Orchids from the Atlanta Botanical Garden

These images are among my favorites from several trips to the Atlanta Botanical Garden … but also I used this blog post to experiment with the gallery and slideshow features of WordPress, which I had never used before. You can click on any of the images above to loop through a full screen slideshow. Bye for now!

When hard-boiled eggs explode…

… it sounds an awful lot like a gun going off! Trust me! Don’t try this at home:

Apparently this is what happens when you sit down to write a quick blog post after setting some eggs to boiling, the blog post takes longer than you thought, and you forget about the eggs … they wait about forty minutes then remind you to PAY ATTENTION! Or set a timer next time….

Lunch will be delayed indefinitely….

Blogging and Economics

Bloggers, like writers of all sorts throughout history, are constantly asking themselves why they do it. While I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s something unique to writers, writers do tend to attach (angst-ridden?) debates about purpose and meaning to their writing lives in ways that, say, doctors or chemists or engineers, typically do not. And at some point in nearly every debate about the whys of writing, money comes up — usually in some negative context, as if writerly professions are the only ones where economics should somehow be kept at bay.

Before this morning, I had never heard of Payperpost. I didn’t start this site with the intention of making money, and have so far not invested the time necessary to figure out what options I might have for actually generating some supplementary income.  I’m typically not bothered by advertising on blogs or web sites, as long as it’s not intrusive (like popups or graphic overlays) and doesn’t distract from my ability to focus on the writing or imagery on the site. And, admittedly, I don’t understand the business model behind blog ads and have never actually followed the links to something being advertised — so don’t I really get the economics behind it either.

In any case, I followed this series of posts this morning, starting with Honoring the Hard Working Blue Collar Bloggers by Lorelle. Lorelle links to a discussion of Payperpost at Deep Jive Interests. A notable and praiseworthy element of both posts is their recognition of the folks they’re calling “blue-collar bloggers” — which I take to be everyone but those who think they know better than the rest of us what this medium should be used for. In other words, most of us. See also the precise characterization of the underlying intellectual issues on Seth Finklestein’s Infothought. Seth makes some very good points.

One of the things I like about the whole idea of blogging is the very democratic nature of it. While I think the large volume of writing out there may demand new skills at finding and absorbing information that matters to us, that simply means we need to develop those skills — ones which for each individual can mean learning more about what’s really important to them. In that sense, the democracy that blogging offers works in multiple directions to potentially make us all better writers and better readers. That people can get paid for that, in whatever form, simply means that we’re attaching economic value to that process and its potential. The economics of an activity are not evidence of its perniciousness; they just represent one piece of the activity’s cultural significance that we need to consider in our discussions.

I could probably spend the whole day spinning out various related themes from these posts and the ones that inspired them (which I’ve only glanced at so far), so more on that another time. Those original posts could use a highly critical eye. I’ll close by saying I’m typically very suspicious of anything that sounds like elitism or is written from an obvious embrace of cultural stratification. That’s not to say that cultures, all cultures, are not layered in one way or another; but is to make the point that blogging’s very nature as a wide-open, available-to-anyone medium has the potential to tilt windmills away from the elitist tendencies in any culture, toward something more inclusive that engages us with each other as individual human beings instead of stereotypes.

Some fair questions

In How Do You Choose What You Blog About?, Lorelle VanFossen of The Blog Herald asks that question and a series of others that delve into different reasons bloggers keep up with their blogs. Setting aside for a moment the different types of blogs and bloggers, I think all questions about blogging ought to also consider one other element of the phenomenon:

In the earlier days of blogging, it was mainly a form of public writing. Expanding technological capabilities have allowed it to tag up with all sorts of other media, mainly (I think) still imagery, video, and music. But at its core, it’s still a medium of writing, and that fact makes me wonder about why people want to write so much so badly, and why they want to do so — with relative ease — in a public manner. Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s great — I just also think the question is an interesting cultural and social one that’s well worth exploring.

Blogging as an Imagined Community

In early 2006, I completed a class on American Intellectual History, where the first book I read was Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. The course – an independent study course where I worked directly with a mentor to define its content and purpose – was intended to help me understand intellectual history and the different ways it can be approached. Anderson’s book describes the emergence of the idea of a nation as a imagined construct, and his book covers an incredible amount of intellectual territory.

As I was reading the book, I made several notes at the time about blogging as an imagined community, and have since discovered that at least a few others have considered that idea also. One notable essay along these lines is Imagining the Blogosphere: An Introduction to the Imagined Community of Instant Publishing (pdf) by Graham Lampa – which does a fine job of describing blogging in terms of Anderson’s thesis.

There were a few finer points in Anderson’s book, however, that I found compelling to consider with respect to blogging, all potentially worth exploring from the perspective of intellectual history. Anderson anchors much of his thesis around the impact of the emergence of print publishing, and the spread of newly published material to masses of people as a result of the logic of market capitalism. Anderson goes on to relate this to new conceptions about time, describing how the conceptual experience of time changed to one where we can grasp the idea that there is a distinct past and present, and more importantly that there are people engaging in actions (and there are events taking place) outside our (approximately) immediate perceptual awareness. Anderson states, as an example:

An American will never meet, or even know the names of [most] of his fellow Americans. He has no idea what they are up to at any one time. But he has complete confidence in their steady, anonymous, simultaneous activity. – pg. 26

Anderson goes on to explain this by describing the experience of reading a newspaper, in which all the news stories are connected first by coincidence of time, and second by their immediate obsolescence:

The obsolescence of the newspaper on the morrow of its printing … creates this extraordinary mass ceremony: the almost precisely simultaneous consumption (“imagining”) of the newspaper-as-fiction. We know that particular morning and evening editions will overwhelmingly be consumed between this hour and that, only on this day, not that…. The significance of this mass ceremony … is paradoxical. It is performed in silent privacy, in the lair of the skull. Yet each communicant is well aware that the ceremony he performs is being replicated simultaneously by thousands (or millions) of others of whose existence he is confident, yet of whose identity he has not the slightest notion. Furthermore, this ceremony is incessantly repeated at daily or half-daily intervals throughout the calendar. What more vivid figure for the secular, historically clocked, imagined community can be envisioned? At the same time, the newspaper reader, observing exact replicas of his own paper being consumed by his subway, barbershop, or residential neighbors, is continually reassured that the imagined world is visibly rooted in everyday life. – pg. 35

If you find these ideas difficult – as I did at first – try to imagine not having an awareness of this simultaneous activity. That is, try to imagine how differently you would look at the world, if you didn’t have an awareness of a distinct past and present, and of human beings engaged in simultaneous activity. While you won’t really achieve that state of mind, you might begin to grasp what sort of intellectual revolution occurred in human thought for the shift toward this awareness to take hold.

As Anderson also describes, this intellectual revolution occurred within a historical context where existing social and political power structures began to crumble. Blogging is often described as democratizing, in the sense that it moves some control over information from traditional institutions to anybody who has enough interest, and takes enough time, to post their thoughts on a web site. While there are certainly questions to be raised about the efficacy or value of the information on a typical blog site, the fact that blogs even exist – and that they are written and managed by individuals often working on their own – has implications for human intellectual development that, I think, have yet to be considered. Their potential influence is dramatic; the potential of that influence to effect political, cultural, and social change is also dramatic. And if Anderson’s thesis is true, or even mostly true, then they even have the potential – at least partly because of their immediacy and the speed with which information now travels – to permanently alter some elements of the way human beings think.