Thursday, August 30, 2012

Are Climbing Blogs Getting Old? A Response

If you are into reading this kind of post, (and if you started reading this, you probably are, so too bad) you may have stumbled across a recent screed authored  by the irrepressible Andrew Bisharat, editor at Rock and Ice and self-styled iconoclast/gonzo journalist of the climbing world. It's titled "Are Climbing Blogs Getting Old?" and has some of the most peculiar writing of his since he wrote "Her name was Chiaki, she was the first girl I ever kissed back in third grade, and ever since then I have always had a certain fondness for Asian women." See this link for more on this topic.

Now Andrew and I have crossed keyboards on a few occasions but since I always find it edifying to review the work of a professional senior editor to see how I can improve as a writer, I have decided to wade in once more. Let us begin at the beginning. (I have censored the gratuitous obscenities that pepper this post. Check out the original if you need to feel the gritty urgency up close.) The original essay is all in bold.

"It seems like just yesterday that the usual pundits were filthy with glee in their wholesale conclusion that all print media was in decline and the almighty BLOG, the innumerable (if forgettable) voice of the everyman, was here to stay. But you know what? I can’t wait to read next year’s issue of ASCENT, and I’m bored to sh** by today’s climbing blogs."

Well then. I wondered who these "usual pundits" are? Why are we not forthcoming with names and duly cited filthily gleeful posts from said blog pundits? It was also good to know that "the innumerable (if forgettable) voice of the everyman was here to stay," except that innumerable refers to a plural of something, not a singular. I guess the proofreaders catch this kind of mistake at some point. I am confident by the way that this " innumerable  (if forgettable)  voice" would constitute a fair percentage of R&I subscribers (Full disclosure: I am one of them).

"I have a nice little directory of climbing websites, blogs and forums bookmarked in my Safari browser, and throughout the day I’ll click through them, ostensibly to see what’s shaking in the climbing world. Part of my job, after all, requires staying abreast to climbing news.

Safari browser. Smart. I use Chrome myself, not being much of an Apple fanboy,  Anyway, correct usage is "abreast of" not "abreast to" which sounds, well, a little more intimate than I want my readers to be. But continuing...

" But that’s not always what I’m doing when I scan through these sites. Often, increasingly, I’m procrastinating. Filling time. Essentially making, in the mostly heinously vapid way, flashes of color and words appear on my screen in order to stimulate my brain in some feeble, reptilian manner. The Internet is no different than a Vegas slot machine in that you can push a button over and over and randomly be rewarded for it when something interesting, funny or shocking appears on your screen. Jackpot! In labs, rats have been conditioned to neurotically press the same button just so long as it randomly dispenses a morsel of food one in a thousand times. I’m ashamed/appalled to admit to being no different than the rats, sometimes scanning 20 different sites in as quick as a minute and somehow having the stomach to do it again five minutes later. Perusing this the glut of content has become, for me, an entirely stultifying habit. "

Good to know my subscription is helping to pay for this work ethic. I wouldn't go so far as to be ashamed of this, though I wonder how it is possible to scan 20 sites "in as quick as a minute" (thinking we want "quickly" there). I am going to wait for uncut video to confirm. Maybe delete the "the" after "this" in the last sentence. Proceeding on to...

" I’m not alone. According to digitaltrends.com, the typical amount of time spent looking over the average webpage was less than a minute, but the average amount of time spent online per month totaled up at over 30 hours. So we’re spending lots of time looking at stuff we either don’t care about, or don’t have the attention spans to digest. It begs the question: what the f**k are we doing!? "

We are all probably wasting a lot of time on the Internet. It is incredibly popular and lots of us check in on websites from time to time. And at least there's a source for this factoid. Personally, I like to use www.onlinestatisticsijustmadeup.com but I am just a lazy blogger. However this thought does not "beg the question" as anyone who studies the phrase will realize. Questions that are begged are questions that are omitted/not asked altogether because the argument assumes they are true in the first place and hopes you won't notice. As in, writing a blog post about why blog posts suck begs the question, "Why am I writing a blog post in the first place?" And no, sprinkling our writing with F-bombs is not a gauge of seriousness or sincerity.

