outside in

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There have been a lot of transitions for me during the past 18 months. When I started blogging, I had no connections to any of the "names" in this medium. I was an isolated academic in Rochester, NY. Any 'fame' I'd accrued professionally was limited to the library field. I was headed down a professional dead-end, not having published or presented in far too long, teaching one web design class after another without a larger context into which to place the material.

When I discovered blogging, it was an amazing, exciting thing for me. It pulled together my grad school interests in what was then called CMC, my teaching interests in web technologies, and my love of writing. It provided me with a never-ending stream of new and interesting ideas from people who wrote daily about the topics I was most interested in.

I had no idea when I started blogging that there was a "who's who" of blogging...or, more to the point, I probably knew it was likely (what field--academic or technical--doesn't have its stars, its big names?), but I didn't care. I was interested in reading and writing and discussing, not in reputation or rank or buzz.

Very early on in my reading, I stumbled on Joi Ito's blog, and left a comment. And then I blogged my irritation with the entry that I'd read. Joi could certainly have ignored me, but he didn't. Instead, he stopped by my brand-new blog and left encouraging comments--the first comments I'd ever received. It was just what I needed to build confidence in the medium...a sense that someone outside my local circle of friends and colleagues was reading what I wrote.

That experience with Joi was then echoed in my interactions with other well-known webloggers--from Shelley Powers to Mark Pilgrim to Halley Suitt. But in each case, I reached out first, by commenting on or linking to their sites. I didn't always agree with them, but when I disagreed, I tried to do so in a polite and respectful manner...and, for the most part, so did they. Over time, reciprocal links brought more people to my site, and many of those readers enjoyed my writing enough to come back.

A year ago, I spoke out here about the underrepresentation of women at tech gatherings--especially gatherings related to the new social computing technologies that I was most interested in. But I did more than complain...I backed up my complaints with proposals to conference organizers. First Kevin Werbach for Supenova, then to the program committee at Etech. And they said yes. Imagine that! And now, seemingly all of a sudden, I've gone from way, way outside the inner circle to embraced and accepted by those within it. At no point have I felt that I had to censor my ideas or my approaches. At no point have I felt that my presence was based on anything other than my ideas and my willingness to ask to be included.

I say all of this because over the past several weeks, I've noticed an awful lot of negativity being directed towards Joi, as well as towards other people who I've grown to respect in this field, like danah boyd and Cory Doctorow. The arguments seem to me to indicate a resentment towards these folks because they've achieved some degree of fame or recognition, and because they are part of a visible and supportive community. And as a result, people like Shelley Powers and Dave Winer are accusing Joi (and danah, and Cory) of using unspoken authority to pressure others into conforming to community beliefs.

Shelley wrote "If community causes you to alter your writing--not to say something you think should be said, or to write a certain way to get attention--then you are betraying yourself as a writer." And in a comment to one of Shelley's posts, stavrosthewonderchicken wrote "It's not about community any more, if it ever was, for some of the more visible amongst us, I don't think. Unless by community they are referring to the intersection of their legions of acolytes and their semi-closed network of peers - the same people that they hang out with at these silly conferences that people talk so much about."

That just makes me angry. How dare either one of these people pass judgment on the sense of community or friendship that's developed among the people they're criticizing? I have watched Joi reach out and befriend so many people--very few of them among the digerati that seem to irk Shelley and her readers so. But they don't bother to look closely enough to see any of that. They paint anyone who counts themselves part of this growing community of people with an interest in the sociology and technology underlying new technologies with the same brush. And in the process, they diminish all of our voices. I fully expect that I'll be dismissed by them as simply another acolyte--and that the irony of that dismissal will be completely incomprehensible to them.

Not interested in the research and projects presented at conferences like ETech, or AoIR, or Media Ecology? Fine. Every academic and professional field has people who find it a waste of time or an orgy of navel-gazing. But the level of venom and animosity being directed at people who I've seen to be welcoming and encouraging to so many newcomers, and whose circles are so clearly inclusionary, indicates to me that this isn't disinterest. It's resentment. It's entitlement. It's a reverse form of exclusion--if you're part of "them" you're not part of "us," and we're the only ones who really understand the medium.

