There’s a great line in Bojack Horseman where Wanda Pierce looks back at her relationship with the toxic Bojack and the warning signs she missed:
When you look at someone through rose-coloured glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.
The same thing applies to nostalgia. People have been waxing lyrical about Web 2.0 and blogging, casting both in a golden light befitting a “Golden Age”. The wonderful Tressie McMillan Cottom spoke about it with Ezra Klein on his show:
There was a humanity there for good or for bad. Humanity is messy, but there was a sense that those ideas were attached to people, and there were things driving those people, there’s a reason they had chosen to be in that space before it all became about chasing an audience in a platform and turning that into influencer and translating that into that — before all that happened, the professionalization of it all. And that’s what I think we’re missing when we become nostalgic for that web 2.0. I think it’s the people in the machine.
But that nostalgia, McMillan Cottom points out, misses a lot. She explains that it was a horrible time for young queer people, for example, and that the more narrow spaces of the web – which certainly describes a series of disconnected blogs, written by people sharing and quoting each other’s work – created “little safe pockets of space… where it was still very okay to be homophobic” (among other things).
And so what we were usually really nostalgic for is a time when we didn’t have to think so much about who was missing in the room, who wasn’t at the table.
The table is busier than ever and that can be overwhelming or confronting. But the discussion is wider and, really, that can be a great way to learn.
The benefits of quiet
That scale, however, helps drive nostalgia for a place that’s a bit quieter. Here’s how McMillan Cottom puts it:
At the same time, I’m like, yeah. I also laugh and go, I really miss having a blog… It’s me being nostalgic for having a place where I could put thoughts that didn’t fit into any other discourse or genre, and I wanted a space where I could talk to people who were actually interacting like real people. They weren’t acting like bots, or trolls, or whatever your internet persona is.
As a reader, that’s what I miss. I wasn’t writing in the Web 2.0 age of the internet and I only started reading in the tail end. I got the survivors.
But I’ve been reading those survivors for a while now and, you know, that’s something I value. I only know about McMillan Cottom’s chat with Klein because of a post on Jason Kottke’s blog. Not only did I only learn about it because I follow Kottke’s site, my understanding and interpretation of it is mediated through my relationship with his site. It’s context.
You don’t get that with social media platforms (not as well, at least). The feed itself is the context. Things like blogs are a context unto themselves and they can lead to a richer relationship, both with the work and the person behind it.
That’s a preference thing, really. You can undoubtedly get the same thing elsewhere – people have built friendships on Twitter, people feel immensely close to their favourite creators on YouTube – but Web 3.0 hasn’t recreated the same something that reading a blog can create over time. Podcasts come close but it’s still not the same. It’s the reading that’s the thing for me.
Blogs, at their best, have a similar effect as a memoir. They differ in content, sure, but both are a mediated, curated slice of someone’s life or interests. They’re both a sustained glimpse into someone’s world – a few hundred pages for a memoir, potentially years for a blog – that make you feel as though you know someone. Why they’ve chosen the headline they have, how they describe something, the people and places they’ve chosen to link away too. That’s something particular.
I want people to read my blog, is what I’m saying
It doesn’t deserve romanticising, of course. McMillan Cottom points out some real flaws. The spaces made by blogs can be destructive. But they can be made well.1
I agree with McMillan Cottom – the nostalgia for blogs and Web 2.0 is about “the people in the machine”. Now that there are more people at the table then ever before, it’d be great to get to know those people better.
Because that’s what blogs are about, for me. The act of seeing people and the potential, in turn, to be seen. Not through rose-coloured glasses or golden light. Just seeing.
I’d argue that fan fiction communities have a lot of the benefits of Web 2.0 and have generally been much more open to marginalised people. The big ones have also evolved well and figured out how to moderate their platforms. ↩
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