The Blog as Emerging, Evolving Genre

M. Gallagher's picture

The Blog as Emerging, Evolving Genre

In the final portion of Anne Dalke's Emerging Genres class, we have been discussing the weblog, or blog. As both a long-term reader and practitioner, I have considered not only the theory pieces we have read, the meetings with Tri-co professors and bloggers (Tim Burke, Kate Thomas, Laura Blankenship, and Paul Grobstein so far) who have so graciously agreed to speak with our class, or the experiences of others in the class discussions, but also my years of experience to a greater extent than I normally do.

The internet is becoming an increasingly fundamental part of culture and daily life. I remember trolling the rudimentary World Wide Web in the mid-90s, a seven-year-old on a long-distance dial-up connection, born about the same time as Sir Tim Berners-Lee had created the first “web” at CERN. There was nothing particularly interesting for a young kid to peruse- not the wondrous graphics now available by Flash and Java, nor the endless types of media and founts of information- but my mother recently told me that she used to have to kick me off the computer because I was sending e-mails to my friend who lived across the street instead of just walking over to see him. But why would I walk when I could e-mail? I was fascinated with the connectivity and the ability to create an alternate persona. I feel that I am no exception to the general inclinations of not only my generation, but to many living in this century. I now access the internet everyday for e-mail, news, to do homework, to blog, even to renew library books. Hence, the current uses of the internet have increased far beyond “constructing knowledge and getting work done” (Miller) to parallel the actions of real life, or RL as the internet-savvy might say. This has resulted in a variety of web-constructs including basic text webpages, chatrooms, forums, and blogs which all parallel affiliations and interactions previously reserved for in-person communication.

As blogs are so new, only relatively new genre theory really takes into account their existence. Much of the recent work on genre theory indicates that genres are more accurately viewed as Darwinian models, which “come from somewhere and are transforming into something else” (Miller). While I have detailed some of my personal qualms with this analogy in my first paper for this class, I feel that it is a much more apt analogy for the perspective needed to view the genre of the blog. The Darwinian approach sees genres which evolve as being particularly “fitting” for the specific social space-time, or kairos. The blog was an obvious corollary from the public's fixation on “capturing the rhythms of ordinary life” (Miller) that was running rampant in the late 1990s, along with the expanding role the internet was playing in daily life. The blog “speciated” from a variety of dissonant ancestors, but once it had taken hold, its popularity grew rapidly (as is a particular feature of technological fads), showing that it was particularly “fitting” for its own kairos (Miller). The blog had a niche, and it was serving, if nothing else, as a forum for the “Incredible Shrinking Public Sphere” that had lost a foothold in the course of real life (Thomas).

However, a blog can serve a multitude of functions, some of which are: archiving, community-building, personal communication, soapbox, or as an information source. There are blogs on everything from politics to knitting to how to be a better mother. Nowadays, a blog does not even have to be written; there are video blogs (vlogs), audio blogs (podcasts), and photo blogs! So, with this huge variety and constant metamorphosis, how on Earth can one know if they are even looking at a blog? As “Blogging as Social Action” states, “most commentators define blogs on the basis of their reverse chronology, frequent updating, and combination of links with personal commentary” (Miller). Also, as Sarah Boxer complains, there is “bloggy writing”. It is infused with links to a prior topic, which one must jump around in. The links are the primary source, the other half of the conversation, where the blog is only commentary upon topics in which the readers should have educate themselves. As she says, “Following links is like putting on 3-D glasses. Too bad there is no equivalent in print” (Boxer).

Even for the vlogs, photo blogs, and podcasts, the tone of blogs as “reactive, punchy, conversational, knowing, and free-associative,” holds true and comes from their origins as a list of links with associated commentary (Boxer). For the ease of this paper, the older tried-and-true text blog is referred to as the archetypal blog. However, with all this variation, the consideration of blog as a genre should be taken in a different context. With the new emerging life on the internet, blogs should be seen as a new material and structural form within which a text is composed, much like a book or magazine. They, like Boxer has said, are a new structure which cannot be mimicked in the classic printed word. Thus, the blog is a form which can further be specified into content (personal, political, etc.) and/or medium (vlog, text, photoblog, etc.) much like books can be detailed as comedy, drama, or a variety of other content-specific genres and/or form-centric genre qualifiers such as anthology, novel, etc.. This is reminiscent of claim made by Jessy some weeks ago, but unlike that claim, I do not move to say that genre should be completely stripped of its catch-all existence, serving only to define structure instead of content.