When I've complained in the past about similar lacks of civility in discourse at and around misbehaving.net, I've been accused of betraying the name of the site--as though "misbehavior" necessarily involved unkind, hurtful behavior, and that such behavior should be privileged simply because it's disliked. Bullshit. There are many kinds of misbehavior, and many ways to break rules without deliberately lashing out at others. And I don't like seeing this kind of attack mode, these dismissals of real people and real friendships and real communities, go unchallenged.

Theresa Nielsen-Hayden, someone whose writing I enjoy and respect, wrote to a mailing list recently that a particularly odious poster to a site failed what she called the "benevolence test" :

In my view, some degree of derangement is acceptable if the person has the "plays well with others" virtues: kindness, cooperation, forbearance, truthfulness, etc. It's one of the best reasons I know to cultivate them, because temporary or long-term derangement is something that can happen to any of us. When your ability to make judgements is impaired, what you have to fall back on are your habits. Kind and helpful people retain their ability to socialize a lot better than the chronically splenetic, choleric, and bilious sorts.

On the one hand, I often feel as though it's best to ignore people who fail that benevolence test. On the other, I don't want the corrosive idea that any community that includes well-liked and well-respected people is necessarily tainted and repressive to take root without some push-back.

(Updated 2/19 to include attribution to Theresa Nielsen-Hayden)

4 TrackBacks

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Is the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference elitist? This question seems to be stirring up the blogosphere, and causing lots of good people who I read and like to throw verbal bricks at each other. I thought that as someone who is clearly not a m... Read More

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31 Comments

Great post, Liz. It almost seems like an observation here today, and other observations I have made in the past.

I don't know who came up with the term 'alpha blogger', but I am fairly certain that it's someone who is classified as an alpha blogger. I think you might agree.

Point is that there are some really good people (at least I think so by their blogs) who *are* alpha bloggers. I certainly don't resent them; I respect them. But that doesn't mean that when they do something I disagree with I'll ignore it. In fact, if you knew me in person you would know that I simply don't ignore things that bother me. I address them, and I try not to be 'venomous' - instead, critical.

There's a lot of venom out there. That's par for the course when you publish on the internet. And then the cliques don't help either - and they do exist; you even hinted at it in this post. I'm a loner, so cliques don't bother me - but if you really want to discuss the 'benevolence test', I offer that cliques could suffer that test as well.

In the end, technology has just hastened the same social problems one sees when people pick teams. Perhaps technology will hasten a solution to some of those social problems as well.

And I think that's really the outside looking in - because I think your post was from the inside looking out. At least from where I'm standing. ;-)

But really - entries like these in blogs do make me a bit happy. At least people are looking at the problem(s).

Thanks, Taran.

You're right that I'm not seeing things from the outside; my title was more to describe my journey from outside to in, rather than my current vantage point.

One of the points I was trying to make is that the "clique" in this case *does* seem to pass the benevolence test. Not just for me, but for many others who I've seen be welcomed into the "group."

The term clique itself is problematic for me, because I think it imposes strong negative connotations. By definition, a clique is exclusive--and my experience with the people who've taken the brunt of the criticism in this debate is that they're remarkably inclusive.

The only exclusion that I've seen practiced has been based around the "benevolence" factor more than anything else. Those who come into a discussion with both barrels blazing (not you, Taran) shouldn't be surprised when they're not welcomed with open arms.

i like your post for its tone of calm civility as the norm. I'm reminded of an old illustration of disfunctional systems; they are like crabs in a pot, pulling down a crab that tries to climb out.

Rabbi Ed Friedman, who wrote a lot about differentiation and systems theory, used to say that left to itself, the recalcitrants will subvert any kind of progress in a system. You can't let them run the show and you can't let them think they can determine the goals for everybody. But you have to stay in relationship with them. At least that's what Friedman said, and I think he was right.

