March 18, 2016
I started blogging here on August 21, 2007. At first, it was exhilarating and challenging. Blogging helped introduce me to a robust and complex life online. On May 29, 2012, now an old-hat, I blogged exhuberantly about the many affordances of that practice: Why Do I Blog? On (almost) 5 Years.
Today, nearly 9 years later, I blog again on a related theme—why I don’t blog anymore. My last blog was almost a year ago! on the film Jason and Shirley, a serious piece of writing with a purpose and audience in mind. It went on to be re-blogged on Indiewire and then shared (on Facebook and Twitter) by its intended readership (fans [and critics] of Jason Holliday, Stephen Winter, Shirley Clarke, and queer black cinema). Like so many others in this moment of the Internet, I used this minor platform (WordPress) to efficiently move off it and onto other ones.
In the past few years many people—basically everybody—have noticed that the internet feels awkward, too. It is obviously completely surveilled, monopolized, and sanitized by common sense, copyright, control, and conformism. It feels as vibrant as a newly multiplexed cinema in the nineties showing endless reruns of Star Wars Episode 1. Was the internet shot by a sniper in Syria, a drone in Pakistan, or a tear gas grenade in Turkey? Is it in a hospital in Port Said with a bullet in its head? Did it commit suicide by jumping out the window of an Information Dominance Center? But there are no windows in this kind of structure. And there are no walls. The internet is not dead. It is undead and it’s everywhere. Hito Steryl
Thus, with deserved hesitancy, some humor, and I hope a little humbleness, I will attempt to briefly outline why I have absolutely no reason to blog this here in the world of myself and you, the undead (except that I will capture my thoughts, I suppose, perhaps for my own use later), and about how strange and silly, really, it feels to today be in this form and format that is everywhere and nowhere. These conditions, or lack-of-affordances, tell me a great deal about my own current (critical) Internet-practices (hello to self!):
- This format is too long: in length/time to read, in length/time to write. In the past few years, the time-span and page-space of Internet activity has radically constricted.
- I don’t have an audience (if I ever did). When I was an active blogger, as is true for all social media, a significant amount of my labor was not actually spent on writing but on reading and linking: building and nurturing my audience and connections. I never had a large readership, or a particularly active one, nor did I seek one. I was thoroughly pleased and fed by the loyal interlocutors who grew with me.
- I don’t read blogs. There is too much writing on the Internet and I am overwhelmed. Where I used to cherish going to my blog-reader, almost daily, to get access to smart thinking by people I respect who were writing about things I cared about, I would rather die than read my blogroll. That (now unlooked at) list fills me with dread and sadness and shame. This is a matter of volume. I can’t comprehend all that is there that I might need to know. And I do read! I even read in long-form; but I need someone, anyone, to manage it for me, and yet here I am, alone (with you?)
- I read and read and read and then, I don’t write. Given the deluge of writing on today’s Internet, my time and labor is devoted to volume management of others’ writing. I use Facebook for this (hypocritical, I know: but oddly, even as my “friends” grow, this corporate holding-bin feels just small-enough to breath). Many of my colleagues and peers use Twitter for this, which is probably just-right, but is simply too fast and constricted for me. I have drawn that personal limit, simply as a matter of tempo of compression. I can’t engage in that space without my blood-pressure rising unnaturally and in ways that feel unhealthy.
- I don’t write because I don’t have time, what with so much to read, but also because I am humbled and overwhelmed by the cascade of well-thought, beautifully-penned, biting, scathing, intelligent, sensitive, personal, political, erudite, simple, short and long prose that envelopes me. Where I once felt authorized to contribute (by way of my training, my commitments, my engagements in my sub-fields of choice: activist media on the Internet, video, and film, especially around AIDS, queer and feminist issues, black queer expression, YouTube, anti-war and anti-Zionist activism), like my voice might be needed, I am now awash in a sea of as-prepared and as-able and ever-more-ready voices. Whatever more needs to be said?
- There’s too much here, so I want to get off the Internet. I didn’t then. I do now. I’d rather talk about it. With a friend. In a room. With my students. At dinner. Hey, that doesn’t mean I actually do get off the Internet, or that I don’t know the affordances of my time and labor spent here, but I will prioritize not doing things here whenever possible even as this gets harder and harder to do.
- Because here I’m nothing more than a consumer and a commodity, even when I write, and always when I read, click and share. I do not want to self-brand and never did. I do not want to make more connections; I feel too connected. I do not want to hear more of myself. I have become too present too myself online.
- Instead, lately I’ve found myself working to make more monumental, more collaborative, more impossible mixed-reality things and better yet experiences where I can reside, feel, and enjoy locally and communally, online and off, even as, and in response to, the exhaustion that so many link to our current “digital tailspin.” I hope to make breakable, temporary, incomprehensible, untweetable, nonsearchable, daily and local and shared initiatives. Good luck with that. And anyways, this is a very weird desire. “Welcome to digital realism. the 99% have all become survival artists in our austerity networks … the content potlatch is over. You share — but who cares?” (Geert Lovink and Nathaniel Tkacz)
- Yes, in our world where everyone is making, I reiterate, we all lack audiences. With so much cultural production, abundance and exhaustion produce our current climate where any invitation to engage with another’s work, online or off, leads to a quick set of ready, friendly, loving responses … articulating regrets: I’d love to but am just too busy (or exhausted) to attend.