It seems to me that blogs, as many and varied as they can be, are a whole new emerging genre form. They have evolved from other forms of writing, with their own inherent “linkyness” which cannot be duplicated in the old print structures. The genre of blog as a new structure is predicated hugely upon the expanding egalitarian world-culture of the internet where communities are formed ad hoc, memes are spread like wildfire, and immediacy is the ultimate currency.

Works Cited

Boxer, Sarah. “Blogs.” The New York Review of Books. 14 February 2008. 27 April 2008. <http://www.nybooks.com/articles/21013>.

 

Miller, Carolyn R. and Shepherd, Dawn. “Blogging as Social Action: A Genre Analysis of the Weblog.” Into the Blogosphere. 30 November 2004. 27 April 2008. <http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere/blogging_as_social_action_a_genre_analysis_of_the_weblog.html>.


Thomas, Kate. A Conversation. Emerging Genres Class. Dalton Hall, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA. 17 April 2008.

Comments

Anne Dalke's picture

Exploring Meatspace

M.-
What strikes me first, here, is the willingness you signal, in the first paragraph of this essay, to speak not only from the readings and conversings in our class, but "also from your years to experience, to a greater extent than you normally do." Central to this grand experiment that is the internet, and to the sub-set of it we are calling blogs, is its promotion of the idea that "everybody is involved in interactively creating intellectual exchange," so it heartens me to see you claiming your own authority in what you call this "expanding egalitarian world-culture"

....though as the paper goes on, you claim less of this than I expected (or would have liked). Would you like to do more of this in your final project, really draw more explicitly on your experience to explore the consequences--for psychological development? for education?--of this new "linky" thing that you so savor?

If you are inclined to go in this direction, one spot where I might push you is in your claim that "only relatively new genre theory really takes into account the existence of blogs." Theory-old theory/good theory/theory that works, that is--can perform new tricks, on new forms. In fact, the question that motivated this last portion of our course was precisely this: whether such theory might help us understand blogs--and whether blogs might help revise such theory.

In this regard, I'm of course quite curious to understand better the revision of your initial qualms about the Darwinian analogy of genre as "particularly fitting" for its specific social space-time, "speciating" from its variety of dissonant ancestors, and finding a contemporary "niche" as a "new material and structural form." I don't undestand why you think the analogy works for blogs, but not for novels (or any of the other genres we've looked at).

Ditto your claim (lifted from Boxer) that it's "too bad that there is no equivalent to following links in print," that blogs have an "inherent linkyness which cannot be duplicated in the old print structures." I would say that we have been linking for centuries; on-line links are simply updated-technologically snazzy-footnotes. The old process was slower (go to the bottom of the page and write down the citation; go to the library and look it up; go to the stacks and get the book; open the book and read it...) but it's the same activity (or do you think not?).

Perhaps of interest along these lines...a couple of years ago, I had quite an on-line quarrel with an activist (it's probably significant that she's not an academic) who objected heartily to the linkyness of my on-line writing: she found it too "embedded" in my RL experiences, and for her it functioned as a "gatekeeper," inhibiting her from participating in the discussion. She asked whether--"in the spirit of enlarging the circle of conversation"--we could "just talk in present time to each other."

This raised the question for me of why I include so many links in my on-line writing: I think primarily as a record for myself of how I got where I am, secondly as an ethical matter (giving credit where it's due); and lastly, as an inherent "teacherly" gesture, thinking that someone dropping in on the conversation might find it helpful to go back to the beginning, or to read something adjacent. That said, what I like about the internet is that each of us is our own filter; each of us gets to decide for ourselves how much we want to take in. No teacher's deciding for us what each of us should be reading. You are free to follow a link, or not....

So follow this one. I hear that the "internet-savvy" no longer say, as you said, "RL"; now it's meatspace. See why? Like it? Will you use it?

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