From the outset, I was far from clear about the purpose or future of this blogging experiment. It truly was experimental, albeit with a few “what if” ruminations associated:
- What if I liked having a sort of “first draft” outlet for thinking out loud about my projects?
- What if, little by little, I could spoon out links to my new publications—such as this one that just came out! —or repost older ones relevant to emergent issues—such as this one on Björk’s second-to-last record on the occasion of her releasing a follow-up.
- What if—since in my own mind I manage simultaneously to be a scholar working across several disciplines, a writer who occasionally brushes the edges of the “public intellectual,” a commentator on music in both modes, a musician in my own right (with songs worth hearing that no one is likely to hear if I don’t circulate them), plus a teacher and/or friend to people who care about these things—what if a blog could usefully gather all this in one place? What if the result included some emergent clarity about how they fit together, and was not simply a chaotic train wreck?
- What if some of my friends, family, and colleagues—plus some subset of their contacts with whom they occasionally shared posts—found MBE worthwhile? What if the cumulative good karma released into the world outweighed the downsides: opportunity costs in time/energy or the specter of unleashing yet more words into a world that is already a flood of words. Clearly we need more silence, less distraction, and more space for reflection—what if, on balance, MBE helped on this front more than it hurt?
It is completely unclear whether any of these “what ifs” will prove true, as well as how many will turn out mutually inconsistent. This is part and parcel of the experiment.
So, what now? —Especially since I’ve gone four months since my last entry.
When I last reported, I had two ideas lined up to keep MBE moving ahead. I’ve written a couple of Christmas songs that deserve to be known more widely than they are, and I went to a fair amount of trouble to polish up the more important of these. (I hate how Christmas songs could put forward a robust sense of peacemaking in a world of empire, but they hardly ever do, and this song helps fill the gap.) I planned to post a video of it, with some commentary, after playing it at my church. Then I was going to follow-up with the other song, which is fairly lightweight but passably amusing. Unfortunately I was unsatisfied with how the recording turned out, although I received good feedback. No doubt we could debate whether releasing a flawed version would have been better than nothing, but nevertheless my perfectionism won that debate. So stay tuned for next year.
After (hypothetically) posting those songs, I had intended to follow up with a reflection somewhat like this one about where to go from here. I planned to address this not solely to the few people who blunder here by accident, but also to email it to a wider group of friends in the hope of shifting to a higher gear. I planned from the outset to take this step eventually, but I wanted to experiment for a while, building momentum, before telling many people.
So, once again, what now?—Since all I accomplished was getting stuck and letting momentum dissipate.
There is a structural conundrum to confront.
I was clear from the moment I launched MBE—and have not wavered—that it cannot be one prong of a multi-pronged campaign for social media followers. Emphatically, I did not sign up for the distractions of joining Facebook and building a network there, nor promoting MBE via a Twitter presence. Rather, I was faced last summer with a zero-sum choice—experiment with Facebook, Twitter, or this blog—and I chose the blog. More pointedly I chose writing for MBE, with a proviso that major distractions in promoting and maintaining it would be a deal-breaker.
Nevertheless I am not naïve enough to expect that many people will learn about this experiment except via the Facebook and Twitter networks of whoever finds their way here—assuming that such people chose to share anything. In other words the value of this blog, at measured in readers, will inevitably be parasitic on the exact social networks that I shun and fear. Also, feedback loops will be odd, since if anyone sees/likes/retweets a post from this blog via Facebook or Twitter, I may never know.
I’m not sure how I feel about this—but I suppose I don’t feel any worse than I would about living in this strange world (where the value of ideas is ruled by the logic of counting Twitter followers) while not articulating my thoughts here at all. Either way I seem to be on track to fail in terms of this brave new world, and I vacillate between being stubbornly proud of that or too despairing to do anything about it.
I’m aware that some friends whom I imagine as part of this whole scenario consider my resistance to Facebook unwarranted or perverse, and that this may reduce their sympathy for my endeavor. Perhaps in some future post I will expand on why I am adamant about my self-imposed zero-sum choices—why engaging the world of Facebook/Twitter is not a road I am willing to travel and why, by extension, there is no remedy for my hypocritical parasitism. Over the past few months, I have been reading and talking to my students about this matter quite a bit—for example see this and this—and have only become more stubborn while gaining an impression that my long-standing hesitations and fears are gaining greater traction.
In any case, insofar as Facebook and Twitter have won our culture, and insofar as this allows them to stipulate that MBE must trend on their platforms to hold value, it may turn out that this experiment will be a huge waste of time. However, if I were to embrace their rule and enter their war of all against all for attention, I’m nearly certain I would end up as a casualty in that Hunger Game. Meanwhile, if I were to choose not to work on this blog—at all—would that be better than simply writing it (even for myself alone!) to see what happens? I will leave this question hanging—it is an honest question near the heart of this experiment, not a rhetorical one. Meanwhile if any readers have any thoughts for me, please let me know.