The New York Times today reports that, among that elusive category of humanity known as “youth,” blogging is in serious decline. This is largely due to the ubiquity of social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which align perfectly with the attention spans of so-called “digital natives.”
As I noted on my own Facebook this morning, this report isn’t in the least bit troubling to me, because a) The Contrarian is a magazine, and b) I’m really, really old. Still, the data is telling:
The Internet and American Life Project at the Pew Research Center found that from 2006 to 2009, blogging among children ages 12 to 17 fell by half; now 14 percent of children those ages who use the Internet have blogs. Among 18-to-33-year-olds, the project said in a report last year, blogging dropped two percentage points in 2010 from two years earlier.
But where’s the story? Stats are always interesting, but this study basically confirms what everyone already knows. Kids don’t even use email, for fuck’s sake. They text. Or “sext,” as the case may be. Probably while driving. Is it any wonder that long-form rumination on the day’s issues are outside of their communications portfolio?
What is interesting to me is that those who persist in the now anachronistic art of blogging are likely writing about, you know, actual topics. This wasn’t necessarily the case circa 2007, when everyone in the Western world had a blog. Most of it was drivel, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the revolution in self-publishing was a whole lotta hype. Yet even this humble site, which arrived in 2006, was born of the mid-aughts blog boom. I’d like to think we’ve consistently published well-written and insightful material, but I’m biased.
Social networks are now where the action is in terms of the free exchange of ideas. Twitter is your news ticker, Facebook the place to bask in the glow of easy affirmation (or outrage). I do find it somewhat annoying, however, that people who may have previously been inclined to converse in our comments section now do so on the social networks where we post links to our articles. Clearly, people are bothering to read the stuff — the remarks on Facebook bear this out — but they don’t leave their thoughts in the “official” record that is this site. That skews the history of engagement on any given topic. Damn you, Zuckerberg!
It may be true that our information-saturated, networked lifestyles make it more difficult to absorb extended textual media. I think this is unfortunate. Staying informed and aware requires more effort than simply retweeting or clicking “like.” Video learning is great, but it’s no substitute for the rich context of the written word.
I’d like to think that all of these platforms can effectively coexist. But for us to truly benefit from the democratization of media, there needs to be diversity in longer-form reporting, criticism and analysis. At present, the technological overlords who bequeathed humanity with Facebooks, Twitters and Tumblrs are reaping the greatest reward, while consolidating and aggregating the bulk of exchanged information. This may be fun, but is it healthy? The production of quality media requires more than passion. It’s a commitment of time, and often treasure. Can infrastructure be balanced with investment? Is simply paying attention reward enough for the content producer?
Someday, the “youth” represented in this NYT story will grow up, at which point, they may begin making their own demands of the so-called “attention economy.”
And we’ll still be here, analyzing the outcome with way too many words.