Friday, May 28, 2004

Blogging Addiction and Community

This blogging-as-addiction concept will probably get lots of chuckles, some grudging acknowledgement of truth and probably some defensiveness from bloggers. Will had some funny, honest thoughts about the need to blog. I'm currently in semi-withdrawl myself.

I don't want to quit blogging outright, but I do want to come up with a plan for continuing in a sustainable way, and for the right reasons. For me, that means reducing the time I spend reading and writing about a wide range of topics, then applying the knowledge I'm gathering to real projects with greater depth.

Although I've managed to avoid posting for a few days, I haven't been able to stay away from Bloglines, which feeds my desire to link and comment. There's something about seeing new posts popping up in an aggregator that feels similar to getting e-mail from friends -- a little thrill of connectedness and importance that simulates the sensation of all of those very smart people writing directly to me.

It's almost a physiological response for people who really value good thinking, and want to have an impact (be heard, be recognized, contribute to change/growth). The sense of community and intellectual stimulation yielded by blogging are as real as the highs in any addiction. I guess I'm just starting to wonder whether the benefits are "real", and whether they balance out the considerable costs.

After my last post, I got some good advice from Seb, which I should heed: "Maybe it's time to trim down on your subscriptions to keep the instant-attention mania at a respectful distance." Both he and Aaron also wisely asked what kind of community I was looking for. It's a sticky question for me, because I've always contended that I was keeping this blog primarily for myself. But I think most bloggers get their first few thrills when somebody else (especially someone they respect) links to their stuff or comments favourably. That's the gateway drug, I think.

Once in a while I do feel connected to a wider community. I've occasionally had links, comments and e-mails from wonderful, smart people that made me feel like I "belonged". For example, this week I got an invitation to participate in this fascinating e-learning project, along with 20 or so other people who I'd consider part of the loosely-defined community I sort of identify with. They're people I read, and some of them might even read my stuff occasionally, but I'd mostly never know.

I'm starting to think that to really feel part of any online community, the connections must go beyond the linking/commenting sphere. The only people in my wider community that I feel connected to in any real way are ones I've met in person or exchanged e-mail with. The blogging process may help introduce you to people with shared interests or perspectives, but for those connections to meet my criteria for real community, those interactions aren't enough on their own.

When a blogging connection becomes more intense (personal e-mail, meetings, etc), it drops out of the web of connections that we usually call "community". They become two-way interactions (which seem more authentic), but do a bunch of two-way interactions constitute a community? For example, I've e-mailed (and linked to) Chris Corrigan and Rob Paterson, and they've both connected to each other in many ways, including in person...but there's nothing that connects the three of us as a community.

Perhaps it's just a difficulty with definitions and expectations based on traditional types of social interactions -- I'm obviously not explaining this very well, and it's just sounding like complaining, which wasn't my intent.

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