I made my first public, written reference to COVID-19 on this website on March 14, 2020, as the world around us went to shit while Marcia and I were in the middle of a two-week vacation in Florida’s Tampa Bay region. Here’s what I wrote about it then:
While the weather here is lovely, and we’ve gotten lots of great walks in, being away from home as COVID-19 erupts and global markets collapse has been disconcerting, needless to say. Places that should be mobbed are quiet or closed, and public events that we might have considered are mostly cancelled. Which is good and right. We are practicing social distancing ourselves and monitoring the situation as best we can, keeping safe and smart, and listening to the experts, always. We hope that science and a sense of shared social responsibility carry the day(s) here, even as we worry about the volume of stupid that social media and some suspect politicians are already spewing right now.
Boy oh boy, in my worst imaginings, I would not have believed how much more stupid and socially irresponsible things could get on the pandemic front in the weeks and months that followed. Yeesh! But that’s probably a topic for a separate post, ideally one that I will write after the pandemic has run its course in the country. Hopefully before 2030 or so. Fingers crossed.
For the purposes of this post, I note that Marcia and I made it home safely after that trip to Florida (though our flight back was quite uncomfortable, as a woman seated directly in front of us seemed intent on coughing up not one, but both lungs, before we landed in Des Moines), and then, as so, so, so many others did, we went into a quarantine-mode lock-down that lasted for pretty much an entire year, until we received our Moderna vaccines in April and May of 2021. And as so, so, so many others did, we quickly adapted our lifestyles to accommodate the medical realities of the world around us, seeking amusements and entertainments that could be secured at home, or outside in spaces distant from other infectious human animals.
We resumed cooking most every meal at home, for starters, something we’d not really done since our earliest, poorest days together. We walked five miles or so every day that the weather allowed, dodging various blithering idiots in downtown Des Moines who seemed aggressively intent on getting in people’s faces, their own “freedoms and liberties” clearly trumping (no pun intended)(well, a little pun intended) other people’s desires for healthy self-preservation. We began watching television together every night, something that had been a once or twice a week activity, at most, before then. We began doing ZOOM meetings, with family members, work colleagues, and friends, desperate to have some human contact, even if of a choppy and annoying kind. And, of course, we started doing jigsaw puzzles, because even as counter-cultural and counter-intuitive as I like to be, there’s something to be said for joining the lowing herd in such a slow, methodical, time-killing pursuit.
For the record, we’re still cooking most of our meals at home, still walking five miles a day (though in much nicer surroundings), still watching a movie or TV show together most every night, still doing weekly ZOOM calls with Katelin and John, and still doing jigsaw puzzles. On that last front, we’re currently working on one of the hardest ones we’ve done together, from the excellent Rock Saws collection. It seemed like a good idea when I bought it, but Jeezum Krow, it’s certainly one of those where every piece looks pretty much exactly like every other piece, so it’s been slow going, as you can see:
On a personal front, with me being me, I also turned in early COVID days to writing on this website as a time-consuming project, and I ended up producing and publishing a far larger number of posts in 2020 than I had in all but a couple of years since I first got online in the early 1990s. While my 2021 output is not likely to quite match my 2020 levels, this year will still stand high on the list of my busiest website writing years. 2020 and 2021 are also going to be among my very highest reader traffic years ever, which communicates to me that loads of other folks were looking for diversions as they worked to kill time at home that they had not been planning to spend before the Anno Virum.
I note that I was not, at all, alone on that web writing front, and that it seemed to me that in the early days of the pandemic, there was a tremendous surge in the number of bloggers pooping out regular posts and updates, via rejuvenated websites (like mine) or brand new platforms created by people who suddenly had the time to create them. As I’ve written about several times over the years, I have a “love/hate” relationship with the WordPress platform on which I create things here, but I did find myself using its Reader function more than I ever had before, both to find gems among the plethora of new websites and blogs, and to pimp my own stuff to folks who might be new to the blogosphere, and who might benefit from or enjoy my piffle and tripe.
There were loads of “COVID Diary” type blogs in that profusion of new web content, as one would expect, and I have to admit that I assiduously avoided such content, as I didn’t need to wallow in others’ discomfort, when I was perfectly capable of wallowing in my own. But there were also a lot of great new websites covering a variety of non-COVID topics that emerged in the early days of the pandemic, as people who had long had or held ideas for websites finally found themselves with the time and inclination to create and share them, and I probably started following more excellent new websites in 2020 than I had in any prior year, ever.
I was motivated to write this post today by a growing realization that a lot of those early 2020 websites seem to have gone fallow and/or run their courses over the past few months. I suppose this could be a seasonal thing, where people are spending nice weather outdoors instead of clattering away at their computers. Or I suppose this could just a predictable manifestation of the fact that maintaining a blog-styled website over a long period of time can be quite a time suck, especially when writers don’t feel like they’re earning the hits and attention that they want and/or deserve. (Few of us do, for the record). But from a perhaps overly-optimistic standpoint, the dwindling of the COVID-era blogs might also be a leading indicator pointing to the fact that people are finally feeling like they (and we) are coming out of the back end of the virus’ global digestive tract, and that whatever benefits they (and we) got from the connections forged on COVID-era blogs are no longer necessary in the new dawn before us.