- This isolating digital busy-work and exhaustion, leads us into the strangest and most cynical and sorry spirals yet, where we crave easier interactions, faster connections, effortless interfaces. Quick hot links, breezy hashtags, dashing fleeting likes, these feel right and yet also utterly wrong. Obviously, reading, sharing, tweeting, and chatting (within corporate Firewalls) are forms of activity. And sure, I do them all the time. I blogged earlier: “Activism that happens only on the Internet–like posting, reading, liking, and linking on Facebook–is not without use or value (for movements or individuals) but is proto-political, and needs to be followed up (for things of real consequence, like a war) with engagements in the world (of media): like protests, conversations, and even media secession.” (To and From Facebook: Being Together in our World of War).
- I don’t blog, she blogs, because I’m exhausted by what I would have to say in the face of what I have already said. I could endlessly link to myself and my friends but I’d rather making something new with you.
“For better or worse, we can expect YouTube and online amateur video to become a common tool for the 25% of American women who have been sexually assaulted.” Dr. Strangelove, Rape Victim Seeks Justice Via YouTube
“Considering that a free cinema and television don’t exist in the current state;
Considering that a tiny minority of authors and technicians have access to the means of production and expression;
Considering that the cinema today has a capitol mission to fulfill and is gagged at all levels in the current system: The directors, technicians, actors, producers, film and television critics determined to put an end to the present state of affairs, have decided to convoke the Estates General of Cinema. We invite all of you to participate in these Estates general, whose date will be specified later. – The Revolutionary Committee of Cinema-Television, published in Cahiers du Cinéma, August 1968. Chained to the Cinemateque
“The last post was sooo teel dear. Well, for the uninitiated
teel dear (tl;dr) = Too long; didn’t read.
In this twitter age, I know I have sinned with my preposterously long posts earlier in the blog. But let me assure you, I am trying to be rid of the disease, and I am a advocate for brevity.” Digital Nativity
April 17, 2008
Yesterday I got a query from a journalist at the Washington Post. Did she want my opinions on AIDS video or feminist media history? No! Hillary v Obama (Obama, duh)… Not at all!
As one of America’s “YouTube specialists” she wondered what I thought about the “shaming-by-YouTube” scandal involving Philip Smith, and his estanged and angry wife, Tricia Walsh-Smith. I knew nothing about it, even though it had been covered by Good Morning America that very morning.
I watched the video, read a few related posts, and then tried to decide what to do. As I’ve oft repeated on this blog, as a scholar, I’m not particularly interested in popular culture. Sure, I’m aware of the latest tabloid moments; I read the paper every morning. But my academic work (including that on YouTube) is about activist, political, educated uses of the medium for self empowerment and social change. And the video I was being asked to speak about is anything but that.
What to do? And more importantly, what does this mean about my current interests and obligations?
I was going to tell the writer that I was just not her expert. Then I decided, she could decide this herself. We talked for awhile, and it was lively and fun. I do have thoughts about YouTube that were relevant for her, and she was smart. We talked about the reality/fiction line, about the developing place of the citizen-journalist expose, about the vlog as outlet for real people who can’t get featured on the Lives of the Rich and Famous and how the video under consideration blurred those functions and media outlets. I mentioned the question of an evolving ethics of web 2.0 video built upon the backs of user indiscretions. Our conversation ended up creating some of the frame for her piece, and I think that’s pretty cool, really.
But, I’m interested in radical-culture, not upper-crass video. I’m currently writing a lecture for the Fowler Museum at UCLA about the history of AIDS video (see last post). And 5 people are going to be interested in what I have to say, damn it! This unmaking of distinctions between my interests in high culture (not low), people’s production (not corporate), elitist vs populist pursuits, and scholar versus public intellectual is getting very confusing for me. Is AIDS video elitist or populist? What about the complaints of a rich woman? And what about me complaining about it? Where does work like mine sit on this old and changing spectrum?
My work on YouTube is my only body of writing (or videomaking, really) that is relevant to regular people. Certainly the feminists I write about and for, or the queers, or AIDS activists are “regular people.” They are all humans with bodies and genetic material. But these counter-cultural communities and art practices are self-consciously, and belovedly removed from the daily, tawdry goings on of mainstream America. And I love them, and am them, for it.
Suddenly, while thinking from my usual angle (how can regular-if-political people speak against and to dominant culture using media), I’m talking about a phenomenon being encountered by most people, and thus, I have something to say to most people. I’ve actually just written, and am trying to publish, a short article about my YouTube findings for a mainstream, and not scholarly outlet.
Making work on and about YouTube, writing this blog, reading other blogs, I’ve certainly found a community of other scholars, students, and smart people asking whether these new (networking) technologies can be used for discourse outside and in opposition to corporate culture. But the bleed is so deep, the breaking of binaries and distinctions so complete, it seems impossible to think and talk about such interests without succumbing to, and becoming that which we are opposed to. Funnily, the questions I’m asking are raised through my sisters’ experience in my documentary about her, SCALE. But she stays true to the anti-war cause, while I’m hardly sure what my cause might be in this instance…”Say no to Trash video!” “Rich wives off YouTube!” “Say yes to women’s voices!” Who knows? Who cares!