Come, Let Us Gaze at our Navels Together! (Blogging on Blogging)

As I’ve written here and elsewhere many times before, I’ve been longtime online . . . and the odds are very, very, very good that I’ve had a personal website and a blog for a lot longer than anybody else reading this post today.

That being the case, I don’t make these statements today with any authority or arrogance in my (written) voice, since I’m not really sure whether my internet longevity as a (mostly) unpaid “content provider” is something that I should revel in or be punished for at this point. I’m kind of thinking more the latter lately, truth be told, as it becomes increasingly clear to me that the whole concept of blogging probably jumped the shark quite some time ago, and I continue to engage in it more as an act of inertia than an act of exploration.

When I sit down at the computer these days, I generally feel the same way that I do when I sit in front of a television with cable service: I have thousands of channels to choose from, but I can never find anything that I really want to watch or read, 99% of the time. (The online “one percenters” for me are, for the most part, linked on one or the other of my blogs, so if you see a link to someone on any site I administer, you can be sure that I consider it to be a highly valuable internet commodity). I just keep clicking and clicking and clicking, and maybe I’ll find something that amuses me for 10 minutes or so, but I rarely stumble upon anything that truly rocks my world anymore, the way the internet, websites and blogs did when I first discovered them. Why is that?

I think in large part it is because most of the large and busy blog portals these days are built upon a model where profit-earning corporations squeeze dollars from the sweat equity pumped in by unpaid bloggers eager to earn “exposure,” even though most of them would never, ever be able to earn a paid print byline based on the quality of their contributions. But in a world where anonymous cranks and sockpuppets can generate massive advertising revenue in the comments section of an amateurishly provocative blog (much to the finance department’s great and glowing satisfaction), where are the quality filters?

Frankly, I am just as tired of having to trawl through the growing mass of words tossed online by unrealistically enthusiastic amateurs as I am of untrained film-makers thinking that they are artistes because they shoot scenes in shaky-cam mode on their phones and can’t be bothered with scripts. I want some editing these days, dammit. And quality control. And good lighting and cinematography. And stories, not just opinions, or reactions. Whatever happened to those things, oh, my droogs? Lamentations!!!

I’ve been a regular, steady, forward-looking adapter throughout my time online, and when things have gotten stale for me, I have always been able to find something new and exciting to represent the next phase. But I’ve not (yet) figured out what comes after blogging at this point, since the alternatives all seem feeble by comparison.

The way I see it, a blog is a modern-day equivalent of a thoughtfully-composed diary or a journal, except that it gets shared with whoever wants to read it, rather than getting stuffed between the mattress and the box-spring of the bed. There’s a lot of potential there, even if the execution is often lacking.

Facebook, on the other hand, is nothing more than a high school yearbook that you try to get all the cool people in school to sign. Twitter is a note you pass around class with a funny picture of your Spanish teacher on it. Pinterest is a cork bulletin board above your headboard, most of it filled with things (and people) that you covet, but will never own. LinkedIn is a sterile speed-dating service, where you swap business cards instead of saliva. None of those are even vaguely viable replacements for blogs/journals/diaries, in my eyes . . . and it’s disturbing to me that I don’t really see anything else that is.

I’m really pretty good at walking away from things when the time comes to do so. Good case in point: I don’t miss social media of the Facebook variety at all, having turned my back on it well more than a year ago now. Sure, it was fun to accumulate 700 “friends” and to try to find amusing bullet points and pictures to share with them all on a daily basis, but the reality is that ones I really care about (and who really care about me) have always been able to find me online: I mean, if you know how I write my name, then I’m the number one reply on Google for “J. Eric Smith,” and I make my e-mail address public, so how much simpler could connecting with me be? And on the flipside: how much do I really want to know about what 700 people ate for breakfast, or what their children did in the bathroom last night, or where they are having coffee this afternoon? (A: Not much, sorry.)

