Monday, August 27, 2007


This the 100th post of this "blog," coming shortly after the 10,000th visitor graced its pages and eight months since its inception. Mere numbers, surely, but an opportunity to reflect briefly on the "blogging experience" - a self-referential self-indulgence of blogging that I largely find laughable and pathetic, but which at some point seems unavoidable.

1. Beware of starting a blog. It takes on "a life of its own" - like a small pet that needs little feeding at first, it grows and consumes more time, more energy, more food. And, given the investment that goes into nurturing it, it becomes increasingly difficult to kill it off. It seems to fight back against the idea. Creepy.

2. While for some the comments section is the essence of the blogging experience, I have found the site counter to be the distinctive feature of having a blog. It makes the experience of writing wholly distinct from that of publishing a book or article. With a book, you may wait months, even years for reviews to appear, and annually receive a royalty check which inevitably reveals that you sold enough copies to fill an egg carton. With a "hit" counter, you can discover daily (hourly, down to the minute!) how many visitors have read your scratchings, indeed, quite often which page they visited and exited, where they live, who they work for, what school they attend, what links they were unable to resist clicking. Perhaps most interestingly, you can discover how they found their way to you, many initially through a google search (who knew that people were "googling" you), and then increasing numbers through links from other websites. It is a "net," six and then twelve and then twenty-four degrees of separation. Like the head of the hydra, it seems to double with each hit.

3. I began without expectations, and was soon surprised how quickly one can be "discovered" on the web nowadays. I told no one about the blog, wanting to see whether it would ever be discovered or whether it would remain my dirty little secret. A few of my graduate students were onto me fairly soon (most early hits were in the D.C. area), and then a few early regulars. Once a few fellow political theory "bloggers" found out about the site, the traffic really picked up. The blog went from averaging six hits a day to somewhere in the middle double digits. The pace slows down on the weekend, presumably because people aren't killing time at work. My long recent post on my European travels was linked by Rod Dreher at "Crunchy Con" - and resulted in the biggest spike of traffic the blog has yet had. If you look on my weekly or monthly totals as of today, you'll notice that the two days following his posting make those bar graphs look a bit like... well, the New York skyline before 9/11.

4. Here's the intriguing part: I began this blog as a venue where I could post some of the seemingly innumerable writings that I do as part of my daily job, but which never otherwise find the light of day. You'll notice most of my early posts are versions of lectures, reviews, or papers that I was in the midst of completing. I was content with the idea of posting such writings as frequently - or as seldom - as they might be written. However, as the site traffic picked up, I began to feel some obligation to total strangers who took time out of their day to direct their browser to my site. I would feel a sense of remorse when several days would go by without a posting, and still they came, expecting - something - and going away, I imagined, disappointed or irked. And so, I began writing about whatever thoughts I was having - something I read in the paper, came across online, an absurdity or an amusement. Although my visitors were only computer addresses, I felt an obligation to satisfy their electronic journies to my electronic retreat, like a host being prepared for guests with fresh food and beverage and an invitation to tarry for a time.

5. To have a blog, then, is to begin to inhabit something of an alternative world, one that you think about more than several times a day, a medium which begins make demands upon your attention. It may even have the virtue of focusing the mind on minutae or incidents or reflections that might not have otherwise been noted. It is at once distracting and riveting.

6. I am not sure whether a blog causes one to magnify a concern (give it publicity) or encourages the concern to be magnified (you think about it a lot more because you have an easy venue). Some of you may, may, have noticed that I have this concern about peak oil. Yes, it's true. The blog has allowed me to express that concern a few dozen different ways. Is this a case in which the blog allows me to sound an alarm that would I would wish to sound regardless, or does recourse to a blog intensify the alarm that would otherwise have been more moderate? I'm inclined to think the former, as it was these growing concerns about our troubled future that, in significant part, contributed to my beginning this blog. But, I can't discount that it has had the effect of feeding the obsession. This may be an echo chamber in which the sounds are amplified rather than fade.

7. I regularly consider quitting, for all the previously stated reasons. I dislike and resent the sense of obligation to this faceless medium, yet I realize too that it affords a unique opportunity to extend what I have chosen (or was chosen to have) as my vocation. Additionally, it has had the not unpleasant incidental benefit of resulting in several interesting writing invitations that would otherwise not have arisen, including an invitation to write an appreciation about Kurt Vonnegut for the Claremont Review based on this post (and this, too), an invitation to respond in "First Things" to a truncated version of Harvey C. Mansfield's Jefferson Lecture as a result of this post, and, most recently - courtesy of Rod Dreher - the opportunity to have my "What I Saw in Europe" post appear in the pages of the Dallas Morning News. If my work involves the transmission of ideas to students nearby and readers afar, then this turns out to have been a form of good work.

I'll leave it there for now. Stay tuned for more navel gazing in post #200 - unless I quit first.


John Savage said...

Patrick, congratulations!

What you say about blogging is so true. The more you get appreciation, the more you feel like you owe to your audience. And it is spooky the kind of information that you get through the hit counter.

I think I found your blog in June from a mention on The American Scene, where someone was talking about crunchy conservatism. Yours is one of the best on that topic. When I started my blog, I expected to write more about that topic, but found myself hard-pressed to come up with anything as well-informed as some other bloggers on those topics.

Good to see your success, and I hope after Dreher's mention of you, that you'll get a lot more regular readers from the crunchy con community.

Caryl said...

Please don't quit, Patrick-your site is one of the best.
I too had (have) a blog ( From the Catacombs) and I know how consuming it can be. My concerns started with Peak Oil but metamorphosed into culture and Catholicism and in general the loss of discipline and capacity to build a future.
You might want to check out today's article in the Wall St. Journal about the difficulties of getting oil in Kazahstan (sp? - unfortunately I left my copy at work)- a basin full of hydrogen sulfide, climate challenges, huge and escalating costs. The article is full of little sentences that are meaningful to the Peak Oiler but which might be missed by the superficial reader. All this so we can run this death ship a few more years into the direction of Mordor?