I started blogging in 2002, hanging out my own shingle on blogspot. I
did it primarily as a belated response to the trauma of 9-11: I had
been emailing news items to a variety of friends and family with an
obsessiveness that nearly deserved a DSM number, and one of them finally
told me I should stop emailing him and start a blog if I felt compelled
to tell everyone what I thought. So, against my wife’s explicit
instructions, I did.
And I loved it, right from the get-go. The thrill of instant response
to what I said was a perfect fit for my latent writerly ambitions for
recognition and my Wall Streeter’s inherent attention deficits. I would
write, I would press “publish,” and someone out there would respond.
But that response wasn’t merely gratifying or instructive; it shaped
what I wrote, shaped the persona (a better word than “self”) that I was
developing on-line. My style, my subject matter, my politics, my sense
of who I was and was meant to be evolved in part based on what got
positive reinforcement and what didn’t, even though I wasn’t being paid
anything at all. A gift economy is still an economy, and there’s nothing
particularly pure about non-commercial social discourse. “No man but a
blockhead ever wrote except for money” – so said Sam Johnson, but in
fact the truer statement is that no man but a blockhead ever tried to
earn money by writing. When it comes to money, Willy Sutton had a much
better understanding. So all of us writers, whatever our medium, write
out of some other compulsion than to earn a living. And to the extent
that that compulsion has something to do with having readers, we have to
watch the progress of our addiction, how it is changing us.
“A gift economy is still an economy,” and the blogosphere may not even be that. The networks of exchange are complex and still imperfectly understood.