Tuesday, November 25, 2008
"They have been at a great feast of languages, and have stolen the scraps."
Love's Labour's Lost
The New Republic features a review of a history of scrapbooks in America. In the Table of Contents the topic didn't initially draw my interest, but I found myself reading it and am glad that I did. Like many hands-on pursuits, the endeavor may have waned in recent years, but it has a wider history and extent than I was aware of. I never did keep a scrapbook per se, although I have been an inveterate collector of various things, this side of hoarding I hope.
The article brought to mind the strange hybrid identity of the weblog, even though I was surprised that the author didn't make the obvious connection to blogging. People blog for myriad reasons, of course, including the advancement of political points of view, academic arguments, or quasi-professional self-expression or activism. And the blog has features of a public, or in the case of anonymous bloggers, semi-public, journal, that is, a record of personal events or observations.
But blogs also often serve as digital scrapbooks, asserting both general value and individuality, often in non-verbal ways. Both blogs and scrapbooks take what may seem to be personal or cultural ephemera (in one case, digital, in the other, paper) and lend them some permanence. Some are more personal and some are more generally cultural, but all are declarations to the world: "I am a person; this is what I care about." The implication is usually, as Mr. Rogers might say, "Wouldn't you like to care about it too?" It has been said that most writing, most art in general, bears an element of seduction, in a sense far more broad and subtle than the erotic. As a hybrid journal/scrapbook, the blog is like this too, reaching out and documenting items that are somehow poignant, compelling, or lovely, and expressing the hope that someone else out there will agree.
In terms of style, few things in a blog are incidental or accidental. Given the finite number of templates available (for those of us too cheap or time-pressed to use custom platforms), I am continually amazed by the diversity of verbal and pictorial worlds in the blogosphere. The basic template; the ratio of text to image; the tone, frequency, and content of posts all convey an unmistakeable individuality (even if pseudonymous). Even a blog that, like a therapist's office, might aspire to seem "neutral" would in fact convey far more. Of course, some blogs are endearing, some plain, some downright offputting.
The amazing thing is how the Internet has leveled psychological barriers to self-exposure. How many people would walk down the street asking random people to look at their journal or scrapbook? Not many, but the blogosphere is a virtual street in which those "random" people are in fact in search of scrapbooks to look at. If ebay enables the exchange of merchandise, and datings services enable relationships, the blogosphere enables a weird kind of communal digital scrapbook that both reflects and refracts the world in real time.