platform, tweeting not only relieves me of the need to express myself via daily posting, but also of the associated guilt when I fail to blog. And while the association of any kind of guilt with personal blogging may seem an absurd notion to most, that’s just me; I know it’s the way I am and I’m tired of beating myself up for it or trying to change my stripes. I will always feel the need to write, and the obligation to myself of the same.

However, as fantastic a conversation vehicle Tweeting is, I need to be able to go deeper. That, I now know, will never change.

I’ll never abandon this house. No matter the condition of the neighborhood or the number of its residents, Blogsville will always be my home. I may spend some time in other abodes, such as my weekend winter cottage, but this is the place I will always come back to.

Next: Urban Renewal?
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