Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

What’s wrong with blogs is what’s wrong with the world.  §

One of the consequences of the “you are the product, monetize yourself” culture of social media is that everyone has become incredibly, incredibly boring.

Long ago, substantive blogs were everywhere, easy to find. Now by substantive, I mean exactly the opposite of what you think I mean. I mean blogs about people, not blogs about things. “Blog” as in “web log” as in “log.” Personal. Chronological. Interior. Unassuming.

© Aron Hsiao / 2006

Then, the culture decided that the Internet was a commercial zone, a place to make money, not a place to dwell and be and share. And blogs exploded. In both senses of the word. There became so many, many more of them, the new ones mostly crap. Meanwhile, interesting blogs and easily-discoverable paths to them were essentially annihilated.

I’m not entirely writing from ignorance here—I know that there exists a literature (mostly as blogs, naturally) on how to blog, largely oriented toward “making money with your blog”—but I haven’t read it much, if at all. Still, let me see if I can guess—from combing through blog after blog after blog these days looking for something I actually want to read—the advice that today’s bloggers are internalizing:

  • Choose one topic for your blog, and it can’t be yourself. It should be a potentially profitable interest of yours, and you should write about it, not about you. Maybe it’s fashion. Maybe it’s cooking. Maybe it’s cars. Maybe it’s LGBT rights. One topic. Be focused.

  • Never do or say anything off-putting to your readers. Don’t express strong opinions other than the relentlessly positive opinions that you already have about your one topic. Don’t get too personal. Don’t bore your reader with details about your everyday life.

  • Use stock photos, not photos from your real life. If you’re going to use photos from your real life, make sure that you take them with a high-end camera and semi-professional aspirations. Remember that your photo is the key to social media traffic and shares.

  • Speaking of, make sure that your posts are short and pithy and get right to the point. Either title them clearly with the topic of the post or with a sort of cliffhanging ethos that makes people crazy to click. Remember that you have one chance to get someone to click as you scroll through their feed.

  • Avoid big words, dependent clauses, long expositions, and long entries. Nobody wants to read these; deliver value to your reader without forcing them to do hard work. Respect their time and the fact that they’re busy. Be concise and to-the-point.

  • Make sure that your blog is presented in a polished way, and stay current with design trends. Think of yourself as aspiring to be a glossy magazine, online. Don’t be cheesy, don’t be kitschy. Be slick and deliver a fabulous product.

  • etc.

Basically, actual blogs in the way that I once understood them are now vanishingly rare, and wherever they do exist, neither search nor social media are revealing them to me.

Instead, what we’re all awash in are “blogs” that are relentless, mind-numbing, generic, unimportant advertisements—directly for a series of products (books, clothes, garden products, food products, recipes, whatever) and indirectly for a person. Generally all that we know about the person from these ads is that they are, of course:

  • Either an expert or an enthusiast about their One Topic

  • Veterans at writing about this topic, having done so since Some Past Date

  • Eager to make the world and your life better with their One Topic

  • Hosting a webinar/podcast/meetup/live broadcast/whatever at Some Future Date

  • Eager to have you visit their Blog Store for cool/fun/edgy Merch featuring them

  • Personally identifed on the ubiquitous About Page as some hip term like baby mama/bearded hipster/etc. and in their spare time doing hip, active-person things like yoga/mountain climbing/skydiving/motivational speaking because they want to make a Positive Difference

I just can’t read this crap. I can’t appreciate this crap, I can’t care about this crap, I can’t abide this crap. It’s all so much cyberjunk. Trying to find good blogs is like going to a multilevel marketing conference. Everyone is trying to sell themselves, impress you with their product line, and get you to join their downline as a rabid consumer of their products, their brand, and their breakout-success persona.

All I want to read about is what people did last night that wasn’t commercial in nature and isn’t breathlessly hyped, alongside inspired reflection or conversation. I want to be able to scroll through their blog and see lots of different thoughts and ideas, in lots of different genres. I don’t want to see post after post after post on one thing, beaten to death, whatever that thing is: book reviews, film factoids, lawn mower tips, whatever.

The joy of reading blogs once was that you could discover a world full of interesting people thinking thoughts you’d never have had yourself. Now reading blogs is like browsing the glossy magazine section at Barnes and Noble. It’s antiseptic, unedifying, exploitative, an inch deep (if that), and cringe-worthy.

Listen, “bloggers” out there, there are some things you should know:

  • Your site about cupcakes or hairstyling or crafts for kids is utterly, utterly generic, uninspired, and one of at least ten thousand basically identical others, no matter what your topic.

  • All of them have exactly the same misguided dream as you—to somehow turn this intellectually and emotionally lazy stream of iterated tripe into a “day job” as an “authoritative blogger” or whatever.

  • You are not making the world a better place. If you want to make the world a better place, share yourself with us, not a stream of shiny bullshit designed to monetize us.

  • Sure, you may “build an audience.” But if your audience consists entirely of a buying public, there’s nothing about a blogging “day job” that’s any different from a day job in sales, and you can make a hell of a lot more money at the latter, and at least see people face-to-face besides.

  • I want to love you. I want to love everyone. But this crap mostly makes me hate you.

I suppose this has turned into a rant. But seriously, all I want is to read people writing about themselves. Their real selves. I am tired of feeling like no matter where I go online, I am part of someone’s anemic pipe-dream of a revenue stream. I just want to read about you. I want to read about your socks on Monday, about your cat on Tuesday, about your trip to the Poconos on Wednesday, about your son’s wedding on Thursday, about the great Indian food you had on Friday, about mowing the lawn on Saturday, and about how rainy days make you feel on Sunday.

The problem with all of this is that I may be the only one who wants this. And if that’s so, I think I’ve found the problem with humanity right now.

Epilogue: Things like this are precisely the problem. These are the people who are destroying all that is meaningful in the world.

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