Kevin, I'd be interested in reading more of Friedman's stuff; can you point me to a specific cite?

The challenge of how to resist recalcitrance without simultaneously alienating is not one I've mastered at this point. :)

People like Joi are naturally inclusionary, and I haven't seen anything but open arms and an open mind when talked to him. For anyone to say he's anything other than that hasn't really had the opportunity to talk with him or be advised by him.

I'm still new to this community, but every time I log on to places like #joiito, there's a sense that no one cares as long as I'm nice, as long as I'm "benevolent". There are always going to be the argumentative people who were born to permanently play the devil's advocate, so much to the point where they almost become develish themselves. But that still doesn't give them the right to attack someone else's character because they feel a sense of exclusion because of the part they play.

Dave Winer and Shelley Powers attack because it's in their nature to disagree. I've been lambasted by them both, sometimes when I deserved it, others when I didn't. Their attitudes, their outlooks, and their mindsets are too provincial sometimes to really grasp that they're not always right. They blow up, they apologize, and blow up again a day later. They quit, they criticize, they denounce blogging, and come back a day later.

It's part of society, whether virtual or real life. That's what makes blogging and social software studies so inately social: the accurate resemblance in so many ways to real life social interactions. The only downside is, you can never really run or distance yourself from people here. There is no spacial separation, so they keep coming back and you keep stumbling upon them, time after time.

People like you Liz, Joi, danah, you care for this field and for what it represents and where it's going, not for where it was and who made it get there. You'd rather work with it than fight it, and that's when people discover things and innovate. As easy as it would be to have those antagonists go away, they're needed for the story to continue, for people to say "This is what I'm doing, I don't care what you think." So please keep doing what you're doing, you, danah, Joi, and so many others. I enjoy it, and I'm sure so many more do too.

I dunno, I find it pretty easy to dismiss these kinds of criticisms: I *do* allow my readers, especially readers who are friends of mine, to influence my writing. And that's what's made me a better writer, having an empathy and connection with my audience.

I find this argument fairly close to accusations of "selling out", especially in the music world. It's the kind of whining done by people who are so concerned with varying definitions of "authenticity" or "realness" that they can't be bothered to try and form an actual connection with the people who read their words. There's the usual insistence of "I only create/write/sing for myself!" but oddly these people don't write behind firewalls or sing in the shower; Somehow they always end up in public venues, hoping that the audience they disdain will love them anyway.

Golly, Anil, that sounds pretty fucking familiar.

Liz : next time you quote me to make a point, please do me the favour of making at least a cursory effort to understand and fairly represent what I'm trying to say. Here, I'll repeat what I said elsewhere in this conversation, to try and elaborate make it a little clearer for you. You know, since you're so angry and stuff.

"It's not really elitism, in any recognizable sense, that gets me cranky, Geodog. For what it's worth.

It's more the steady transformation of this new thing of ours, this weblogging, webwriting, webwrangling thing, into a mirror of the same old evil topdown medium of the kind that has failed us all so miserably in the past.

When I start to feel that it has become more important that I (or anyone else) be seen at a conference and hobnob with the other usual suspects (something that I for one am unable to do) than it is to just write, I begin to get persnickety. Whether it is a matter of causation or coincidence that the people who seem to be seen at every damn jamboree that comes down the pike are also the same people that, whether through emergent means or not, are the same ones who are seen to be guiding the discourse, I get nervous.

They may be good people, and good writers too, but it feels like emergent ghettoization, or emergent pursuit-of-fame-for-fame's (where fame may also be called punditry) sake, to me, at times. It's not the way I would have liked what seemed to me in the (astonishingly recent) past to be a more freewheeling meritocracy.

But then perhaps I'm just crotchety lately."

If that makes you angry too, Liz, well, tough shit.

Liz, I think the real cause is that Joi's social network is probably the most visible, if not the largest, and most cohesive group of bloggers there is which makes him the center of a large bullseye despite him being a nice guy. Also, echos and murmurs within a large social group are amplified when directed outward.

