“I am not proud of the fact that some of my e-mail goes unanswered as a result. It is never my intention to be rude or to give well-meaning readers the cold shoulder. If I were a commercial best-seller, I would have enough money to hire a staff to look after my correspondence. As it is, my books are bought by enough people to provide me with a sort of middle-class lifestyle, but not enough to hire employees, and so I am faced with a stark choice between being a bad correspondent and being a good novelist. I am trying to be a good novelist, and hoping that people will forgive me for being a bad correspondent.” – Neal Stephenson, Bad Correspondent
If only I could get away with that.
The fundamental problem Stephenson is referring to, as Linda Stone would presumably confirm, is time. Whatever the productivity system employed – from FIFO to Getting Things Done – the single, immutable fact is that replying to correspondence takes time. And time, as Emerson in turn would almost certainly confirm, is that most precious of commodities: unlike money, once spent, it can never be recaptured.
Time is on my mind for a number of reasons these days, not least because of the whispers I keep hearing that “blogging” is “dead.” The world’s moved on, it’s said, and blogging and the protocol(s) that enable it are the dinosaurs to Twitter et al’s mammals. Implied in such statements, of course, is that blogs are being done in by time, or more accurately, the lack thereof. Blogging aggregators/readers have not been spared, and are being taken out to the woodshed by the very people that write the software.
So is it true? Are Twitter and its 140 character counterparts making the previously vibrant blogging ecosystem anoxic by consuming its oxygen equivalent more efficiently?
Sorry, I’m not buying it. Maybe I should: I consume fewer blogs than I once did, due in part to the siren call of Twitter. And I suppose it could be something of a conflict of interest to protest claims of a particular mediums death…on that medium.
Still, like a bad B movie villain, the long form, as Tim refers to it, just refuses to die. And why should it? The simple, inescapable truth is that certain conversations require more space – more time – than others. I can tell you where I’m having lunch in 140 characters. I might even be able to give you a decent review of the venue. But I cannot break down the intricasies of a large Oracle/Sun merger/acquisition in a Twitter-sized chunk; for that I need
a few several thousand words.
What we’re moving towards, I think, is a more balanced vision of information consumption, in which a full spectrum of content from War and Peace to SMS will be recognized as valid forms of expression, each with respective strengths and weaknesses. Just as blogging was a reaction, in many respects, to the publishing trends that preceded it, so too was Twitter an evolution of blogging; hence the “microblogging” description. Twitter has pushed the boundaries of the short form, and in so doing, proven a market.
What it has not done is obviated the need for the forms that preceded it.
Each of us must establish our own balance with respect to our information consumption; the Stephenson’s of the world will ignore email in service of a larger goal, while us mortals will assemble our own systems for managing our input driven in part by how we’d like to consume but mostly by how we have to. None of these systems will be perfect, of course, because there is simply too much information. Efficiencies and coping strategies can only do so much; as some of us move to newer mediums in search of lower volume – say from email to Facebook – in time the newer medium will come to resemble the old, and then we’ll be off for greener pastures.
None of this, however, is likely to be zero sum. Twitter might impact the time I spent reading and writing blogs, but it certainly doesn’t absorb all of it. Because at the end of the day, it’s just a different tool for a different job, and quite often, that job is pointing to someone’s blog.
Tim said this last week:
Here’s one thing I’m sure of: there is no danger of all human discourse converging on the short, medium, or long form.
I agree. In a world in which disruption is the rule and the clock is always ticking, short, medium and long forms will persist, if only because they must. The market sizes for each will vary, depending on the time we’re collectively able and willing to invest, but I’m certain there will be markets for each.