Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Daily “Paper”

Blog reading for me is a little like slowly building my own daily newspaper bit by bit. Eventually, I find I’ve added so many pages that I don’t have the time or desire to read them all. At those points in time, I go through my bookmarks and toss out between 1/3 and ½ of them to bring it back down to a compressed unit of the most enjoyable, frequently updated, and useful pages.

This building up and tearing down process is something that occurs in a rather cyclical fashion and I think it’s a pretty good idea. One thing that it forces me to do is to evaluate the impact and quality of each site that I’m frequenting on a regular basis. Some of the sites that get weeded out may eventually find their way back in again during the next phase of re-building. The piling up of pages tends to occur when I’m trapped in front of the computer doing freelance work for hours on end and have minutes here and there to peruse pages. The weeding out happens when I get bored or annoyed at the content I’m reading.

There’s more to reading blogs though than visiting those that regularly update or are useful. The tone of a blog can deeply affect my attitude for a matter of hours in a day, particularly if I read one which is largely negative or mainly full of complaints. To that end, I think that it’s useful to drop those which are mainly seeking out topics to complain about rather than to provide thoughtful and balanced opinions. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with complaining sometimes or that I think we should all be full of light and sunshine all the time. People who wear rose-colored glasses day-in and day-out can be just as problematic as those who do little but wear dark glasses and sneer at the world. Of course, the difference is that there are very few unrelentingly positive people and very many unrelentingly negative ones so the chance of being overloaded with rainbows and sunshine is almost zero.

I think a lot of what fuels blogs full of nothing but negative commentary or complaining is a lack of true content to talk about. It’s a byproduct of compulsive blogging or blogging for profit. Rather than say nothing, people look around for something to whine about because it’s a lot easier and quicker to do that than to find something which adds qualitatively or speaks in a unique voice to the world. Since it’s very often the case that such topics are filling in for a solid motivation to write, such rants tend to be under-researched and one-sided.

There probably is a good audience out there for people who present imbalanced and polarized attitudes but I’m not a part of that audience. If I read an opinion, I’d like it to be an informed one which is thoughtful enough to at least mention other perspectives and consider their merits. Critical commentary which mentions the devil’s advocate position can educate and open minds but commentary which only serves to advocate the (often biased) view of the writer are mainly meant to preach to a choir which will chime in and sing the same tune as you.

Ultimately, that makes such posts an exercise in vanity as one writes such pieces waiting for agreeing comments to chime in and validate one’s viewpoint as the “right” one. Dissenting comments are often responded to with disdain or attacked because there’s a certain level of embarrassment associated with having dashed off an ill-considered and under-researched idea and a strong desire to defend the polarized viewpoint at all costs to save face and to restore faith in one’s own “rightness” of position.

The interesting thing about building your own personal daily “paper” out of various blogs and news sites is that you have all the power in the world to drop pages from it and re-build it constantly as it suits you. No one forces you to read anything. The strange thing is that, despite the ease of “escape” from such blogs, it is often hard to “let go” of the ones that start to annoy. It’s easy to feel compelled to check back again and again even though you’ve vowed to abandon them. This may be the essence of the addictive nature of reading on the web or it may have to do with some sort of smug need to keep checking back to make sure that the viewpoint continues to be a worthless one. Either way, I’m sure that it’s not a good thing when you can’t quit them cold turkey.