I started blogging in 2002, hanging out my own shingle on blogspot. I did it primarily as a belated response to the trauma of 9-11: I had been emailing news items to a variety of friends and family with an obsessiveness that nearly deserved a DSM number, and one of them finally told me I should stop emailing him and start a blog if I felt compelled to tell everyone what I thought. So, against my wife’s explicit instructions, I did.
And I loved it, right from the get-go. The thrill of instant response to what I said was a perfect fit for my latent writerly ambitions for recognition and my Wall Streeter’s inherent attention deficits. I would write, I would press “publish,” and someone out there would respond.
But that response wasn’t merely gratifying or instructive; it shaped what I wrote, shaped the persona (a better word than “self”) that I was developing on-line. My style, my subject matter, my politics, my sense of who I was and was meant to be evolved in part based on what got positive reinforcement and what didn’t, even though I wasn’t being paid anything at all. A gift economy is still an economy, and there’s nothing particularly pure about non-commercial social discourse. “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money” – so said Sam Johnson, but in fact the truer statement is that no man but a blockhead ever tried to earn money by writing. When it comes to money, Willy Sutton had a much better understanding. So all of us writers, whatever our medium, write out of some other compulsion than to earn a living. And to the extent that that compulsion has something to do with having readers, we have to watch the progress of our addiction, how it is changing us.
"A gift economy is still an economy," and the blogosphere may not even be that. The networks of exchange are complex and still imperfectly understood.