Will Wilkinson, an “old school blogger,” laments eloquently the loss of many personal bloggers, who have been hoarded up by group blogs and other content aggregators.
A personal blog, a blog that is really your own, and not a channel of the The Daily Beast or Forbes or The Washington Post or what have you, is an iterated game with the purity of non-commercial social intercourse. The difference between hanging out and getting paid to hang out. Anyway, in old-school blogging, you put things out there, broadcast bits of your mind. You just give it away and in return maybe you get some attention, which is nice, and some gratitude, which is even nicer. The real return, though, is in the conclusions people draw about you based on what you have said, about what what you have said says about you, about what it means relative to what you used to say. People form expectations about you. They start to imagine a character of you, start to write a little story about you. Some of this is validating, some is irritating, and some is downright hateful. In any case it all contributes to self-definition, helps the blogger locate and comprehend himself as a node in the social world. We all lost something when the first-gen blogs and bloggers got bought up. Or, at any rate, those bloggers lost something. I’m proud of us all, but there’s also something ruinous about our success, such as it is. We left the garden behind. A guy’s got to eat. I mostly stopped blogging for myself because I thought I couldn’t afford to give it away. But I miss the personal gift economy of the original blogosphere, I miss the self it helped me make, and I want at least a little of it back.
This really spoke to me. Over the years (in posts I could find if I took the time), I’ve written how this blog has helped define me, both in terms of how I see myself, and more increasingly, how others see me.
I go back and read some of my early blog posts from 2009 and laugh at how simple and immature I was. Sure, I see lots of potential, and am sometimes surprised at the stuff I came up with back then, considering how little I know. (I’m sure I’ll say the same thing about my 2014 writing in 2019, 2024, and so on). But with each post, each comment, each link, I started building my persona–both public and private.
One of the ways I have honed my ability to write so prolifically is because of the blog. It has become second-nature for me to express my thoughts in writing, and often develop them through writing. (This entire post took about 10 minutes to write). And blogging has also nourished my speaking skills. I tend to write as a think. So when I want to lecture or talk to an audience, I simply turn my fingers off and turn my mouth on. The words flow out in a nearly identical fashion. I’ve gotten better at public speaking through hours upon hours of classroom lecturing (both in terms of getting my cadence right, monitoring the emotions of the audience, and drawing people in), but at its heart is my ability to speak impromptu without notes on a host of topics. I do have lecture notes, but I never, ever read from them.
Blogging has also begun to define how others view me. As Will notes, this has pros and cons. The pro is that the blog has given me a fairly decent public persona. The con is that people judge me based on some of the crap I write. Now, I frequently attend events and lawyers and law students tell me, “Hey, I’ve been reading your blog for years!” And, I always wonder, what do they think of me? None have had any personal contact with me, yet somehow, digest my personality from blog posts about the Constitution and Jersey Shore.
During a brief hiatus after I started clerking with Judge Boggs, where I was not allowed to blog (I refer to it as the interregnum), I went through serious withdrawal. I started getting very anxious, and felt like I wasn’t being myself. It was so odd. And this was over the course of four or five days. I suddenly realized what it was. An outlet that I cherished to share my thoughts had vanished, suddenly. It was at that point that I decided to resume blogging at my normal pace, though privately. Only a few trusted friends had access to the site. During that year, when I was cut off from my normal channels of academic discourse and engagement, the private blog was my oasis, and helped to keep me sane.
So where does that leave me? I hope I never have to give up this blogging format. I have written over 7,000 posts on a wide, wide range of topics. It has helped congeal my thoughts that led to some excellent scholarship. And, in a natural way, has made me a much better communicator, both inside the classroom and elsewhere.