I built my first blog in 2003. Called it Mysterious Erotic Technical Manual (which is now the name of my Tumblr). That was back when I was scared to death that revealing my personal thoughts in public would get me fired from my job as a newspaper editor. I was a bit bolder when I started Conover on Media less than two years later, and I was more or less off the chain in June 2005 when I launched Xark! as a group blog.
But that, my friends, was a different world.
In retrospect, 2005 is a forgotten American nadir, overshadowed today by its ultimate outcome: The global financial meltdown in the fall of 2008. The actual results of the George W. Bush presidency became so obviously disastrous that we no longer remember how dreadful things felt in the first year of his second administration. Sane people across the country were in varying degrees of depression: Our countrymen had just re-elected a village idiot, quite possibly via electronic voter fraud in Ohio. Iraq was disintegrating. Karl Rove was gloating over plans to dismantle the American Republic as we knew it. American corporate fascism seemed a very real and immediate possibility.
So I guess it made sense that so many Americans searching for decency in those dreary months embraced blogging and the ideals of “citizen media.” They had Wall Street and the big media companies. We had ad hoc networks via blog rolls and RSS and comments and meet-ups, We took to blogging the way others took to religion: It was pirate radio for writers, a lifeboat for honest inquiry, a wild and sometimes dangerous frontier where we found heroes and villains. To me, it looked like the revolution I’d always hoped for, one bright spot on a dark horizon. I put down my push toward a fiction-writing career and jumped on board.
Of course, it turned out to be The Revolution That Failed. After years of pushing mainstream media to pick up both the tools and values of our blogging revolution, I watched in revulsion as mainstream media, panicking in the face of its own meltdown, embraced digital media as a cost-saving measure, trampling the values we thought would accompany those tools. Our hope had made us blind to the obvious.
Then social media arrived: First Twitter in 2007, followed by the public version of Facebook about a year later. Our little Lowcountry Blogs network embraced the new platforms. Our person-to-person communities of independent, DIY-minded creators were crushed within two years. Like all pioneers, we limped out of the wilderness to find that opportunistic newcomers had set up shop in town, parceling off our hard-won discoveries as marketing techniques and SEO tricks. We thought we were creating a new democratic society. In truth, we were just volunteer R&D for the marketing industry, which followed behind us like combines through a wheat field.
And when the American economy collapsed in September 2008, American establishment lip-service toward decency collapsed with it.
I suspect historians will view the Obama era as an unsuccessful attempt to revive that urge to decency. I certainly give the man credit for keeping civility alive in the midst of Republican attempts to break the nation into open civil war. But in the same way that it was obvious in 2005 that the Dubya Era would end in disaster, so too was impending disaster obvious in the GOP’s transparently racist obstructionism from the beginning of the Obama Era. It took The Great Recession to convince people that liberals had been right about Bush. It’s going to take Trump to convince them that conservatives are wrong about Obama.
So it feels strange writing in a personal blog after all this time and history, in this new context where the act carries absolutely no meaning. Six or seven years ago, when the original blogging culture expired, I still retained the belief that technology and innovation would lead to a better society. Now I see technology as nothing more than a means of extracting money from consumers more efficiently, and I understand that most “innovators” are simply entrepreneurial parasites. Technologists didn’t re-invent journalism and make it better: They conspired with venture capitalists to eviscerate it. When I write today, it’s without any sense of being part of something larger. There is no movement, no pre-existing ideal to which I aspire. I don’t expect to change the world, become famous, or even look cool.
But I’m gonna do it anyway. I’m going to do it because I hate the idea that all my expressed thoughts reside solely within the walled garden of Facebook. I’m going to do it because I’m a writer by inclination, and writers write. I’m going to do it because it’s an adventure. I’m going to do it because I hope it will help hold me accountable as I work on this next novel.
I’m going to do it because I’m not giving up just yet. No, I don’t have a clue know where we’re going, but I do sense movement all around me.
So off we go. No manifesto this time.