It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged, so I think it’s fair to say that I am on some kind of hiatus for a while over here at ErikaChristakis.com, and perhaps more generally in the digital world. But before I turn off the laptop and go jump in a cool waterfall, let me give you my (overwrought) story of the Rise and Fall and Reincarnation of my… electronic filing cabinet, aka blog.
It’s been a busy summer of change: I recently left Harvard in order to start a new position developing early childhood education curriculum at the Yale Child Study Center. (I’ve followed my husband, now a Yale professor, as has been my happy and fortuitous pattern for the last 26 years, but even absent the marriage tie, I would have leapt at the chance to work with some of the country’s leading policy makers, researchers, and clinicians. I’m really excited about this.)
And in the background of this change, the simple truth is that I have grown tired of blogging –both tired in the sense that I am, literally, fatigued by the demands on my time but also tired of the experiment of blogging.
I started my blog 18months ago with a very specific purpose. I wanted an ‘electronic filing cabinet’ for my work, and I wanted to practice the discipline of writing as frequently and quickly as possible. The blog grew initially from my connection to TIME.com; it was an obvious place to house my TIME.com posts, as well as the other work I was beginning to publish. I had imagined it a passive place – literally a filing cabinet – where a few people might wander for very specific purposes. It quickly became something more interesting: a place for dialogue, controversy, and excitement (for me, I mean, and possibly for a few others). My piece on “fair trade porn” generated 10,000 hits in one day, which is a lot – a LOT – for a plebian blogger like me, though a miniscule number for popular bloggers who might get that many visitors in ten minutes. Nothing was as popular as fair trade porn, but I did get many hundreds and sometimes thousands of unique visitors to my individual blog posts (in addition to the visitors to my columns at TIME.com and Huffington Post and elsewhere, I mean) – especially anything I wrote about mass murder, preschoolers, vaginas, or vampires.
More important to me, I found that at Harvard College (where, together with my professor husband, I served as co-House Master to a residential community of 400 undergrads) many of our students were reading the blog, and so it became a way for me to have a dialogue with the young people I cared deeply about on issues — such as free speech on campus or what it means to be a sexually responsible adult — that were often difficult to engage more directly. Students often sought me out to debate, to question, to rebut, to complain, to seek comfort, and even to express gratitude. It was an enormously humbling and energizing experience for me. Others – strangers to me – reached out, both on my blog itself and via email. Many were civil and helped me think more clearly, even when they disagreed vociferously with me. Still others – primarily a sub-set of the much larger population of angry commenters at TIME.com – found ways to torment and threaten me, none of it terribly seriously.
For a while, I got the blogging bug. I was really into it! I loved reacting to things. I liked being playful, serious, indignant, mischievous, sincere… I went wherever my mood took me. For a while I was never really at a loss for words (which is a different claim than the suggestion that I always had something worthwhile to say). I loved responding to topical issues, loved the chance to play with an idea on my blog and then send it out into the marginally more ‘real’ world of (mainly-online) journalism. I enjoyed doing the reverse, too, posting my published work in one place of my own (that ‘electric filing cabinet’ again). It was fun to have a kind of meta-dialogue about the comments and reactions to my writing in other places.
But the truth is: I wasn’t exactly setting the blogging world on fire. What attention I got (and I did get a little) came from my work elsewhere, not from my puny blog. Of course, having a big-ol’-blog was never my intent; and I did nothing – literally nothing – to make it happen. And, indeed: it did not happen. I didn’t link multiple times a day to orphaned elephant videos or unintentionally hilarious Fox news clips. I wasn’t even on Facebook, for crying out loud. I never learned to use twitter properly or how to tag my own stuff optimally (a failing of mine, this affectation of incompetence). My blog was visually unappealing, uninspired. I was blogging for my own reasons. You have to believe me! Yet… yet… I won’t deny that at some point, the possibility of having some actual influence did begin to creep into the equation. I’ll admit I was genuinely pleased – flattered, I won’t deny it – that an important public thinker like Andrew Sullivan mentioned several of my TIME.com pieces and even, once, linked directly to my blog, ErikaChristakis.com.
So I was learning to write quickly, which is useful, and exploring themes that might (and did) serve me well in other arenas, but the truth is that as a personal vanity project, my blog was offering very little to an already bloated-beyond-belief marketplace of ideas. Which was fine until… gradually, and then suddenly, it became a little less fine. Blogging (or, rather, trying to keep up with blogging) became a bit of a drag and even a bit of an embarrassment. And while I was fretting increasingly about this, something wonderfully distracting came along, a move to Yale University and the chance to be, once again, and not just write about being, an early childhood educator.
All I’m saying is that for someone who isn’t, actually, a professional journalist or a runaway blogging success working QVC deals and Colbert appearances, there are real downsides to the narcissistic act of conjuring whatever ‘on trend’ (or not) topic strikes one’s fancy in a constellation of non-linear, reflexive, and not fully realized chunks lacking any kind of narrative arc and directed to a smallish audience of largely unknown people who may just as likely as not be terribly uninterested in what one is writing passionately about. And this little summation doesn’t even begin to capture all the mental space occupied by mere potential blogging – the untold snippets of good ideas and half-baked outrages and rough diamond witticisms swirling in my head 24/7, trapped in my head, I should say – that I could have/should have/might have/wished had written when really – LET’S BE TOTALLY HONEST HERE – I knew all along – all along! — I would be better off (by any measure you want to suggest: professional, fiduciary, familial, intellectual, emotional) just sticking to what is quaintly, and in my case inaccurately, referred to as my ‘day job.’
Sigh… Which brings me back to the “electronic filing cabinet.” I actually do think there are merits to keeping an electronic filing cabinet for my work. I actually do intend to keep writing, in some form or another. I actually do want a place to collect the work I publish elsewhere, or the very few thoughts I really think are worth posting de novo, or the links to talks, videos, presentations related to my professional life as an early childhood educator (or perhaps even the ones featuring me as an early childhood educator.)
In short: I need a website, like everyone else. I just don’t think I need a failed quest to produce a newsbreakingly clever and self-referentially up-to-the-moment BLOG. For anyone under age 40, this distinction may not even make sense. I know, I know. Let’s just not make any further predictions, shall we, and see where this all may lead.
Cheers, everyone. As always, thanks for stopping by. Until we meet again…