Fascinating post. Commenting (reaching out) is the only way that I've found to expand your blogging circle. If you wait around to be discovered, NextBlog will not turn you into Instapundit. I usually would never think of leaving a comment on a big-time blog because (a) it most likely would be ignored or (b) would be flamed by the blogger's BlogPartisans (does this count as a big-time blog? :-))

Yes, there are A-list bloggers, and A-list blog circles (techies around Joi, lawyers around Howard Bashman, "cool people" around Tony Pierce), but I'm growing fond of my C-list blogger clique, and there is always room for more. Yes, I've changed my writing, and what I post, to possibly attract more people to my site, including this comment, but my site isn't me; if I go from a chronicle of my house selling (the original reason for the blog) to trying to make people laugh from stuff I've made up, it isn't selling out. I think it's just another attempt to connect, which is what the Internet's about.

Wow. I got here from Jeneane's blog again, and I see that someone sewed the wind.

Interesting reading, both you and Jeneane. And I think you both have valid points. And now my crotch hurts from straddling the fence I perceive. :P

But as far as what you and I are talking about - cliques do have a negative connotation, because inclusion within a clique usually means exclusion from without the clique.

I'm clique free, and I hope to remain so. I get to be independant. I get to agree with people. I get to disagree with people. I'm happy with that... but that's just who I am, and I understand that most people aren't like me.

In fact, I have references that prove I'm not like anyone. :P

Point is that by not belonging in a clique, someone belongs in a default clique. Think Venn Diagrams. I'm somewhere in the Universal Set bouncing around in Brownian motion. But most people find a adhesion with certain people - even I do - but when the adhesion conglomerates, it becomes an entity unto itself.

Packs. Cliques. Whatever you want to call them, I'll just call them subsets (which I think is neutral enough to keep everyone happy). When subsets conglomerate in a social network, there comes an issue of *cohesion* within the group overriding *adhesion* with external subsets.

If this doesn't make sense, dip a french fry in mustard before dipping it in ketchup. You'll notice that the ketchup is affected, and changes - maybe for better, maybe for worse.

Do the opposite, with the ketchup first and then the mustard, and you'll see that the mustard adheres even to the ketchup - there's no ketchup in the remaining mustard.

At least this is the way it works with the ketchup and mustard I get with my hamburgers down here in Trinidad and Tobago, but I think you get the idea.

Subsets have these qualities - but they shift because of perception, and also because of group memory.

I could go on and on... I think about these things a lot, and I read a lot of what people like you say... maybe I'm ready to start joining the conversations. If I find the time.

But I think that solutions are not only the solution - they're the problem. :)

Hugh, I don't think of myself as an A-list blogger. But one of the things that I found as a very new blogger 18 months ago was that the A-list bloggers whose sites I did comment on --Joi and Shelley (yes, I count Shelley, with her 431 inbound blogs on technorati, as A-List) and Mark Pilgrim and Chris Locke--didn't ignore me, or dismiss me.

I've argued before that the most interesting activity happens in the affinity groups and clusters, between the people who enjoy each other's writing and interact on each other's blogs. I still think that's true.

What there seems to be disagreement on is at what point a community of like thinkers becomes a "clique." If it's when they refuse to accept new people or ideas, I don't think that's happened in this case--I see so much welcome and inclusion from the people being criticized. If it's when they push people out of the circle for disagreeing--well, I don't think that's happened, either.

The only exclusion I've seen going on is people responding to attacks and negativity with distance--which strikes me as a pretty normal response. Much as I loved stavrosthewonderchicken's recent post on weblogging, for example, his tone in my comments here makes me pretty unlikely to want to call him a friend (not that there's any indication he'd want me to do so).

By the way, I have never called myself an "Alpha blogger" or an "A-List blogger" and none of the so-called "A-List bloggers" that I hang out with ever use the term. It's a corrosive label that is worse than being called an elitist or a snob just because people might think that some of us actually use the world or enjoy being labelled as such.

