Books are magic. Old school blogs are magic, too.*
I’m just going to come right out and say it, at the risk of sounding like the most cliché geezer ever: I miss the days of good old-fashioned blogging.
Not blogging as we now know it (listicles! clickbait! sponsored posts! fake news!) but long-form, honest, engaging, personal-essay kind of writing.
I like talking with people around my age about what a unique experience we’ve had with technology. We have essentially grown up alongside the Internet as we know it today. We were born into a world free of iPhones, where we were encouraged—as kids for most of modern history have been—to do our chores and then entertain ourselves, whether by playing basketball in our driveways for hours (my brother) or holing up in our rooms reading The Babysitter’s Club (me).
Then, as we got a little older, we were introduced to the earliest personal computers by playing educational games like Oregon Trail in school, and we can probably tell you exactly when our families bought their first home computer (mine came along when I was in fifth grade, and I can still remember the excitement and wonder I felt). Cell phones became a thing right around the time we were getting our driver’s licenses, giving our parents a tiny bit more peace of mind about sending us out on the roads for the first time.
All great things, right? Technology was helping us.
And then Facebook was introduced my freshman year of college, making it deceptively easy for an introvert like myself to meet and connect with people in the brand new city I was living in. I was thrilled by the advent of MySpace, a platform that introduced me to the concept of blogging for the first time. I could share all the feelings, and not just in a micro-status-update kind of way, but through a carefully-crafted essay that could then be accessed and read by all my friends. And I loved discovering new people whose voices I may never have been exposed to otherwise.
Social media seemed to explode after the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, around the time I graduated college, got married, and decided to start my own photography business. Amazingly, this boom made it possible for me to grow an audience and find clients online, organically, at no cost. At the same time, I was able to get a free education in both the art and business of photography—entirely online. Thanks to forums and blogs and message boards, as well as a new cultural mindset that promoted sharing information rather than hoarding it, I was afforded the opportunity to learn from the best in the industry without ever stepping foot inside a classroom or paying tuition fees.
Technology was helping me. Helping us.
Fast forward another decade, and let’s just say…. it’s complicated.
The same medium that helped me showcase my work and attract new photography clients—blogging—morphed from something that genuinely fulfilled and excited me into something resembling more of a chore. Feeling burdened by the pressure to please everyone, not reveal too much about my personal life in the name of professionalism, and keep up with the growing volume of work to share, I slowly but surely let it go.
It felt like such a relief when Instagram first came along to help me pick up the slack. It became a way, maybe without me fully realizing it at the time, to transition to micro-blogging. Less time involved in selecting photos and crafting sentences, less stress over perfecting each post, more freedom to share snippets of my personal life, a wider audience reach—it all seemed like the perfect remedy for my blogging fatigue.
I could sense the same shift happening with many of the bloggers I had grown to adore, and I began feeling disappointed that I didn’t have their longer, meatier, more engaging posts to look forward to anymore. I was getting more frequent posts, and I was still able to enjoy their photos and even a bit of their writing in the captions, but it simply didn’t feel as satisfying.
Instagram may have been able to tempt me with MORE! content and EASIER! posting for a long time, but I suppose that’s why, in the end, it felt like eating a big ole donut full of empty calories—incredibly satisfying for a brief moment, but almost immediately overstimulating and leaving me feeling hungry for substance.
Now feels like a good time for a few disclaimers: I’m not addressing other social media platforms like Twitter—used it for a brief time years ago but it never really stuck for me—or Facebook—which was essential for growing my business in the very beginning, but I stopped using and checking it almost completely 3 or 4 years ago because it simply made me feel depressed. Between the angry shouting about politics to the rampant bullying to the sheer VOLUME of opinions and information (occasionally worthwhile but mostly useless), I simply could no longer justify the value of getting on even to check in on the people I loved because it was just too much. And I haven’t missed it a single day since I stopped logging in. I would much prefer to spend time face-to-face with people in my life, and if that’s not possible, then texts and occasional phone calls have been much more rich and satisfying to me than keeping up via Facebook. But that’s another topic for another day.
Another disclaimer, going back to Instagram: I think there are people out there doing it really well. Even now, after we’ve shifted from the freedom and looseness of grainy, low quality, “authentic” photos to the expectation that any Instagrammer worth her salt will take the time to carefully edit and curate her posts to within an inch of their life (*raises hand guiltily*), there are still people who are using the platform in a way that feels like meaningful interaction, even if it should never act as a replacement for real life relationships.
One such person who I feel is using Instagram and blogging to do great things is Elsie Larson of A Beautiful Mess. I’ve followed her for many years now, and have watched as she and her sister have grown into influencers of the highest order for 18-34 year old women everywhere. They were some of the OG bloggers-turned-businesswomen, and I feel like they’ve handled all of the growth (and growing pains) smartly and gracefully. And sure, over time their accounts became more polished, more curated, perhaps sometimes a bit less real and relatable…. But recently, they shifted. Elsie came out publicly and talked about her own issues with the current state of blogging and social media and her desire to return to a looser, more satisfying way of sharing. And she set the example herself. When she and her husband adopted a little girl from China last Christmas, her Instagram account became the only one I would repeatedly check for updates, even as I remained logged off and disconnected from the platform as a whole. I would look forward to the lengthy posts on her personal blog even more.
