A slightly waffly post on snack culture, me, and the blog

4 June 2007

Right, sit down. No, need a coffee first. Go off and make coffee. Sit back down again. Breathe. Relax. Start typing.

And I wonder why I don’t blog much now.

There are many reasons. Time, inspiration, a general sense of lack of self-confidence in the quality of my own writing, but one that’s really thrown it of late is the emergence of Twitter. Twitter is one of those things that shouldn’t work in theory, but does in practice (this is another example) Blogging in 140 characters? With only one link? And no tagging, or images? But what will the whingers and whiners and the turgid megapage bloggers do? What will happen to them? WILL NO-ONE THINK OF THE FISKERS?

Ahem.

On the one hand, it’s brilliant. It means every time there is a stray thought in my mind, I can write it down and stop it troubling me. On the other hand, it’s terrible. It means every time there is a stray thought in my mind, I can write it down and stop it troubling me. Thought such as this or this could have become witty page-long treatises on vultures or Fred Dibnah (or just one post about the both) three years ago, but now they get set into stone without moving on.

At least, that’s the excuse.

Wired some months ago did a special on “snack culture” – let down by a vapid lead piece by Nancy Miller which was outgunned by a much stronger counter-piece by Steven Johnson, he of Everything Bad Is Good For You fame, arguing the opposite. Johnson’s familiar theme that popular culture – film, television, video games, is now dazzlingly complex and nuanced and an enormous mental challenge that demands repeat viewing and vast discussion, and by doing so give birth to an obsessed and enormously knowledgeable following that will happily reconsume the product many many times. He’s the much more convincing of the two, leaving Wired‘s proposition somewhat dead in the water.

Yet the phenomenal success of services such as Twitter, and to a similar degree, that of pithy linklogging services such as del.icio.us and to some extent, status updates and wall posts on Facebook (microblogging for the masses!), shows that when it comes to producing content, we’re more then happy to go tiny and produce in very small pieces. Which worried me. Does this mean that despite Steven Johnson’s exhortations, we were beginning to turn our backs on complex culture, just as it was starting?

Some emollient words now from Warren Ellis:

Bursts aren?t contentless, nor do they denote the end of Attention Span. If attention span was dead, JK Rowling wouldn?t be selling paperbacks thick enough to choke a pig, and Neal Stephenson wouldn?t be making a living off books the size of the first bedsit I lived in.

He’s absolutely right – snack culture and five-course meal culture can coexist quite happily. Which is why, despite my Twitter addiction I have slowly regathered confidence in myself and recently started to reread Gravity’s Rainbow (something which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy) and tucking into both Heroes and 24 in bulk at the moment in great big wodges. And I’ve managed to prove to myself that my attention span is still there, when it comes to taking in all these wonderfully complex and fascinating things. Which is a start.

But as for producing lovely complex things, well. I’m not sure yet. But it’s worth a shot, which is why I’m now writing my first long blog post in months. It may well be that I’m just not able to concentrate on writing long things (bang goes that idea for writing a book then), or that spending too long in academia just put me off writing at length (which would be a terrible shame). It might just be some nuanced variant on the Long Tail, where I spend my cultural consumption time on a few, complex, items (the head), while I produce a large volume of many various things on many various channels (the long tail). Or am I stretching too far into Web 2.0 bollocks territory now?

Alternatively, I can quite easily remember a time when I did enjoy writing longer blog posts and eschewed the punchy and glib, and a bit of me think it’s possible to get back there, if I just get back into the habit. So once again I’m going to make the commitment to properly blog here more often, and this time I’m really going to do it. Honest.


2 Responses

As a student with a private Twitter account, I find that it’s the perfect way to lay down ideas for essays, because it forces you to think systematically by restricting your space for each idea to that of a “snack”.

I appreciate you mentioning Wired’s cover story. Indeed, my essay was, well, I wouldn’t say vapid, but the tone was intended to echo the flavor of the snack-themed meme and I think I succeeded in doing that (and backing it up with the subsequent eight pages). Johnson makes some fine points in his essay (he’s Steven Johnson, hard to top) but in retrospect, we were wrong to title his essay “Snacklash.” I realize now that he and I are actually saying very similar things. Our cultural appetite is expanding, our metabolism for information increasing and there’s room for just about everything. How you choose to devour it is up to you. Keep up the great blog!