I think I’ve known this for a while, and I dare say it’s been obvious to many others for even longer, but I finally hit on a concise formulation of it, and wanted to get it down for my own benefit as much as for any other reason:
The reason it’s hard to (re)start and sustain a blogging practice nowadays is the same reason it was so hard to leave the birdsite.
Blogging literally used to get me up in the morning, not because it paid the rent—though I had hopes, for far longer than hopes were ever merited, that it someday might—but because there was a sense of being part of a conversation, an event, a becoming.
Blogging was not just a thing you did, a solitary practice: it was a thing you took part in; the thing you did was merely a means of entry, a contribution to a collective thing, a complex emergent system. Even if you were only ever a very minor and marginal part of your particular corner of the discourse—and certainly that’s all I ever was—you had a sense of belonging and contributing to something larger than yourself.
(That contribution might not necessarily be positive or sustaining; the valence is irrelevant. In fact, I suspect that folk with negative valence to the discourse were even more motivated… though I also suspect that the motivations of a negative valence are no more healthy for their bearer than for the scene. Selah.)
The TL;DR here is to say “network effects”. That’s why blogging was magic and exciting and fun: it was like moving to a new city and finding loads of cool stuff going on that you could just get involved with. (Shout-out to all the kids who grew up culturally isolated and rural!)
The point is that it’s not the act that matters: it’s not the typing-out of one’s thoughts into a blog editor window that defined “blogging”. Rather, it was doing that act in the context of, and as an mode of entry to, that ongoing conversation, that perpetual word-party that followed the dateline around the planet every day.
The act changed to shorter, thinner things: tweets, updates, instas, whatever. But crucially, the party went elsewhere. Which is why all of us who once were a part of that blogging thing, no matter how marginal or massive we might have been, will always—upon returning to the post-editing window—feel like former-scenester thirty-somethings passing by that one pub down on Granada Road where, ten years ago, there would always be a live show on a Friday night (and probably a house-party nearby later on!) but which has long since been converted into a wine bar, if not simply left boarded up.
That’s why one can do the act of blogging without ever recovering the high of blogging: the high never came from the act, but from its context.
So why make a point of writing this out, and then putting on my blog? To remind myself that there’s no point in trying to chase that particular high. If there is to be a practice of personal writing online which inherits something from what we once called blogging, then it can only inherit the act, and never the context. The world has moved on; attempts to revive what blogging was are doomed to failure, because they are at heart nostalgic.
If there is to be a return to blogging, blogging must become something new. The practice must find (or perhaps create) a new context for itself.
(This is not a manifesto, by the way: for starters, I’m not sure that the creation of a new context for the practice of blogging is even possible.
The counterargument would presumably be to raise one eyebrow while pointing at Substack, or perhaps to Don’t Make Me Type The Word Fediverse… but the former is a platform, and platforms have historically been the doom of scenes—they’re like the record industry, a means of extracting creative energy and profiting from it—and the latter, while a protocol rather than a platform, is still very much caught up in the nostalgic high-chasing mentioned above, at least for the present.)