Sun 2 May 2010
when i started working at an intersection of the fields of education and technology about twelve years back, my then-boss taught me the phrase early adopter. she was a proud, flag-waving version of the breed, a proselytizer of The New. she had a PalmPilot, with that little stylus i could never figure out how people managed not to lose. i disdained the thing, thought of it as conspicuous consumption. i could barely keep track of my $8 daytimer with the vinyl cover.
i’ll never be an early adopter. even if i try.
it takes time for me to learn to love a thing, an object: my appreciation is the kind that builds only over time. historical time, glacial time, no matter – when i hold a thing in my hands, it becomes for me a portal to its personal history. if it has none, i have nothing to attach to; it has no context for me. the patina of age is full of stories: the hows and whys of a particular place and time. i like the cultural trajectory of use-value, the sense of how hands touched objects and what they used them for. fingerprints are romance.
is there a cultural opposite to the early adopter? can i be the maudlin clinger?
my real soft spot is for the utterly obsolete.
i am a rest home for dead technologies. my blog header sports the image of an art deco-era typewriter: i own one. it is my grandmother’s vintage finger-chewer, and it sits proudly in a closet, waiting for some mythical me to unspool a bottle of absinthe and write my great novel. less grandly, we have a VCR. and a Discman, which i can still be seen using. you should see the looks them young whippersnappers get when they clap eyes on that baby. in my freezer, until only last year, sat a carton of Kodak 35 mm film. i bought it at a Costco in South Korea – cheap, but not quite cheap enough to throw out – sometime in 2003. who doesn’t need film? erm, yeh. i hand-imported the box back to Canada when i moved in January 2005. those rolls of film were better-travelled than most people.
when i finally let them go to their great kodachrome reward, it wasn’t out of any rational recognition that film had jumped the shark. rather it was out of avoidance, because every time i opened the freezer i felt guilty staring the box in the eye. i didn’t want the film to know it was dead.
i didn’t want to admit, for some reason, that i would likely never again wind a roll of cellulose into the back of a camera, or that my children would grow up finding the process as foreign as hitching up a buggy. whoa, Nelly. the world really does change in a blink.
and then all these fascinating artifacts clutter up our space, obsolescent but marked all over with fingerprints.
in the four years i’ve spent out here in the blogosphere, i’ve seen a lot of models and trends in social media boom and bust. remember memes? lolcats? the tender etiquette of blogrolls? ah yes. weren’t we cute?
(yes, i am likely the very last person on Teh Interwebs to have a blogroll. and it is sadly out of date. hush. i like to think of it as vintage.)
in gazing back through time at my VCR and my typewriter and my defunct Pentax K-1000, i don’t see Sodom & Gomorrah, a charnel-mess of sin and misery receding in the distance. nor do i see us striding inexorably forward into progress. sure, i like my digital SLR very much, and this fancy-pants MacBookPro and iTunes and all the other privileges that are my particular riches of time and place and class and living with an Educational Technologies Professional. i appreciate the affordances of these current technologies. but i appreciate in them the very same things that i love in my boneyard of the dead and cast-off: the fingerprints they make possible.
blogging’s fingerprint has changed, dramatically, over the past 3 or 4 years. sure, we’ve been told since at least Christmas 2008 that blogging is dead as a doornail. still, plenty of us do it. and there are people who started only when the death knell was proclaimed who still seem to be making a damn fine time of it. some, perhaps even a living.
when i first ventured out into wild social world of blogging, the parenting corner of the blogosphere – which was then still a relatively coherent entity – was like a hopping mixer dance on the first weekend of summer camp. connections were personal, often intense, and frequently had a tinge of wonder about them. i found you! we exhaled, collectively, and it was glorious. the playing field wasn’t flat – some people were obviously well-established and incredibly popular by late 2006 – but it all still seemed to be mostly about self-expression, rooms of one own. and for those who valued that kind of voice & space, this world seemed to be a democratizing agent beyond wildest dreams; a community of relative peers performing identity and parenthood in the 21st century.
then, subtly, the game changed. the model moved from summer camp to conference. one’s blog became a business, whether one happened to notice or not. and if one didn’t, one was – without doing anything differently – suddenly missing out.
months ago, on twitter, i proposed that maybe the term “blogging” has run its course. we don’t call all writers by the same handle: we have novelists and tech writers and humourists and PR people. increasingly, i suspect bloggers might be a less fraught community – or rather, group of communities, overlapping – if we had different names for the things people do in their online spaces, some for recompense, some for reputation, some for craft, some for the sheer hell of it.
the conversation around blogging – and particularly around mommyblogs – has monetized. and with that, the relatively egalitarian conversational field that existed into 2007 has fractured into a multiplicity of communities who lack any coherent centre other than the fact that their writers make up what advertisers tend to believe is a coherent market. we still make connections, often deep and personal ones. but they begin in networking, now, as much as in any enthusiastic recognition of self. those are not necessarily opposites – but they serve different ends. and i wonder about that.
i know i’m a dinosaur: i’ve clung to my narrative, non-commercial model for the blog just as i cling to the idea that my grandmother’s typewriter is funkalicious. for me, it works, mostly because i always figured i could capitalize more reputationally than monetarily from the kinds of writing i’m good at. i build my body of work here, and someday…who knows? i am not so proud or dumb or rich as to be averse to money. but i don’t relate to this blog primarily as an entrepreneur, and as such, i am still a relic of a former era, an artifact of blogging’s history. most writers who start out on the internet today have no desire whatsoever to be like me: they’ll either build their own site painstakingly as a business success through advertising and sponsorships and giveaways and carefully cultivated network relations, or they’ll write their hearts out – but with an eye to being picked up by a commercial site with SEO potentiality and paid for their words through the visibility of their name and the development of their cred.
the room of one’s own is supposed to turn a profit, these days.
i want to know what gets lost, in that shift, and what it means. i want to know if there’s a tradeoff, and what it says about our culture. i want to know if it’s good, and how…and for whom.
over the next three years, i’ll research social media and study technologies and trends and futures and what they all might mean for education and culture in the 21st century. for a dyed-in-the-wool Lot’s wife, wistful and salty, forever looking back, it’s a funny choice. but it’s what gets left behind that interests me.
i want your input on this little corner of that conversation. pretty please. tell me what’s changed about blogging in however long you’ve been doing it, or reading. tell me what’s changed in the community compared to your original expectations and hopes. tell me i’m wrong, or crazy, or hopelessly outdated. tell me why i should advertise, or write that review about feminine crotch spray i got pitched a few months back. tell me about writing giveaways, and if it’s hard or easy. tell me why you read, and what you think you’ll see from the internet and the blogosphere (if such a thing exists) a decade from now. tell me what difference this whole evolving world has made in your life.
tell me what fingerprints you think you’re leaving.
i may just do a dissertation on it all…my own little artifact.