What inspired this round of bloggy navel-gazing? I received a “your domain is about to expire” notice on Indie Albany this week, and I had to decide whether I wanted to spend the money and time required to renew the domain, and the private registration, and the no-advertising premium payment, as well as the emotional/psychological/time commitment needed to provide quality control and promotion for the site at a level commensurate with what I have provided since I launched it a couple of years ago.

I decided to renew it all for one more year, mainly because I really love all of the writers who write there, and I can’t think of another place where I will be able to read what they have to share if I shut that platform down. I’m hoping for a bit more clarity in the months ahead, and perhaps the emergence of a more obvious next step before July 2013, when I will have to make this decision again.

At bottom line, though . . . I am interested in why you blog, and why I (and the other writers on the websites I administer) should continue to do so, especially if our online neighborhood becomes increasingly polluted and/or pedestrian, which seems to be the case. Care to share?

Coming In Hot

The Fourth of July was hellaciously hot in Iowa this year (as it was in much of the country, I know), so we decided that if we couldn’t beat the heat, then we might as well really wallow in it.

First, Marcia and I played a round of golf from about noon to 3:30 in 100 degree heat with high humidity readings. The downside: the heat was so enervating that neither of us were swinging the clubs very strongly or accurately. The upside: we pretty much had the course to ourselves, and felt justified in waving the beer cart down anytime it got within four holes of where we were playing.

After golf, we picked up Katelin, and went out to have a nice, long, leisurely dinner in the well air-conditioned Americana, which seemed appropriate from a thematic standpoint, given the day. I had their excellent truffled macaroni and cheese, with some tempura shrimp and a coconut chicken curry soup. Mmm!! Fully sated and hydrated, we then headed over to Principal Park to watch the Iowa Cubs game. It was still in the 90s, and the sun was beating down hard, when we sat down in the bleacher seats on the first base line. Lesson learned: next time, get tickets behind third.

Before the game, we got to watch a tremendously moving and powerful Citizenship Ceremony, watching a couple of dozen folks from around the world officially become new Iowans and Americans. The Honorable Judge Mark Bennett of the Iowa’s Northern District Federal Court made some spectacular remarks about the importance of diversity and immigration to our Nation’s past, present and future. It was great to see the crowd cheer him and our newest citizens, especially in an era when immigrants are most often viewed as job-stealing criminals. Well done, your honor.

And the I-Cubs? Well . . . not quite so well done. The game was pretty much over before the top of the first inning was done, as the Omaha Storm Chasers took a 6-0 lead before cruising to an 11-2 victory. The Chasers are a great team, one of the best in the AAA Pacific League, which is good, because they are the top farm team of the Beloved Royals. So at some point in the future, some of these guys will head up to Kansas City, have a great season, and then immediately be traded to the Red Sox or Yankees. Because that is the Beloved Royals way, world without end, amen.

Katelin bugged out to go hang out with friends indoors by the sixth inning or so, which meant she was spared the mortal embarrassment of having her parents featured on the centerfield scoreboard KissCam after the seventh inning stretch. (I’m thinking the cameraman was more interested in watching Marcia stretch than me, just for the record). We were then rewarded for our heat perseverance and excellent kissing skills with a great fireworks display above the Des Moines skyline, then returned home at around 11-ish or so, with the temperature still in the high 80s. Fortunately, our new house has two kick-ass air conditioning units, so at least sleep was comfortable.

Today is supposed to peak out at 102-degrees, and then we’re forecast to get a small amount of relief when the highs drop back to the low-90s early next week. Of more concern at this point, in a deeply agricultural state, is the lack of rainwater. We’re thankful to have bought a house with a very small lot, since it’s easy and not too wasteful to keep our little patches of grass and flowers going through the drought, but I suspect that if something doesn’t change soon, water restrictions are likely to be put in place in urban areas so that our farmers can be sure to have enough water to get the crops to maturity this year.

