End of summer and the return of blogging

Last week, the summer’s quiet campus was once again flush with students. Detroit Public Schools resumed session. It’s been a weird one — lots of news, lots of strife — but no matter how busy, it was like any summer vacation. Its quick months were a lacuna, a dip into the odd vacuous beach-bound calm between more challenging seasons.

As students return to school, bloggers are suddenly returning to blogs, according to Jason Kottke, veteran collector of great things on his eponymous site. Since the late aughts, the popularity of the humble custom-domain, single-author personal weblog has been dwindling. More bloggers let their individual sites lapse, too overwhelmed with high mandatory daily post counts at their journalism day jobs to share any leftover deep thoughts of their own.

These outlets were superseded by easier and faster ways to express oneself — and to stay in touch with people outside a blogroll or dedicated internet community. Status updates on Facebook, microblogging on Tumblr, and twittering without end allowed users to let all the people they sort of knew in high school see what they ate for lunch. Pictures of such things that once illustrated and beautified blog posts were diverted to Instagram, filtered to look like old polaroids. The context of those images, beyond maybe a brief caption or hashtag, was forfeited with no room for reflection. Of course tweets have to link somewhere sometimes, but for the average person, blogging no longer reigns as the publishing platform of choice, despite the stupid ease of creating one. How many businesses propagate just fine with little more than a Facebook page to announce their newest wares?

Even the subject matter of personal blogs, which had been as predictably diverse as the internet itself, seemed to undergo reduction. Bloggers dove into their niches as the variability in scope of personal, journal-like blogs focused neatly down to single topics that afforded their endeavors a previously unnecessary legitimacy and cohesion. This resulted in a seeming increase in the number of blogs relating to wholesome cookery, the writing life, natural wellness, free-range parenting, and organic gardening, in blogs celebrating other slow and deliberate lifestyles. Like, for goodness’ sake, the simple act of walking.

RSS readers that aggregated all the disparate blog content died, or were euthanized. Google ended the long run of its beloved Reader last summer, perhaps, some speculated, in an effort to direct more traffic toward Google+. While others rushed in to fill the gap, the gesture left naked a general perception of the blog’s outmodedness. Personal blogs were disconnected, narcissistic, self-absorbed — kind of how people felt about the vapid Facebook statuses and tweets that emerged from initial adoption of those services. Maintaining a personal blog has increasingly seemed to be an antiquated means of self-publishing content in hopes of having one’s writing appear on professionally-edited multi-user blogs, or of cataloging these articles published elsewhere.

What link can be found between walking and blogging? It almost comes off as an updated version of the classic question on the connection between walking and writing. In a rapid culture, both blogging and walking have fallen behind the times. Walking is too slow; bicycling is rallied around, romanticized, and even fetishized in bike porn. Blogs are too cumbersome and isolated; social media sharing is the way to make friends and influence people — not to mention gain a readership that pays the bills. Blogging parallels walking as something that is more about process and journey than about product and destination. Blogs provide something other than a static portfolio of finished work, about as interactive and interesting as driving through a neighborhood with the windows up — and just as common.

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As writers return to their individual blogs, they’re doing so in an adventurous manner that has for centuries lent walking some appeal. Without the map of familiar, permissible topics, the mind can meander. Instead of the “usual writerly purview” of tech, media, and finance, Elizabeth Spiers, journalist and founding editor of Gawker, grants herself freedom to write on “Anything I Care About” in a thirty-day experiment to see whether she even likes blogging anymore. As walking lets the mind rest and ramble and redefine neural pathways, this relaxation of publishing rules presages benefits beyond the blogosphere.

Both practices make room for deeper thinking and conveying those thoughts in influential ways. Facebook and Twitter can feel like sprinting through an eternal marathon — euphoric at times, but draining. A body can only refuel on so many half-bananas before it needs a substantial break. As Lockhart Steele, founder of Curbed and Eater, wrote in his return-to-blogging post, “Can blogging — Jesus fuck, blogging! — still open unseen doors? Seems highly unlikely.” But why not?

What’s exciting about this sudden enthusiasm for the return of self-hosted writers and their communities is its implications for the internet in the age of net neutrality. These personal domains will be part of the slow internet, while social media giants will have preferred status — faster to access, faster to use, and faster to consume.

A return to blogging, and to walking, looks less to the past than to the future. If not an intentional and meaningful gesture, breaking away from big media sites is still a timely vote in how we want the internet — and the world — to be. Full of people freely walking, and people freely writing on blogs.

Back-to-school walking reading from the New Yorker:
“Heaven’s Gaits — What we do when we walk” by Adam Gopnik
“Why Walking Helps Us Think” by Ferris Jabr

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