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blog

Every day I don’t delete this blog is a goddamn miracle

I can’t believe there was a time I used to write here daily. I really can’t believe there was a time I used to write here daily, write in a journal, write books, plus write a dozen hours a day at my actual job.

Now I write here… checks posts… five times in 2022.

Why? Why is this so hard?

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I keep meaning to write a post about “why blogs are more important than ever” or “why you should blog” or something like that. I actually have a draft post where I paste in the occasional thought blast or loose link I find about this topic, and keep meaning to structure this stuff into a cohesive manifesto of sorts.

But… life. There are only so many hours in the day, and by the time I sit down after a day of work, I’m usually completely strung out and exhausted. I consume so much caffeine to keep running at combat power for ten or twelve hours every day, that by the afternoon, I’ve overdosed to the point where I’m about to black out. I cannot focus on this stuff at all.

But when I started this thing back in 1996, the point of it was to not focus. I wanted to write just to write, dump a few hundred words into the void and keep my chops up. It was like jogging, running laps around the neighborhood, not to go anywhere, but to just run for 45 minutes. There was something liberating about posting the day-to-day in an unstructured format, without needing a genre or a “container” or a specific format to put things in. It was. Nothing more.

This was before Facebook, Twitter, and everything else lowered the bar on posting inane personal updates for no reason. This was before the term blog was even invented. It was before LiveJournal or MySpace. To people born after the year 2000 who doesn’t have the attention span to watch an entire TikTok video, these updates were probably like reading Leo Tolstoy do an hour-long jazz set on watching his lawn grow. But having that “container” to do this, without comparison to other platforms – that gave me the freedom to sit down and do this without being blocked on exactly what to do.

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When I sit down to write on Rumored dot com, this is the thought pattern when an idea pops into my head that typically makes me give up and go waste two hours doom-scrolling investment news:

  1. <XYZ> is boring.
  2. You already wrote about <XYZ> in 2011.
  3. Nobody cares about that memory of going to the Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, Indiana on the morning of Friday, August 24th, 1990, buying a new car battery for your 1984 Turismo at Target, and then spending two hours playing Tetris on the Gameboy display because your shift at the English computer lab at IUSB didn’t start until noon.
  4. You can’t write about <XYZ> in a public place because some family member will see it and get pissed off, or it will come up in a search result five years from now during a job interview.
  5. <XYZ> is some disparate thought, and what you really need is some SEO-friendly format, like only writing about pay phones or media trends or book reviews or… something, a format that will draw in people, one or two set things that I can focus on every time I write.

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That last one is what kills me. I’ve complained about this a lot, especially during the “Golden Era” of blogs (which, christ, was 18 years ago now) when people suddenly decided blogs had to be “about something.” And that wasn’t because some grand arbiter of taste codified the online world and listed out what you could write about, and it wasn’t a tool limitation, like you had to choose one of five things when you created your account and you could only do those five things.

Like everything else, this was about money.

People suddenly realized that instead of blogging being like jogging on a treadmill but for writers, blogging became a stepping-stone in the world of publishing. Blogs with a cohesive vision became more trafficked, so once AdWords and affiliate links were a thing, the blogs with the most visitors rose to the top, and got more visitors, and became A Thing. Blogging wasn’t about writing about your feelings. Blogging was about producing some self-contained docudrama about your persona’s supposed life, and were hopefully a launching pad to a book or movie deal. Or they were basically a self-produced magazine, about politics or news or whatever, and the line between mass-media and blogging became blurred until they basically became the same thing.

(I cannot count the number of times I wrote a thousand-word essay here off the cuff, just to burn two hours between work and dinner, and some other writer or random civilian emailed me and said “wow you should submit that at XYZ and sell it.” This always launched me into a white-hot rage. If I was trying to write puff pieces for McSweeney’s, I’d write them. I write here to write here, god damn it. If I was thinking about what markets would take my writing, I wouldn’t be writing. I could not walk 10,000 steps a day for exercise if I spent every waking moment wondering what media outlet would pay me for walking 10,000 steps. I walk 10,000 steps. God DAMN it why is this so hard for anyone to understand?)