I generally agree with you Liz, but I would point out that I only started blogging slightly before you did. When you posted the comment on my blog the "joi clique" was smaller. I do think that the community has gotten a little harder to penetrate depending on your personality. Technically, it's easy to drop into #joiito and hang out if you are confident and have something to contribute, but I have a feeling that many of the people who are on the "inside" would find it more difficult getting "inside" today. (Including myself.) I think it is important to be self-critical and try to tease out some of the interesting opinions and learn from examples of other communities. It's really hard being in the middle of a lot of this because you really don't get a lot constructive feedback and managing a community goes beyond being just a nice guy. To a certain extent I have to begin taking responsibility for what "the community" does and somehow influence the behavior of the community without exerting authority or control. Leading by example only sort of works.

I have a feeling one of the best ways to influence the behavior of a community is really to try to generate memes or social norms that amplify good behavior and discourage bad behavior. They need to be nurtured and reinforced. But as with most emergent systems, I don't think it's easily designed and more a process of being sensitive and aware of the issues as things develop.

This is a cogent and compelling post.

That said, if you or some of those mentioned in your post wish to be shapers of this evolving community, more power two you. It is certainly not a job I'd accept. As we have seen lately it is rather thankless.

I do believe that there needs to be more of an effort to meet those outside half way. I stay outside, as I always have, because it is most comfortable to me for many reasons. I suspect folks like you and Joi thrill to new social interactions. Both approaches to life seem to be choices made based upon temperment. Still, if we, for arguements sake, assume that there are two types: ousiders and insiders, we each inhabit this planet and we each have a great deal to learn from one another.

This doesn't have to be about the Morlach and Eloi.

It can just be about people. I suspect we'll get it sorted out in due time.

Thanks for your comment, V. Perhaps not coincidentally, one of my most-visited posts is on the challenges of extrovert/introvert communication. Both my husband and my best friend are classic Meyers-Briggs introverts, and I've always been on the extrovert side of the scale. You're absolutely right that we have much to learn from each other...but it's often hard to make sense of what seems like an alien viewpoint. :)

What I wish most is that the discourse, even when based in disagreement, was characterized more by civility and less by rancor. And yes, I'm guilty of letting my frustration lead me down that same path more often than I'd like.

I think most of us are guilty of that, as well as being guilty of feeding the troll, as it were.

I've begun thinking of democracy, true democracy on the net as well as the net being used to birth democracy in real life. Everyone must have the franchise, but that doesn't mean we can't come up with technical measures to keep ourselves from hearing the abrasive voices.

Then again, we run the risk of missing out on something wonderful the abrasive have come up with.

Sigh.

I understand what you're saying, Liz and have sympathy for your frustration--sometimes it's not a dialogue, no matter how much--well, even potentially _both_ sides--wish it were. It's like you're talking across a gap that can't be bridged. And especially when you think you're making sense, it's really madness-making.

I think V's point is a good one--different styles make different 'presences' on the web. And ultimately it's the willingness to welcome--and at least not be rude to--newcomers that makes something not-a-clique, at least to me.

I know, for me, I wish everyone knew who I was--I'm out there making pithy, witty posts :-) and no one knows. But when I think about it, I also know that I don't speak up in new places often, I don't maintain a big blogroll, I don't 'meet' a lot of people by putting myself out there regularly, and I don't put as much of my personality in my professional weblog as I might (or even as I wish I would sometimes). That's me. That's my personality and though it frustrates me sometimes, if I'm treated with interest or civiilty at least occasionally, I can get along.

"Golly, Anil, that sounds pretty fucking familiar."

I hadn't read that post, but now that I see it and you say "It kills the spirit of this thing that I was so in love with, and turns it, as avarice and self-regard always does, to shit." I understand where you're coming from. You're saying that people should tell others how to blog, but that if I don't blog with the same intent that you do, I'm destroying the medium.