Why? Because these posts reignited my love for the whole concept of sharing bits of your life online, even after years of becoming jaded and so many horrifying episodes of Black Mirror. She kept things positive and uplifting without glossing over the hard parts. She was willing to share less-than-“perfect” photos, but they were filled with emotion and genuine gratitude and love for life. She shared her family’s story without resorting to either constant complaining OR an excessive EVERYTHING IS PERFECT!!! tone. It was just a refreshing, wonderful balance somewhere in between. And the best part? Reading through the feedback and comments from others on these posts, describing how her sharing her story had opened their hearts to the possibility of adoption, or had encouraged them to take the next step, or had even simply shown them that adoption could be a beautiful, uplifting part of life—worth all of the heartbreak and tears along the way. I mean, that’s incredible. She used her influence and her gift for communication not only to sell products and get app downloads and make money—she used it to actually change people’s perceptions, if not their lives, for the better. And that’s what kept me coming back for more.
I say all this because I still feel so conflicted about all of it. Having stepped away first from regular blogging, then from Facebook, and most recently from Instagram, I’ve been able to achieve a clarity and peace of mind that I couldn’t have otherwise. I fully embraced all of these platforms as they were introduced, like most of the world, excited by the possibilities and the newness. But over time, I got burnt out. Badly. And I just felt like I needed a break from all of it, more than anything.
But now, having been separated for awhile, I’m feeling this itch to write again. To share again. Even—dare I say it—to post photos again. The past few years I’ve seen tremendous lows but also tremendous personal growth. I feel like I’m in a constant state of learning new things and making changes and while it hasn’t always been this way, I’ve been feeling the teensiest of tugs to share.
I had an almost comical realization recently at work. I started implementing regular email updates to different people and departments throughout the company in an attempt to share more of the photo work my team was doing. In the emails, I ignored my initial inclination to “be professional.” Instead, I treated these updates as I had once treated my blog posts. My tone was conversational and included lots of sidebars and commentary and yes, even emojis. ;)
The result? I started getting responses from people who said they actually enjoyed reading the emails in addition to checking the photo updates for content they could use. I received direct encouragement from leaders of the company to keep doing what I was doing. They loved these emails.
And it made me realize that, as rewarding as it was to be encouraged to BE MYSELF in a corporate environment, to share not only through the visual medium of photography but also the written word, it felt like I needed to be doing something more with my desire to communicate. I’m glad that my love for photography and writing is a useful part of my job (for which I receive a regular paycheck!) but I don’t want everything I’m creating to be destined for the trash folder in people’s email accounts or the archives of a long-forgotten text message conversation.
I have often had the notion that one day, I might write a book. My family has been begging me to write a book pretty much since I first learned to write, I think. But right now, I don’t know what that book would look like or be about or whether or not anyone would want to read it.
What I do know is that my old faithful friend, my blog, is still here. Still (kind of) kicking, a decade after I first brought her to life. I’ve come, I’ve gone, I’ve returned only to leave again… so many times. But what I’m realizing is that I no longer have to justify or explain this to anyone. I don’t have to put pressure on myself. I don’t need a posting schedule or advertisers or any of that.
I am here, first and foremost, to WRITE and write well. With purpose. Without wringing my hands waiting for likes and hearts and comments or wondering if things will even show up in people’s feeds with all the algorithm drama. I want technology to serve me again, not rule me.
I just woke up early on a Saturday morning and put well over 2,000 words to
paper screen. They practically spilled out of my fingertips, as if waiting for too long to be set free. And it felt good. Really, really good.
If having a public blog encourages me to do more of that, then I say— LONG LIVE THE BLOG.
*Photo taken at one of my favorite bookstores, Books are Magic, in Brooklyn, on a snowy Saturday morning last December. So basically, my happiest place. Full disclosure, this photo was taken on an iPhone. Quality isn’t the best. But of course I spruced it up because old habits die hard, my friends, and I do still like looking at pretty photos. Baby steps.
For bonus thoughts on what could become a renaissance of personal blogging:
- Design Mom– Are You Reading More Blogs This Year?
- We Grow Media– The Return of Blogging — “But let’s not forget another primary reason that blogging is being talked about more and more: social media overwhelm. Many writers and artists feel a sense of frustration that other companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google control who sees their status updates. The creator is reliant on algorithms and business practices that they can’t control. By nature, these networks tend to reward popular posts, not deep content. But to create something of value, it requires you to go deep.”
- Designlovefest– A New Direction for Designlovefest — “i remember i used to get so amped about finding a bunch of vintage matchbooks online. i want to feel that way again! plus some. i don’t want to just scroll through pinterest and find photos of cool fruit put on a pink background. (and hey, we can all like that too.) but let’s start to explain our inspirations more. […] i can’t promise to go fully back to my emo postings of kate moss. but i can promise to find more of a balance. more of a real factor. more candid. more explanations. i hope you’re into it. i miss you 2009.”
- Jane Friedman– Why Blog- From the Writer Who Said Goodbye to Blogging
- Kottke– Stop Using Facebook and Start Using Your Browser — “What Kamer is arguing is that readers who value good journalism, good writing, and diverse viewpoints need to push back against the likes of the increasingly powerful and monolithic Facebook…and visiting individual websites is one way to do that.”