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(Stay with me here. I know I’m rambling.)

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I’m not going to go old-man-yells-at-sky about how these damn kids don’t have an attention span to read anymore. They do if they wan’t to; that’s not the problem. I think the dopamine-killing feedback loop of social media has fully been documented elsewhere, and people fail to factor in that people don’t have time and have too many other competing things to prevent them from sitting down and reading a series of 2000-word blog posts like we used to do during every office workday in 2003. I get it.

There’s a much more subtle thing that happened with this tool evolution, aside from the shortening of the media form. The “democratization” of tools like LiveJounal, then Facebook, then Twitter, then TikTok made it easier for anyone to journal their life in real-time. When I started this site, I had to write code by hand, telnet into a remote computer, and use unix commands on a terminal to publish each day’s page. Now, you get an app on your phone, press a button, and a video of your dance routine is live for the world to see, which is great. Anyone can do this.

But the issue is this has transformed the nature and value of the word “blogging.” It used to be that blogging was about constructing a text essay to post. Now the word is a generic verb used to chronicle something in any format online. Live-blogging used to be a CNBC journalist feverishly posting up-to-the-minute copy about the 1998 midterm elections. Now it’s someone taking pictures of their visit to the grocery store. Blogging has lost all meaning. There’s no way to give meaning to the term again.

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I think the most frustrating thing with blogging is that if you search for the term “blog,” the first hundred results you find are people saying you need to create a “blog” to generate SEO for your dental practice or real estate venture. The Reddit group on blogging is filled with people “finding their niche,” which means drilling into a genre that can create a profitable drop-shipping business. People don’t blog to express anything. They use blogs to store marketing content to game search engines.

Because there’s no money in this, there are no successful blogging platforms anymore. They have all been overrun by people selling boner pills and work-from-home scams. Blog discovery is now impossible. Any mechanism to create a directory of blogs or link together similar blogs will quickly be exploited and gamed by vitamin tycoons and destroyed. And once any fun personal hangout where you can converse with authentic people gets overrun by sales bots peddling a revolutionary new mop, they leave. It happened to Blogger, to MySpace, to LiveJournal, and it’s currently happening to Facebook.

Case in point on the blog directory thing: I just searched for “blog directory” and clicked the first result, then clicked the first article shown, and it was “Great Ways To Increase Customer Engagement!” Stock photo of a bearded hipster guy at a Square point-of-sale in an all-white store, smiling at a smiling woman from a Gap ad. Exactly 600 words long. A listicle. Exactly four outgoing links. Textbook SEO. Garbage. This is where we are. This is the entire web. It’s all useless. Old man yells at sky.

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There are like 17 other things in my list of reasons we got to this point. RSS died. Google Reader died. WordPress is horrible. PHPbb is horrible. Blogger got bought and then left in the yard to rust. Every Tumblr in existence got banned for being NSFW. Everyone switched to reading on their phone, which left many sites unreadable. Video. Walled gardens. Privacy concerns. Whatever. I can go on forever. I’ll stop.

The truth is, I have a Notes document that has a list of URLs on it, of every blog I still like to read. Maybe once a month, I find a new one and paste it in there. Maybe six of them still post regularly. I revisit the other ones, read old posts, wish I could find more blogs about nothing.

Blogs are still important. Someone needs to figure this out. I need to stop caring about someone figuring this out and keep writing here. I don’t care if nobody reads it. There are 1,381 posts here. That’s a good start, but I need to keep going.

Categories
general

Things change, pocket change

Day off today – I took a four-day weekend, no reason – so I headed to the mall in Pleasanton to buy a pair of pants. I have a wedding next month, and every pair of dress pants I own is comically large at this point. I got to the mall at about 10:37, and didn’t realize that it wasn’t officially open until 11:00. I went inside anyway, because the concourse was open, but half the stores were just booting up, the gates halfway open, lights off, employees setting up signs or counting down registers. It gave me an intense nostalgia flashback, of every time I’d opened at Wards thirty-something years ago, the usual crew of people I knew at every other store setting things up for the daily grind, walking to the First National at the main entrance to drop off last night’s take, stopping at the MCL Cafeteria for a cup of coffee before 10:00 came. The general vibe of a pre-opening mall really threw me back to the summer of 1988. I almost expected to go back into the parking lot and find my rusted Camaro waiting for me.