Eh, no thanks. And keeping blogging a closed clubhouse where you're not allowed to preach the gospel of personal publishing or to tell new people how to add their voice the web is exactly the sort of elitism I thought you were rebelling against. Why *can't* I spend my time telling new people how to take part in a medium that's exciting, that can change their lives for the better the way it's changed mine?

The thing that prevents "emergent ghettoization" is the introduction of new voices into the medium. The thing that introduces new voices is outreach, communication, and education. And you're fighting against those of us who are trying to do that, instead of doing a better job yourself.

Blogging is really what you make of it. Most of us started blogging because we wanted to share our ideas and thoughts in a community. We are all seeking some sort of outside attention. We want to be recognized by others.

I'm not an a-list blogger but I still love the medium and enjoy the little comments that I do receive every now and then.

I think the backlash that you're describing is simply envy. Like Anil said, it's the whole "selling out" argument. I highly doubt that those criticizing the conferences and blogger networking would be doing so had they received any benefit from it themselves.

You reading comprehension skills leave more than a little to be desired there, Anil, as do your social skills, apparently, dropping in as you did upthread to accuse Liz's targets (of whom I am one, it seems) of 'whining' and 'not being bothered with trying to form an actual connection with people', not to mention disdain of our readership.

"You're saying that people should tell others how to blog, but that if I don't blog with the same intent that you do, I'm destroying the medium."

Fuck you, buddy, for wilfully misrepresenting what I said. Either your comprehension skills leave something to be desired, as I suggested, or you're simply twisting my words to make your own self-serving point, or both.

I also said, immediately after the bit you quoted, so it ought to be hard to miss : "I'm not actually saying stop it, when I say stop it, of course. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law, and all that. But I am regretful, and resentful, even though I know that it's inevitable. It is the way things go, in this cashed-in century."

and

"Weblogs are a party, damn it, and sometimes they're publications too, or instead, and sometimes they're diaries, sometimes they're pieces of art, sometimes they're tools for self-promotion, sometimes they're money-maknig ventures, sometimes they're monuments to ego, sometimes they're massive wanks, sometimes they're public services, sometimes they're dedications of faith, sometimes they're communities. Always, they are a public face, one chosen and crafted to varying degrees, of the people who write them. They are avatars, masks, or revelations of our deepest selves. They are political or philosophical, merrily inebriate or sententiously sober. Do not listen to those who would tell you what they are not."

Hardly matches up with your accusation that I am telling people what to do, does it? Try again, amigo.

Liz : Whether you would choose to be my friend or not is entirely up to you, and my loss if you did not want me as such, of course. But if you avoid having friends who say what they think plainly and forcefully when they care about something, then your circle must be woefully circumscribed. I do not know if this is actually the case.

If you think my tone is obstreperous here, you ain't seen nothin'. Heh.

Much of the apparent barrier-of-entry into a social group is self-induced, meaning there is a wall if you see it. Maybe it's the confidence thing as Joi wrote.

Don - you said "Much of the apparent barrier-of-entry into a social group is self-induced, meaning there is a wall if you see it. Maybe it�s the confidence thing as Joi wrote."

And I agree that confidence may be an issue in some cases. But I think it would be intellectually lazy to consider that this is generally the case. Because a group may not agree with something does not really mean it's not true, and something that a group can agree on doesn't make that something true either.

In the same way, people outside of a social subset can have all the confidence in the world, but a group can make someone outside the group's communication diminish - and when the group is considered the main group (such as the term Joi Ito detests, 'A-List'), problems occur.

Inadvertently, the 'A-List' has spawned off a lot of copycat bloggers. People who say "XYZ says so and so, here's a link" without adding any *value* to a conversation. So because of the association with the 'A-list', people parrot the 'A-List' without thinking - and *those* are the people I think are really the problem.

As far as Joi talking about bloggers not referring to themselves as alpha bloggers - I agree, though I have not seen it. But when certain bloggers are constantly in the limelight, you're going to see the problem.

