Tuesday, March 01, 2005

100 Bloggers Article

I'm involved in a book project called 100 Bloggers, along with a few blogging friends who were kind enough to invite me. I can't say I'm thrilled with my just-under-the-wire contribution, but I welcome any feedback. Here are my group's contributions so far:

Bloggers as Lifestyle Designers

Blogs interest me most when people are using them to design better lives for themselves. I’m not talking about blogs that are focused specifically on self-improvement or even posts that explicitly outline someone’s future plans or desires. Aspiration is more of an undercurrent in the process of most good blogging, rather than something you can point to on any individual site.

A great blog reads like an artifact of a quest. The best ones aren’t broadcasting in search of an audience -- they’re seeking out information and people that interest them. Blogging is all about collecting and reflecting on information, which often facilitates connections and collaboration with people online. As we make meaningful connections between information and people, we are implicitly creating possible futures for ourselves.

Collecting Interesting People (and Information)
Outsiders mostly see news and opinions being linked and quoted on blogs, as if the main point was to augment our poor memories. Collecting information is only a starting point. Blogging is also about collecting interesting people. A shared interest in a topic may lead us to someone who exposes us to valued ideas and experiences we wouldn’t have pursued alone.

It’s not hard to find information on nearly any topic, but when you find a person whose voice really resonates with you, it’s an opening into real learning – learning about how someone experiences their life and thinks about the world. Even small glimpses into the stories, hopes and ideas of the voices we grow to trust give us a deeper and richer pool of experience to draw on when we make the decisions that construct our own lives.

This lens into a lifestyle does not feel superficial to me. You can walk around your neighborhood to get some clues about how your neighbors live. At worst, this exercise arouses empty consumer desire if they have houses or vehicles you think you want, but you’d never know if their lifestyle choices were making them happy. When you regularly read a person’s writing over a period of time, you get a sense of how well the different parts of their life fit together. They’re also collecting the stories, experiences and ideas from the people they find interesting, which give you access to more potential models for how people style their lives.

Who Are We Becoming?
Bloggers are always asking themselves how new information or experiences fit into their own perspectives. This on-the-fly reflection isn’t as fascinating to me as the types facilitated by collecting your thoughts over time. Many of us feel like we’d follow our bliss or passion if only we could figure out what it was. Looking back over my writing from the past year helps reveal patterns in my own interests. After some time blogging, I’m finding that I’ve created a fairly rich historical record of my lifestyle. Reflecting on the patterns that emerge from this archive leads to the inevitable question of identity: “Who am I?”

I know that nobody cares what I ate for breakfast or about any of the details from my life. But all of those irrelevant little pieces of personal history merge with ideas and connections to create a sort of composite view of the things that matter to me. It’s a record of process, showing both progression and blunders. Over time, the record shows how I spend my time, energy and money – my lifestyle choices and identity. It becomes easier to see where my choices reflect what I really value, and exposes unpleasant gaps where they don’t.

This gap analysis shows the limitations of fixating on who I am – it’s only a first step in using reflection to understand the progression of identity. The next step is look for indications of who I am becoming and determine who I really want to be. This vector into the future creates an opportunity to design a style of living that is aligned with my values. In order to do that, I’ll need good models, support, and a fair bit of learning. If you’re still with me, you’ve probably already realized that the process of blogging helps achieve these goals, even if they’re mostly subconscious.

Connections That Matter
The type of personal reflection I’ve outlined above could also be done quite nicely with a paper diary, but you’d miss the opportunity to have your ideas influenced, supported and critiqued by other people who care enough about you or your shared interest to comment on them over time. As we reflect on what we learn through our blogs, that network of interested people becomes more valuable in shaping our emerging voices.

When I talked earlier about collecting interesting people, I was referring to the kinds of passive connections that often start by regularly reading someone’s blog. Their stories and experiences might help shape our perspectives and values, which provides the foundation for trust and closer contact. The connection might progress to linking, comments, e-mails between writers and other contact. We get more and more interested, or the connection lapses as we focus on others.

These connections help shape who we are becoming. At the most basic level, we bounce ideas around and reflect back what we’ve heard from each other. We share resources and connect each other to other people in our networks that we can learn with or from. We may offer friendship and support. Ideally, we invest in a shared future, collaborating on meaningful projects and really engaging in the process of creating the lives we want.

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