I got in my walk. I did not get the pants. Everything is now “stretch performance wool,” which is essentially spandex. Also, Macy’s is now JCPenney. JCPenney is now K-Mart. K-Mart is now largely gone. I don’t even know what Sears is.

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Speaking of “Amazon is taking over,” in some contrary news, it looks like Amazon is closing all of their brick-and-mortar stores. I actually liked the feel of the stores, mostly because they looked like a rip-off of Borders, albeit much smaller. I’m all but certain these stores were a sophisticated data mining experiment and nothing more. Even the stock on the shelves was a data-driven algorithm, which was bizarre and somewhat maddening for a person who doesn’t read Oprah books. I’m sure they’re doing a lot more of that with their Whole Foods stores now.

A happy coincidence: so, B&N in Walnut Creek closed around the same time the Amazon store opened. Now, Barnes and Noble is actually opening a new store in Walnut Creek right as Amazon is closing. They didn’t get the old location back, and I’m sure it’s a smaller footprint, but that will be nice to see. As I’ve said before, I used to think B&N was The Enemy, and it’s hard for me to root for them now, but I really don’t want to see the one by my house in Emeryville shutter.

Another odd coincidence, Morgenstern’s books reopened in Bloomington. I’ve written about my memories of Morgenstern’s a  while ago. It’s not in the same place anymore (I think the old strip mall location is now a FedEx) and Keith mentioned from his first visit that it’s nowhere near what the old one is. But at least there’s something, especially since the Borders and Barnes and Noble that jumped into town and killed the old location in the late 90s are now both gone.

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About the picture above: that’s from 1994, the day of Bill’s wedding. I’m standing in front of my old apartment at Colonial Crest, where I lived from 1993-1994. In another bit of dumb nostalgia, I just heard that Colonial Crest, which is now called The Arch, is being torn down and replaced with a new apartment complex, some 5-over-1 monstrosity with a dumb generic name and high rents for rich students.

I did some digging and what’s funny is that these apartments rent for only marginally more than I paid almost thirty years ago. I think we split a $500 rent on a 2br/1.5ba townhouse, and now they go for about $700. That’s saying a lot about the deferred maintenance issues of the place, because it was maybe about a C- in quality and value way back then. I’m sure the redevelopment is for the best, given the student population and need for housing and all that.

That said, I have a lot of strong memories of this place. Various pivotal relationship things happened here, and the start of my writing career happened here in apartment #144. I also didn’t have a car most of this year, and walked the two and a half mile route to school pretty much every day, rain sleet or snow. That long shot down Walnut or College is burned in my head, the zig-zag pattern I’d traverse to cross the northwest side of campus and get to Lindley Hall. All of this is different now. The computer science department has a new facility built where the old Brown/Greene dorms used to be. The long walk up to the UCS offices at 17th street where I worked used to be empty green fields; it’s now a giant dorm, built last year. The UCS office was completely redone into an alumni center. Everything has changed. Things change.

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Another weird one: they are renaming everything named Jordan on campus. Turns out former university president David Starr Jordan was really into eugenics, segregation, and racial purity. Problem is, IU spent a century naming damn near everything after him: a biology building; a river; a main avenue cutting across campus; a northern extension to said avenue; a parking garage on that avenue; a bus route on that avenue; a shopping center. The street is now Eagleson Avenue, or David Baker Avenue for the northern part. (Named after the jazz great, not the architect who coincidentally designed my current home.) The river is Campus River; the Biology building is Biology Building. I think people expect everyone to take sides on the woke/anti-woke thing. I agree with the name change. It’s just interesting to me, given the number of times I reference Third and Jordan in my first book.

Things change. People change. Pocket change. It’s actually odd how I never have change in my pockets anymore. Anyway.