I think the matter is really a transference issue. It's the parrots who really are the problem. I rarely read anything problematic in the weblogs of bloggers I read. But I do see how the parrots can misinterpret what is said, and make a whole mockery of the thing.

That said, 'alpha bloggers' still aren't perfect - and I *like* that. That's part of the charm. The imperfections, and how they are handled. Like the referenced post from here, where Liz and Joi talked about Asperides (or whatever it was) - I *gained* from that discussion.

I have one test, and only one test for weblogs. If I learn something new, or get a new perspective on something old, it's a good blog, comment or trackback. If it's the SoS, then it's the last S. And interactions are where people learn the most.

Meanwhile, I think I rounded off the Technorati-bombing issue that got me a bit perturbed earlier.

Hmm. I think I am starting to understand some guys' fascination with female mud wrestling videos.

Re: the "benevolence test,√��Ǩ�� my rule, both online and off, has been: is it kind? is it true? is it necessary? If it's at least two out of three, post/say it. if it's true and necessary, I don't care whether or not it's kind.

Re: the clique, well, I just remind myself that I only ever started blogging to make myself happy, and if anyone else happens to be interested in what I write then that's just gravy. And then I think about changing our blog's tagline from "Politics, Culture, Technology" to "C-List since 1999, and proud of it!"

I'm a little hesitant to post a comment here, but this post and discussion seems a bit remeniscent of a discussion a while back that spun out of control. We were discussing participation and door closing, blog visibility with students and a host of other related topics. Some egos got a bit brused with that one too.

I reject the idea that anything goes. Or maybe more to the point, anything goes but there are consequences. There is always a fallout from heated disagreement, and I would like to point to the role of ritual in getting things repaired. I have just writen a fairly long blog posting on the topic of "Ritual, Norms, Practices and Currency".

I suggest that attention is the currency that we exchange to express loyalty.

Gerry, nice to see you! Yes, I recall that discussion, as well. :)

Will take a look at the post.

I wasn't sure about commenting here. I had made a statement on my weblog and that was going to be enough. But an event happened that made me decide to leave one last comment at your weblog.

First, the context of my quote from above:

"Do you write to be part of a community? Or do you write to write, and the community part either happens, or doesn't? Depending on where you're at within this space can influence your writing. If community causes you to alter your writing--not to say something you think should be said, or to write a certain way to get attention--then you are betraying yourself as a writer. Worse. Lose yourself enough in the community and you'll start to do what I did: embed a tiny demand for reassurance and approval in everything you write, until you exhaust both yourself and everyone who reads you."

It followed directly from a discussion I had about my own failings in my writing recently, not anything Joi or any other person had done. But you know that, and anyone here who follows up your links would know that. As for how others used the words? I'm not responsible for how others reframed the discussion -- each person is responsible only for their own writing.

Again, though, I didn't think it would do much good to comment here -- people will believe what they will. But Dave Rogers posted a link to a Jonathon Delacour essay from last year (here), that changed things for me.

This essay was about community and individuality, something very close to the discussion started in my post. In it, Jonathon excerpted a lot of what I wrote, and others wrote, and then added his own viewpoint. I wasn't necessarily happy seeing that post, because I did write a churlish comment, which Jonathon handled with great grace -- maybe because he knew the reason behind my comment. More likely, though. because that's the way Jonathon is.

However, that comment would support your view of me -- my passion, my temper. It should validate what you've written. But then look at the writing that Jonathon excerpted from my essay. I did. It was great writing.

That essay, though needing some editing, is passionate, and intense, and vibrant, and the story it told is engaging. You don't have to agree with me -- that's what I feel about it, and I haven't felt that way about my writing for a long time.

Not long after this essay, though, I felt I had driven a friend away with my behavior. I thought I had lost him, as my friend, forever. I worked to calm the passion, put out the fire, still the voice so that I would not do that ever again. And if you look, in comments and in my writing, I was relatively successful. You say that my writing about Joi was venemous and hostile, but there wasn't anything of that nature in what I wrote. The words are there for everyone to see.

