It is the year 2020. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok exist, and can provide you with endless amounts of distraction. You can watch news on the TV or read “professional” magazines like the New York Times or the Washington Post. Alternatively, you can mindlessly browse YouTube for ages (or even mindfully, there are some pretty good channels).
So why would anyone read a blog? Worse yet, why would anyone start blogging?
I do not know why you are reading this (although I do have my suspicions), but here is why I decided to write long-form:
Much of what we do is inherently selfish. It has to be. We might try to pretend it is not, but that is part of the game. If this is the case, does blogging then bring me any real, tangible benefits? I believe it does. First, writing organizes my thoughts. Throughout the days and weeks I think stuff, as everyone does. The nature of these thoughts is very ethereal; they exist only as fleeting things in my head. After a time, I may forget parts of them. Not only are they momentary; they also give me a false sense of security, of thinking I understand a subject when that understanding is really oftentimes only superficial. Writing changes this. Specifically, trying to put into words the things that go on in my head changes them. If you ever had one of those crystal growing kits, writing is a bit like that. The minerals floating in the liquid solution slowly take form and harden into a pretty crystal. Growing the crystal is a slow, long process, but in the end you have something hard and definite.
Writing is like that. You take the soup of thoughts that is in your head and you give it real, tangible form. There is of course some loss in this process: much like the water that evaporates when growing a crystal, not all of your thoughts-soup makes it on paper. What you write has to be coherent, it must conform to the limitations of vocabulary and language, and it should present a story and make sense to your audience, even if that audience is just the future you. Still, it is a worthwhile effort. After a few years of doing it, you may have shelves of pretty crystals that you can take a look at whenever you like. Think of it as expanding the Random Access Memory of your brain: you store a specific mental state of your brain as a corpus of words, and can retrieve it anytime later with minimal effort. Understanding a subject takes effort, and if you can write down that understanding, then you can later retrieve it and be mostly up to speed in 10-20 minutes.
Writing also forces you to be honest with yourself. When all you have is that floaty thought-soup in your head, well, most of us get lazy. You don’t really have to examine every thought from every angle and think it through until the end; you can just be happy with it existing. The thoughts are kind of just… there. But when you are forced to write them down, you need to think those thoughts through. The written word is demanding; it wants to make sense. You can’t just write down incoherent blabber because you risk looking bad in front of your audience. Again, even if that's just the future you. When writing something you are making yourself vulnerable and opening yourself up to criticism (this goes in general for any creative endeavour). It is only natural to preemptively defend yourself from that criticism. How do you do that? By thinking your thoughts through. To the end. By actually learning and understanding the subject you are writing about. You don’t want to show the world a shitty thought; you want to be proud of what you put out there. Writing, then, not only forces you to order your existing thoughts, but it forces you to expand upon them and to consider them from every angle. Here’s a quote by the creator of LaTeX that I feel aptly summarizes my thoughts: “Writing is nature's way of telling us how lousy our thinking is.” - Leslie Lamport.
So writing helps me think, it helps me remember later what I have thought, and it helps me learn more about a subject I want to write about. What else did ~the romans~ writing ever do for us?
There’s another way in which writing can be selfishly useful, and that is value signaling. If you publish what you write for the greater public, people can see it. If people can see it, they can judge it. If they can judge it, they can judge it positively. This can benefit you in many ways. It can lead to connections with really cool people (e.g. the story of Tim Urban and Elon Musk), it can help to build vaguer connections with lots of people (also called ‘building an audience’), it can help back your CV next time you apply for a job. Blogging, really, is the act of making your thoughts a publicly available good. It can be scary, but if you don’t do it you’re potentially missing out.
Sometimes we like to be altruistic. There is some evidence that humans aren’t just completely selfish actors set on propagating their genes. Regardless, I’d recommend to tend to act in an unselfish manner for the simple (selfish) reason that it usually makes one happier. It’s nice to help someone else, even if we are only boosting our own ego. So can blogging benefit the greater community? Yeah, sure. Some people don’t think so, they believe there’s already too much garbage and spam on the internet, and that adding their own would just worsen the issue. They don’t think their content is worthy or “good enough” to be added to the ranks of public knowledge.
I disagree. I think there is a lack of authentic, non-promotional, personal content. Yes there is bloat, but its marketing bloat. Furthermore, modern search engines are pretty good at sifting through the mud. If what you write is shit, don’t worry: no one will see it. You aren’t harming anyone by posting it publicly. But odds are it won’t be shit. Odds are it will be useful to someone. I certainly wish the internet was more personal and less corporate. I love reading blogposts. It makes me feel as if I am listening to an actual person, and not some invasive marketing automata. We all have diverse thoughts, backgrounds and journeys through life. Blogging can be a way to give back and add to the pile of knowledge and culture that makes up our society. Brains are hyper complex machines that take a lot of resources to get developed (20~ years of education) and to function (daily food, housing, entertainment, etc…). It seems a waste to let all of the brains outputs vanish into the ether. Even if you don’t get famous or reach a wide audience: some of what you think will be recorded and added to the pile of human knowledge.
Isn’t that a nice image?