Saturday, August 8, 2009

Molly Ringwald's Fault

A lot of John Hughes films were about the consequences of attention, or the lack of it: trying to get the attention of someone you like, what happens when parents don't pay attention to you, what it's like to be lonely and misunderstood. Blogging is all about attention, too – the blogosphere is like a 1980s high school movie where popularity is everything. Or, let's be more specific: your problem is that your (allegedly) wonderful personality is useless and irrelevant, until you can get your hot crush to notice you. Once you've been noticed, a happy ending is inevitable. Either your hot crush (i.e. internet audience) likes you too, or else you realise that you never really wanted them after all, and you end up with your best friend instead. (The internet is not your best friend.)

I got to thinking about this after I followed a link from here to here – a blog post by a woman who was became John Hughes' pen-pal after writing him a fan letter. (Seriously, go read it.) It's a genuinely touching post. But what struck me, looking at the rest of her blog, is how she's now gone from having practically no readers (3 comments on one post, 0 comments on the next post, 2 comments on the next, etc) to suddenly having 1000+ comments – which implies a readership of, say, presumably 10,000+? I know this is not a bad thing – the blogger in question is obviously sincere, it would be massively unfair to suggest otherwise* – but I can't help feeling weirdly uncomfortable about the implications.

Attention-seeking behaviour doesn't have to be nice to be successful. What are you willing to do in order to get attention (on the internet)?

• Will you lie about who you are?
• Will you say something controversial, even if you don't entirely believe it?
• Will you insult somebody?
• Will you post pictures of yourself naked?
• Will you promise something?

Here's my promise: if everyone from my class at uni comments on this post, I will bake you a cake.

On the other hand... are readers the purpose of blogging, or are they irrelevant? Plenty of people blog on despite only single-figure readerships (e.g.) – but do they care? Does it matter? Without readers, are they wasting their time? Presumably they're getting something out of it themselves, or they wouldn't continue. I guess the real question is: are these blogs readerless because they're no good, or because they're not trying hard enough to get attention? (Whether an audience matters either way is a different question, I think.) It's possible to regularly read dozens or hundreds of other people's blogs, so it must be possible for every single blogger to have dozens or hundreds of regular readers. Why don't they?

What aren't they willing to do?

*Although that hasn't stopped some people, apparently.


  1. Who has two thumbs and puts way too many rhetorical questions into his blog posts? *THIS GUY*

  2. Two things I predict you will need before Wednesday:

    (1) A muffin pan;

    (2) A good muffin recipe.

    That's assuming of course, that you intend to keep that promise.

  3. Aw criminy, muffins aren't cakes! (Are they?) No, I think that when I say cake I mean cake. Civilised food, you know - something that needs to be cut with a knife before you can serve it. :q

  4. Yep, blogging is for attention, why else would this woman write about her short lived (and kinda creepy) postal relationship with JH which admittedly I'm slightly envious of and the Ferris Bueller Watch! Blogging however has opened up so many avenues for people to one up each other. In the aftermath of a pop culture event, usually death, it's so common now days to lay a claim on that famous figure......I loved John Hughes more then anyone cause he wrote me letters, or I love Michael Jackson cause he let me sleep in his bed (ewwww). It's all about the attention however it only gets worse if readers ignore them!

    PS: I love cake!!

  5. We are not nearly close enough to cake yet! How about cupcakes for each individual poster?

    But yes, I think blogging is usually done with a desire to have an audience, unless you're writing on a locked journal, or perhaps to a very limited audience, like a travel blog for your family and friends. I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with all of that. Writing for an audience can pressure to you do writing of quality and originality, rather than blathering away to yourself in a private journal. It forces you to make your writing good enough to deserve an audience. It can be a form of experimentation and honing your skills at creating work of some meaning, even if it's just a lolcat.

    I guess in things like this you have to find your own balance between your own interests and the interests of a (potential?) audience.

  6. @duncanwritingeditingpublishing: Cupcakes? I'll consider it... maybe if, say, half of the class leave a comment here?

    I think you're right about the audience pressure thing, too... and even if the idea of an audience doesn't always pressure the blogger to focus more on "quality and originality", I know (personally) it can really help pressure the blogger to produce more (& more regular) content!

  7. I think it really boils down to something we discussed in class - the ‘I scratch your back and you scratch mine’ concept. I am trying to be ethically neutral here and not prescribing one over the other. But I think it’s really about creating that imagined, virtual community - isn’t it? If I respond to a whole of bloggers, then they will feel obliged to respond when I write. So, it goes around. Then I have this network. And of course great things can come out of it - like that magic cake!
    This whole business of ‘attention’ is the key on the internet is also discussed rather well in one of our class readings:

  8. now you're just getting your attention through promises of cake (which is a good tactic i must admit). yes, readers of a blog will ultimately have some impact on its content, as the blogger will feel some pressure to deliver the content they expect. and when we comment on others blogs, its in a hope that they will visit ours. it builds up a loyalty when we see blogs we like to visit responding to our interests.