I don’t know which of these theories is the most accurate one (they’re not mutually exclusive, so I suppose it could be a combined function of all of them), but they do raise a slightly larger question about the continued role of and place for blogs online. I’m stubborn and patient on that front, and I’ve been doing what I do here for over 25 years now, pandemic or not, and am likely to continue doing so. (For the record, the first time the word “blog” appeared on my website was on September 7, 2000, when I wrote about how pleased I was to have a new word to describe what I had already been doing here for five years at that point). It has been nice to see something of a return to the “traditional” (if something so young can be so described) blog forms over the past 18 months, but also not surprising to see many of them petering out, since there were already plentiful “blogs are dead” communications to be found on the web well before the dawn of COVID.
Back in May of this year, as part of his own COVID-era effort to connect his community, fellow obsessive web-maniac Chuck Miller interviewed me as part of a ZOOM series he was hosting on his own website. It was great fun to catch up with an old friend from The 518 that way, and toward the end of the call, Chuck asked me to share my thoughts on the future of blogs. As I am now watching the COVID-era blog bloom beginning to fade and fall from its branches, that seems to me to be a good question for folks doing what I do here to consider with regard to their own online spaces. I free-wheeled my answer to Chuck’s unexpected question at the time, but since it’s something that I’d thought about before, I do think I hit some good and germane points about the nature of web community in my improvised answer. I transcribed it a few weeks later, and with some edits for style and grammar and accuracy, I reproduce that text below. Note that I have no intentions of giving up my platform in the foreseeable future, even as many others do so, but I do suspect that 2022 may be less busy here than 2020 and 2021 were. We shall see.
Here’s the text of my interview with Chuck, as perhaps a parting shot for the current era of web-living, and maybe as an ideal for living in the post-COVID website world:
In the early 2000s, when blogs were first emerging as a new writing paradigm, the sense was that they were going to change the world for the better, as their existence meant that there would no longer be any biased intermediaries between the public-facing media and the general public, allowing for unique and instant independent response to breaking stories and events, of both important and trivial natures.
And on the one hand, that belief was true, for a while anyway, but on the other hand, professional media outlets do have filters, editors, fact-checkers, things of that nature, (well, at least they’re supposed to, a lot of them don’t anymore, alas), and those things do add value to discourse, if for no other reason than precluding the propagation of lies and errors and propaganda.
When all was said and done, blogs certainly didn’t change the world for the better in many or any ways, and I think the blog realm was the place where a lot of contemporary “comment section” toxicity and anonymous sniping emerged into the realm of common online discourse. I saw that negative change emerge in the early days of blogs, well before it became standard behavior on Facebook or Twitter or other social media sites, so I think many people learned that such horrible behavior generated clicks and interest on the blogosphere, then took that paradigm to other social media platforms.
While the promise that blogging was going to change the world was hyperbolic, I do still think that the narrative over the past five years or so regarding the death of blogs was and remains equally over-stated at the opposite end of the argument. I believe there are enough people out there doing what I do here, on both commercial and non-commercial platforms, who have something interesting to say, and will continue to do so, and will continue to engage readers.
Whether we call our platforms “blogs” or “websites” at this point is kind of immaterial. I personally hardly ever use the word “blog” to define my virtual space anymore. I have a website under my own name that I update regularly, with various narrative elements and recurring features, and that domain is all there is to my personal output. So it’s not like you come to “jericsmith.com” and then get redirected to some separate blog, since the blog is the website in total, and vice versa.
In my case, I like to write, I do so habitually bordering on compulsively, and my website gives me a platform for that, regardless of what I or other people label that platform. I’ve been doing what I do here for so long, in internet terms, that it’s also allowed me to build a community. I have people who I consider to be dear friends who I’ve been writing for and communicating with for over a quarter-century, and I’ve never sat in the same physical space with many or most of them. I think that community-building aspect is quite valuable, and I don’t see it going away.
So I think there will remain, for the foreseeable future, spaces online where folks like me, and the people who read what folks like me write, perhaps also doing similar things on their own websites, will have platforms where such communities can continue to thrive. I’ve abandoned social media because it has become so toxic and shrill, and I know I’m not alone on that front, so I think that these blog-type platforms, whatever you choose to call them, can remain a viable place for community engagement without the hateful vacuity and biases that have come to define most social media sites.
It is what it is, and they are what they are, at bottom line, and I don’t really see any reason or rationale for stopping doing what I’m doing, so long as I get the positive reinforcement that some small cohort of folks find it valuable or interesting or whatever, and so long as I don’t bore myself with my own output.