From time to time, I like to reflect on my feelings about blogging, and then write about them in an entry in my blog. I have not done so in a while, and it has now been just about six years since I started this blog, so I thought that it would be a good time to return to the subject.
I started blogging at the urging of colleagues at IBM. In the Spring of 2005 the company was getting ready to launch a major blogging initiative to encourage its employees to participate in the rapidly growing blogosphere. My colleagues felt that as someone closely associated with IBM’s Internet strategy, it was important that I personally become an active blogger.
For several years my friend and colleague John Patrick had been urging me to start a blog. John has always been a pioneer in embracing new technologies. He was one of the first people I knew who had a blog, - which is still going strong after all these years. I resisted John’s exhortations, partly due to the commitment of time and energy it entailed, and partly due to fears that I would not have enough interesting things to write about every week. But, the excitement building up in IBM around the new blogging initiative finally pushed me over the edge. I posted my first blog on May 16, 2005.
In May of 2006, a year into it, I expressed similar feelings:
“I continue to enjoy writing the blog, much more so than I originally anticipated I would. It is hard work, but it feels like a workout of my mind. Like physical workouts, they are not easy and you are sometimes in pain, but at the end you feel really good that you did them, and hopefully the workouts keep your body, - and mind - fit,”
When I go back and read my entries on blogging in that giddy first year, what comes through is an unexpected sense of wonderment and excitement about being a blogger, part of the emerging, mysterious, amorphous blogosphere. But, after a while, those feelings began to subside.
Over the next few years my relationship with blogging started to evolve into something deeper, darker and . . . more interesting. Even though the blog was something that, in principle, I produced and controlled, it seemed as if it was acquiring a life of its own. I was not sure what was going on and how to best capture and write about those feelings.
Then, a few days ago I read a great essay that somehow helped me think through this evolving relationship with my blog. Liking Is for Cowards, Go for What Hurts, by Jonathan Franzen was published as an OpEd in the Week in Review section of the May 29 Sunday New York Times. The OpEd immediately caught my attention because it was written by Franzen. His last book, Freedom, published in 2010 has gotten rave reviews, as did his 2001 novel, The Corrections. I got Freedom after hearing so much about it, but have not yet gotten around to reading it, partly, I think, because the blog consumes so much of my time.
Franzen’s short, 2100 word essay is one of the most remarkable pieces of writing I have read in a long time. It is not so easy to describe what it’s about. Read it and see what you think. The title refers to the difference between liking and loving. But, the essay is also about our infatuation, as he calls it, with consumer technologies like Blackberrys and Facebook. “Our infatuation with technology provides an easy alternative to love,” is the tag line the Time’s editors chose for the OpEd.
The contrast Franzen drew between liking versus loving someone or something proved helpful as I was probing into the complex relationship with my blog, especially as it evolved from the puppy love infatuation stage of the first year to the passion bordering on obsession of the later years. His words: “one-half of a passion is obsession, the other half is love,” succinctly capture my more recent feelings.
Getting back to the relationship with my blog, - by June of 2007, having just retired from IBM, I had already started thinking of the blog as having a life of its own:
“I have been wondering what new direction my blog might take. Are there subjects that, consciously or not, I refrained from writing about as an IBM executive that I now feel free to tackle? How will my increased involvement with universities - such as MIT, the University of Chicago and Imperial College - start to influence both the content and style of my blog? The short answer is that I don't know.”
I also started to notice the increasingly important, perhaps obsessive, role that blogging was having in my life:
“I often feel about the blog as I did when for a few years I took on rock climbing in the 1960s while a student in Chicago: somewhat scared as I get going and not sure if I will be able to finish, followed by a feeling of incredible relief once I am done.”
“A number of times, as the weekend approaches, I consider that perhaps I should skip posting an entry for that week. But so far, I have resisted the impulse, both because I am afraid that if I break the weekly routine once I may be tempted to do so again and again, and frankly, because I have gotten used to the wonderful high of relief once I am done.”
“In the end, this blog has essentially become my personal approach to writing and publishing. People write and publish using different styles and channels. They publish the results of their research in peer-reviewed journals, especially in academia. They write articles for magazines aimed at a more general audience. Some write books.”
“I write this blog. It somehow fits my style at this particular point in my life. A blog is not superior in any way to these other styles and channels - just different.”
“Most important for me, blogging has gotten me into writing. I rarely wrote before this blog, and I am now something of a prolific writer - a precious gift to have received at this late stage in my life and career.”
To which I added these affectionate words in March of 2009:
“Somehow, the provisional, work-in-progress, informal and personal style of blogging seems right for me at this point in my life. I like the eclectic nature of the medium, the freedom to be able to write about whatever is on my mind each week. I also like the exploratory nature of the medium, where it is OK to write about subjects I know a lot about, like cloud computing and virtual worlds, and subjects I am frankly an amateur in, like evolutionary biology and the global financial crisis.”
“Above all, blogging has gotten me into writing, something perhaps I would never have done otherwise. And, that is a precious enough gift to have received at this late stage in my life and career, regardless of what additional writing styles might be in store for me in the future.”
But, in January of 2010, love turned to frustration, as I was tired of the continuing demands the blog kept making on me.
“I have been blogging now, week-in, week-out, since May of 2005. Writing and editing each post consumes quite a number of hours each week, let alone the time it takes to think what to write about and how to best frame the subject. Much to my surprise, despite the time and effort it takes to produce each blog, I have not missed a week yet since I started doing them. Several times I have come close to finally skipping a week when I am very busy. Other times, especially when I am having a particularly tough time with a subject, I wonder why I am subjecting myself to such seemingly unnecessary anguish.”
“The truth is that few will care or even notice if I miss a week now and then. So, why then am I so disciplined about my blogs? Is this perhaps a manifestation of a somewhat obsessive-compulsive personality? Is it a way of bringing a certain order to my life? A weekly blog certainly adds structure to my life, especially now that I am no longer working full time for one company and live a somewhat distributed life, working with several different private sector and academic institutions.”
Finally, in July of 2010 comes acceptance:
“If five years ago, someone had asked me to describe how I envisioned my post-retirement life, I think I would have mentioned consulting for private sector companies and teaching part-time at universities, not unlike what I am doing now. But I would have never predicted the central role that blogging has come to play in my life. This has been my biggest surprise of the past few years.”
“Blogging adds a significant degree of structure to my fairly eclectic life. Given the different institutions I work with, my calendar looks very different from day to day and week to week. But the one constant is my weekly blog, which I have been writing since May of 2005. Writing and editing each post consumes quite a number of hours each week, let alone the time it takes to think what to write about and how to best frame the subject. In the end, blogging has provided a sense of continuity to my otherwise, somewhat varied and unstructured professional life.”
I am no longer sure if I am in control of my blog, or if the blog could also be described as controlling me. But it does not matter. Jonathan Franzen might even say that I fell in love with blogging, much like he fell in love with birds, as he describes in his Times OpEd. And, as he observes at the conclusion of his remarkable essay:
“. . . when you go out and put yourself in real relation to real people, or even just real animals, [or perhaps even something like a real blog,] there’s a very real danger that you might love some of them.”
“And who knows what might happen to you then?”