But neither was the writing inspired either. In the last few months, my writing has been just me, going through the motions. Sometimes its a battle just to sit at the computer, and I wondered if I had lost whatever I once had. I wondered if I ever had it.

Then I saw that old essay.

You say I have what, 431 people linked to me or something that like? Well, if I do, it's because of writing like this essay. It's definitely not my good looks. I imagine these same people are probably waiting for me to wake up from whatever state I'm in, and get back to it.

My writing is my passion. My writing is anger, and laughter, and disagreement, and love, and everything inbetween. Sometimes I agree with people; sometimes I don't. I hope that I don't write to wound, but I hope, equally, that I don't pull back just to please.

I have to rediscover the writer of that essay, and the passion. To do this, I have to move away from this community that you defend so strongly. Not because you're not good and decent and interesting people; but because you ask too much of me to stay.

As has been said of me, I am not a polite person, but I hope I am a thoughtful one. My community, if I am so blessed with others of like mind, is made up of people who can also be thoughtful. However, each of us is just as likely to shout our words from the page, pound our writing into the walls of our spaces, and beat at the doors of those who inspire us -- and not always in agreement.

If there is a 'P' that rules our writing, it is passion, not politeness. We're messy.

If you were to write something I wanted to respond to, I couldn't promise to follow your level of discourse, and this would just frustrate me, and most likely lead to another essay like the one this comment is attached to. I am not fond of these. Best to just move on completely.

I am sorry you think I have been unfair to your community. I wish you well, and I hope you have a great time in Japan. I'd say, post photos, but I won't see them.

Take care, Liz. It was interesting.

I find myself reticent to post a comment, because I don't want the traffic. But because the topic is juicy...

My understanding of Clay's Power Law indicates that being a member of the A-list is much more a matter of timing and critical mass, than a stamp of quality. (Not to say that those on it are unworthy). It is a self-enforcing numbers game.

Why should this be troubling to those not on the list? Is it indicative of some failing, or some general unworthiness? There are no blog gods who will bestow entrance into the club - that's not how the numbers work.

The so-called cliques are not the stuff of high school exclusion because one dressed badly or had the wrong hair. These small clusters form organically from shared interest, the blogger creating blogrolls filtered by preference. Like-minded folk tend to find one another and then there is subsequent linkages - not necessarily reciprocation. The latter implies that one does not need to earn interest or a link.

If the blogger A does not link to B because B has linked to them is then considered exclusive, then there is a sad rift between reality and a sense of B's relative position in the universe.

Without entering into the arguments among different people here, I have a couple of recent posts about community & communication at Reading & Writing.

I did just realize something interesting, though. Because I came to weblogging already a 'regular' writer with books & such, I see my weblog as secondary to my 'real' writing--supportive of it. So I'm not really in competition with anyhbody for status online because I have (a small abount of) status as a writer offline.

Not sure what this means--but blogging doesn't bother my blood pressure, which, at my age, is a good thing. Happy trails.

The whole A list thing is, was, and always will be the predictable phenomenon and purusant critique of it that arise whenever alleged human beings think they belong to a "community."

There are texts. Some texts think they are more central than others.

I am not saying we are not people. We alas are. But in writing, what "we" do is somehow extend beyond the epidermis. The text is us and not us, and sallies forth into the infinite penelopean loom of cyberbabble past and to come.

To imagine you, or he, or she, or we, or they, is central to this activity is a little like what people used to think. Before Copernicus.


When it comes down to it, are there really any centers to this universe? Graphically, it seems there are. (Have been playing with the notion of representing the blogsphere with motion and seeing the gravitational pull of certain blogs).

Joe nails it, though. As an artist, I am accustomed during critique to separate the work from self. The work/writing has its own life separate from the creator.

The hubbub, bub, (just to invoke bugs bunny) is the confusion between the work, it's linkages and the individual's relative importance as a result.

 

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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on February 15, 2004 7:01 PM.

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