by Parth Pandya
The year was 2004 and I had launched my personal blog titled ‘Solilowkey’. Now that I think back to it, I can’t put my finger on what prompted me to enter the world of blogging. I had been an accidental writer through my school and college years but there never was a fixed outlet for all my work. I had the frequent daydream of being a successful writer whose books would adorn the shelves of bookstores and who would read from his books to spellbound listeners. However, there was no intent to pursue that dream. The blog was a certainly a new outlet but without a particular focus.
Blogging was an accidental discovery but it turned out to be a fortuitous one. I started writing more regularly than I had in a long time. Short stories, poems, commentary on all things I cared about, translation of ghazals – they all made an appearance on those virtual pages. For someone who had not kept a private diary, I was now maintaining a public one.
The beauty of the blog wasn’t just that I was writing. It was that I was now engaging with readers. Since there were no other means of promoting the blog (social networking sites were non-existent then), the people who came to the site were the ones who stumbled upon it. And they read. And stayed. And commented. Through these interactions and my own process of stumbling upon other blogs, I slowly formed a network of bloggers. These were strangers who were hiding behind online identities. Our only knowledge of each other were through the words we had shared. In some cases, the barriers of the anonymity were breached and I made new friends. The kind whom I had not met in real life but whose essence I had become familiar with through their words. For what else is writing but a conscious effort to bare your soul.
Blogging was new. Blogging was attractive. And blogging allowed for discovery. The internet was growing by the day but without the presence of social networking, people relied on e-mail and instant messaging solutions to communicate with one another. In short, the distractions were limited.
Some Indian bloggers that I knew turned my daydream into their reality. By being diligent about blogging and offering interesting content, they started building a following that would far exceed amateur bloggers like me. Bloggers like Arnab Ray (of the Great Bong fame) would go on to publish books, fuelled by a recognition that his blog had allowed him.
While they had been launched in 2004, Orkut and Facebook started really catching on as the decade was coming to a close. A new form of dopamine was unleashed on this world. Suddenly, everyone’s basic desire to be connected intimately to the lives of others came true. The possibilities were infinite. You could spend hours trying to hunt down the people you have lost touch with. For others, the engagement was passive and yet time-consuming. The age of the smartphone also meant that this addiction was fed during every waking moment. If this was not enough, a low bandwidth messaging solution called WhatsApp also invaded this space. And let’s not leave out the democratisation of video content through YouTube.
Suddenly, the world was in your pocket and was refusing to leave. The reading habits of people changed slowly but surely. This might not have been a conscious choice but with a finite amount of time at hand, something had to be nudged out for a new way of life to take its place. When I reflect on my own habits, I realise that I went from being a voracious reader of both online and offline content to spending an enormous amount of time on social networking sites.
I was posting on my blog with the same frequency but fewer people were reading it. Bit by bit, the other bloggers I knew started exiting the medium. Their rationale was very similar. No one ever came. No one ever read. The conversation with the readers which was one of the more enticing parts of the experience was vanishing.
Only the top thrived and prospered and they did so by bringing their blogs to the newer platforms. They would have active Facebook profiles and would share their blog posts there. In turn, like a rolling stone, good articles would get picked up and passed around. For the rest of us, it was down to watching cat videos and liking pictures of each other on Facebook.
Fast forward a few years and we are now squarely in the world of dwindling attention spans and increased distractions. The same social networking tools that were once in their stages of inception now have tentacles that reach deep into any empty moment that poor humans might have. You would know this if you have ever received every forward ever in your family WhatsApp group, or an ongoing thread on Twitter that you can’t get out of, or those pictures on Instagram by your favourite celebrities who simply can’t stop posting, or those pesky Facebook user targeting algorithms that hook you with exactly the things you ‘need’ to read.
In this new world, the blogger is fighting a losing battle. A well-written short story never has a chance, being buried in the avalanche of everything that sits atop a pile waiting for attention. Even the type of writing that grabs eyeballs has differed. WhatsApp is primarily driven by misinformed forwards and GIFs containing good morning wishes. Facebook is littered with short Instagram style posts focusing on humour. Even the long form of writing is mostly governed by your echo chamber. Outrage writing or deeply personal stories make the top of that list. A blogger would now have to truly put their writing explicitly in front of the readers to get eyeballs.
I deal with this issue personally. When I publish my short stories and share them on Facebook, I often post and re-post it because I have little faith in Facebook’s algorithm to show this to the end user. Often times, I actually (against every fibre of my being) send these articles in instant messages to my reader to get them to pay attention.
Blogging is dead. The age of serendipitous friendships between bloggers is passing. The blogger as we know it needs reinvention, or risk being irrelevant in a world that increasingly values short and vapid things to read.