Speaking of crops: we had our first taste of locally-grown Iowa sweet corn last night and, wow, was it dynamite. The ears were perfectly formed, with dense, plump white and yellow kernels, which only had to be boiled for about three minutes to perfection. The taste and texture were easily the best I’ve had, with the possible exception of the fresh white shoe-peg corn that my grandparents used to get from prison farms in North Carolina in the early ’70s. I can’t wait to roast some ears now, since I suspect that make them even more perfectly flavorful.

I might not even need a grill to do it, today, come to think of it . . .

Just When You Thought that the Interwebs Couldn’t Get Any Stupider

In a recent e-mail exchange, a friend ended a conversation by noting “Just when you thought that the interwebs couldn’t get any stupider . . . ”

But, of course, we both know that the interwebs will invariably generate something even stupider at some point, and we will invariably spend way too much time looking at it and laughing. I know this for a fact, because having been online since the early ’90s, I’ve watched a lot of entertaining internet stupidity over the years.

My friend’s comment got me to pondering some of my favorites from way back when, before instant indexing and social media and simple blogging software and organized web portals made it relatively easy for things to go viral and gain large, instant audiences. Once upon a time, you had to look to find the stupid online, and it was totally worth it when you found it, since you’d really earned the right to giggle like an idiot.

So here are a dozen of my favorite classic time-wasters, in various flavors and shades of stupid or sublime, from those earlier days of the world wide web:

zombo.com: (Sound required). From around 1999, and still possibly the greatest website ever, because you can do anything there!

Alkulukuja Paskova Karhu : (Sound required, mild language warning). Is there’s a better way to teach kids about this particular aspect of mathematics? I do not believe that there is.

snarg: (Sound required). This goes back to about 1995 or 1996, and it is one of the first things I saw online that made me thing that the internet could actually serve as a platform for creating legitimate art. Click around and explore: there’s a synthesizer so you can adjust the music, lots of cool popups and pretty images, and a hidden message board so you can let folks know you were there.

Frog in a Blender: (Sound required). I’m guessing this is among the most well-known items in my list, since it was one of the first interactive Flash animations that was widely shared online at the time, and it launched the Joe Cartoon brand. Still funny. Still wrong.

Annoy the Little Man: (Sound required). This originally appeared on futile.com, which was an amazing portal of time-wasting internet stupidity back in the day, where the Little Man was joined by other pointless gems, like Squish the Bug. I should probably be embarrassed to admit how many times I annoyed the Little Man and squished the bug. Heh heh. Heh. Heh heh heh.

The Stinky Meat Project : Answers the immortal question: “What happens if I leave some hot dogs, a steak, and some hamburger in my neighbor’s back yard for a couple of weeks?”

hell.com : The original website is no longer online or available, so I’ve linked to the Wikipedia article about it instead. What happened at hell.com? Absolutely nothing, for years and years and years. But there was just enough interactivity, and just enough text about membership and secret stuff, that it made you feel like if only you could find the right combination of clicks, you’d enter some amazing Internet Kingdom of the Damned. But you couldn’t, and it didn’t, though you kept on trying . . . for years and years and years . . .

Superbad : One of the first sites that specialized in massive cross-linking of seemingly unrelated images and texts, creating something of an art statement that was greater than the sum of its parts. I kept trying to get to the end of it, and am not sure I ever did.

Applied Solipsism Campaign : Website banners were a hot thing online for a few years. These were the only ones that I flew on my websites, much to my own amusement.

Flame Warriors : I watched the database of Flame Warriors being compiled in real time, one warrior at a time, many of them suggested by readers. The concept was originally themed around online message boards and forums, but it applies just as well to today’s unmoderated blog comment pages.

Tolkien Sarcasm Page : If you understand why this is hilarious, then you are a dork. Welcome to the club.

We Like the Moon: (Sound required). The Spongmonkeys are terrifying and cute in equal measure, and their little song about some of their favorite things is a weird masterpiece.