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A Blogger By Any Other Name

·1065 words·5 mins
Articles blogging culture futility meta

Eric Rice recently wrote this post wondering, “How can I stop being called a ‘blogger’?” To summarize, his issue is that it is ridiculous to be labeled by a single medium, especially when the medium is so prevalent that the term becomes meaningless as a categorization tool.

I just feel that label is more a curse than a blessing. While that mind sound drastic, there’s nothing unique about it anymore if everyone does it. (Which is my beef with social media not really being an industry if everyone supposedly does it– maybe we need a ‘breathing industry’?)

For those of you just joining us, the term “blogger” arose for two reasons, the first of those being medium confusion. Blogs aren’t really anything that radical, essentially they consist of a website with dated entries as opposed to a static site that is rarely changed. Some people have added other qualifiers like suggesting something is not a blog with an RSS/Atom subscription feed, which is actually more of a standard practice rather than a requirement. The point is that the idea-form of a blog is essentially just a site composed of dated text that is regularly updated and archived. You could just call it an online journal, as many did back in the day, except that blogs aren’t always personal, nor are they always a column or essay. We had to call it something, after all, it was new, if not exactly an amazing conceptual leap, and “weblog” (shortened to “blog”) was the one that sticked. Obviously, people who wrote to blogs were called “bloggers” because it’s a hell of a lot easier than saying “person who writes on the Internet.”

The second and the biggest reason that it caught on was the fact that since in the beginning there were so few people writing blogs it became an easy way to stitch together some notion of community, and in its own way, blogging began to consider itself a subculture. This worked out well for professionals and others not involved in maintaining blogs because it provided a convenient label for this group that appeared to be forming. Some used it with derision, others confusion or ambivalence, people who called themselves “bloggers” used it with pride. Thus the term “blogger” received a significance that may not have been deserved.

Because here’s the thing: the community doesn’t exist.

That’s right, there is no such thing as a “blogging community”, just like there is no such thing as a “podcaster community”. It’s not real, it’s like saying that all writers, or all television producers (also a group classification based solely on a type of media), or all electrical engineers are a community working together, which is bullshit. Sure there are communities of bloggers, and communities of podcasters, as well as communities that are composites of every group on the map. Those communities form around shared interests, because that’s how people form communities to begin with.

During the whole O’Reilly “Blogging Code of Conduct” hoopla, there was a lot of talk of “preserving our blogging community” or “how terrible bloggers must be” considering how the whole ruckus got started. And it was all ridiculous. The so-called “community” as a whole didn’t exist. People writing blogs are people, and a significant percentage of people (I choose to believe the minority) are assholes.

So, now that I’ve essentially agreed with Eric Rice that the term “blogger” is an outmoded, and somewhat bullshit classification, where does that leave us.

Nowhere.

Let me explain: like Rice, I don’t necessarily relish being called a “blogger.” First, it’s essentially a meaningless term, having more to do with the type of software I use to publish, than any real connection to my content. Secondly, it adds an unnecessary and weird esotericism to what I’m doing, which means people attach additional rider values with that, either positive or negative, that I don’t particularly want or need. If someone asks me, I say that I am, among other things, a writer. Like Rice, I do have /blog in my URL, because that’s what it is, but in conversation I often just refer to it as “my site.”

All that being said, if people decided that what I should be referred to as a “jackass”, there isn’t anything I can do about it. You can ask politely, you can stop using the terms yourself, but honestly, people are going to call you whatever they want to. All you have a choice about is how you define yourself.

Now, blogs are starting to become more mainstream as they enter pop culture, although if you believe that everyone understands what a blog is you are seriously deluding yourself, and should spend more time with people who aren’t on the Internet all the time. However, there is still a major disconnect between print/broadcast media and online media for the overwhelming majority of people. Until Internet connectivity and consumption of content becomes so ubiquitous that people don’t have that disconnect (which will happen but is a long way off), the term “blogger” or something like it is going to be here.

Which brings us to Eric Rice’s final point and question:

And out there, in scary, scary normal people land, explaining this takes time away from talking about content and talking about definitions.

How can I (or you) talk about the next great idea if we have to spend so much time explaining the lingo?

I think it’s pretty clear that I think the lingo is here to stay regardless of what people want, but honestly it doesn’t help that when bloggers (see I use it too, ha!) attach such importance to it. And, just to be fair, that includes writing posts about whether or not you want to be called a “blogger.” ;-) If you have a problem with it, don’t make it important. You can change the terms you use, or not, it honestly doesn’t matter, and things won’t change until this imaginary community identity begins to leave the public’s association with that word. Identify yourself however you feel most comfortable, but remember that arguing the point either way just strengthens the term’s hold in the minds of your readers/viewers. Labels only have the significance that we (people) are willing to give them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a shower as all this meta makes me feel dirty. :-D