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Will Wilkinson

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Old School Blogging

Every time I’ve been hacked and had to take the blog offline, it felt a little like an amputation. A blog is a sort of history of one’s mind, like a diary or a journal, but it’s public and that makes a huge difference. I think the public existence of my blog stabilizes my sense of self. The idea that the self is an “illusion” tends to be grounded on the false assumption that if the self is anything at all, it must be a stable inward personal quiddity available to introspection. But of course there is no such thing. The Zen masters are right. There is nothing in there, and the deeper you look the less you find. The self is more like a URL. It’s an address in a web of obligation and social expectation. According to my my idiosyncratic adaptionist just-so story, a self is an app of the organism “designed” to play iterated cooperative games, and we desire a sense of stable identity because a stable identity keeps us in therepeated games that pay. (Also those that don’t. The self can be a trap.) Expectation, reputation, obligation–these are what make the self coalesce, and the more locked in those expectation and obligations become, the more solid the self feels. There’s nothing wrong with blogging for money, but the terms of social exchange are queered a little by the cash nexus. A personal blog, a blog that is really your own, and not a channel of the The Daily Beast or Forbes or The Washington Post or what have you, is an iterated game with the purity of non-commercial social intercourse. The difference between hanging out and getting paid to hang out. Anyway, in old-school blogging, you put things out there, broadcast bits of your mind. You just give it away and in return maybe you get some attention, which is nice, and some gratitude, which is even nicer. The real return, though, is in the conclusions people draw about you based on what you have said, about what what you have said says about you, about what it means relative to what you used to say. People form expectations about you. They start to imagine a character of you, start to write a little story about you. Some of this is validating, some is irritating, and some is downright hateful. In any case it all contributes to self-definition, helps the blogger locate and comprehend himself as a node in the social world. We all lost something when the first-gen blogs and bloggers got bought up. Or, at any rate, those bloggers lost something. I’m proud of us all, but there’s also something ruinous about our success, such as it is. We left the garden behind. A guy’s got to eat. I mostly stopped blogging for myself because I thought I couldn’t afford to give it away. But I miss the personal gift economy of the original blogosphere, I miss the self it helped me make, and I want at least a little of it back.