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Online Writing

June 24, 2008

Reading a short Slate piece this morning directed me to this essay on online writing/reading by Caleb Crain. Much of this essay addresses my own concerns and mirrors some of my own reflections on the topic (and I too have a personal blog that is rarely read, but serves as the inspiration for much of these reflections).

The observation here is particularly astute (or at least accurate to my own situation):

This willingness in readers to overlook form raises a question as to whether online writing entertains, in the traditional sense of the word. I am not sure that it does. Reading online does not seem to me to be a pleasure in itself but a response to irritation. That is, it is not like eating an ice cream cone; it is like scratching an itch. I am only reporting on my own feelings here, of course, but while I am doing so, let me report a further kink in them. Between us, my boyfriend and I subscribe to more than a dozen magazines, and if I pick one up, I know instantly that I am goofing off. Online reading, however, fails to set off my leisure detection system. Part of the failure may be perceptual—online reading takes place while I’m sitting in front of my laptop, immobilized, as I am when working. But I think, too, that online writing may, even in its supposedly silly moments, be covertly work-like: there is a fair amount of tedium in its unedited prose. Many of the jokes and references are only comprehensible to regular visitors. No one, my hit counter tells me, reads blogs on the weekend. And reading online prose is not refreshing. An action movie leaves the viewer juiced; a novel may leave the reader wistful. But reading blogs, in my experience, leaves me more addled and nervous than when I began. This work-like character makes the internet particularly corrosive , by the way, to the productivity of those who work at home, such as writers. Through web browsing, the freelancer communes with the procrastinating office drone—at his peril, because the freelancer receives no weekly paycheck.

This workiness is exaggerated in those who, like me, maintain personal blogs and work blogs. It confuses the line between work-related reading/writing and funtime-related reading/writing. Work becomes more enjoyable but leisure becomes more work-like blending together into seamless tedium. This is probably a situation not too far different than lifetime readers who pursue graduate literature degrees, but perhaps more detrimental in the way Crain describes above, the PhD student, afterall, can use leisurely reading in future research.

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4 comments

  1. That was awesome.

    I am currently at work, without enough to do, reading blogs and news, and I was Just thinking about how irritating it is.


  2. You know, I’ve never really looked at online reading as fun or otherwise. Mainly, I’ve always read articles online mostly for education and information. I use it for researching information for articles or papers and even for my own personal questions. I never really thought of reading online writing as entertaining. This is a good point you’ve raised. And I think I’ll be more aware now of what I’m reading and why I’m reading it.

    http://fresh-web-content.com


  3. I’m working on getting an article I wrote on masculinity and 19th century American lit publish right now, and Caleb Crain is one of my main sources. He is a masculinity studies super star.


  4. I look at blog reading more as entertainment. Sure, I often learn something, but then that is true of any book I read (and even articles in magazines). I think it helps that the blogs I read are mostly written by friends and I enjoy their writing styles and personal quirks. However, I do read some blogs by people I don’t know. If the topic doesn’t interest me, I skip it so it doesn’t become work. If I’m interested, I’m enganged, and therefore it’s fun to me.



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