" The pro climber blogs are updated infrequently, and when they are, it’s with the same diarrhea explosion of photos and words from their past month of travel around the globe to climb the same routes people have been climbing for the last decade. Only now they are either down- or up-rating them … so, you know, it’s interesting. "


Now I have said kind of the same thing already, though it wasn't because I was just bored to s**t about it. On the positive side, at least the pro climber blogs are updated infrequently meaning we don't have to read them so much. But more to the point, why don't we see some names of these "diarrhea explosion" producers so they know what a real writer really thinks of them? Because sponsors might see that and get upset? Maybe just a little?

The so-called “issues” we face as climbers are endlessly recycled and spun through the blogosphere. The veracity and meaning of grades, environmental and first-ascent ethics, style of ascent, the role of media, access and so on. It’s the same two-bit opinions, inciting the same recurring “responses” to the first post, inciting yet more responses to the responses. Responses to the responses to the responses. BO-RING!

Oh right. "Issues," which is to say they are not issues but instead "two-bit opinions," that apparently result in the same old responses that are BO-RING! Where I come from that's called conversation and sometimes it's not very exciting, especially to someone who was once, according to his own account, mistaken for Chris Sharma. Other less enlightened people feel that these non-issues are important anyway. But on to the big one. 

The sites that are the most successful, though, are the ones that don’t actually have to come up with anything new, or even recycle the old stuff; they just need to be updated and any content at all will do just fine. These “aggregators” have it easier in that they don’t have to create their own idea/video/article—they can just post a link to someone else’s, maybe make a snarky little remark about it, and sit back and watch as the hits and comments come diarrhea-exploding in. (Diarrhea explosions and the Internet go hand in hand, according to an article I read somewhere on the Internet.)

So aggregators are the problem now. They aren't even creative on their own, like say, the writer of a climbing blog posting about why climbing blog posts suck. Now I am thinking to myself that there is only one major aggregator out there and I have been annoyed myself at times to see that site get more comments about a piece I wrote than my own site. But so what? Well then I remembered this post and wondered if this sentence pushed someone over the edge:

"I told myself I wouldn’t link to Rock & Ice until they made the font on their site more readable, but Alison Osius’ piece on her connection to Tony Scott, the acclaimed movie director who took his own life last weekend, is well worth reading:"

Which it was, by the way. Good work Alison! Maybe that really stung, to hear one's font criticized like that. (It looks like they may have changed it by the way) No wonder the phrase "diarrhea explosion" had to be deployed twice! Plus a funny (and maybe a bit snarky) reference to an article he read "somewhere on the Internet." LOLZ!

When WordPress and Blogspot et al. gave anyone with a computer and 15 free minutes the power to make their own pretty sweet-looking website, there was an explosion (diarrhea-esque, some say) of fun climbing-related blogs to check out. But then they all started repeating each other. Then they started trying to outdo each other. Everyone tried to be original by imitating what the other guy was doing.

I remember when you actually had to type a manuscript and send in real slides. So in a way, it is all too easy now. But speaking of diarrhea explosions (and having been the father of a small child, I know what they are really like), what's up with that recurring theme? 

For awhile, all this was cool—but then it started becoming too much. For the bloggers, it was too hard to always update. For the readers, it was too hard to read everything. Just too much of Ev-ery-thing. Too many people doing more and more and MORE of the same stuff that everyone else is already doing.

We originally created these blogs for freedom: the freedom of expression. Yet we can’t possibly keep up with technology’s pace. So whatever creative deliberation we hoped to derive from these amazing platforms to an easy audience has instead become overwhelmed by the burden of needing to constantly update them—with, by necessity, increasingly trivial, watery content. Success isn’t measured by originality, let alone quality, but rather by hits. It’s all about f**king LIKES and HITS!

Now, I feel like it’s all collapsing on itself. Half the climbing-related bookmarks in my browser haven’t been updated in months. The ones that have, are boring. 


This just in from the department of hasty generalizations. It's all "started becoming too much." Does this mean that it was  beginning to start to become too much or was it well on the way? When did it actually become too much? What is so watery and trivial? When did it become all about f**king LIKES and HITS!? We never actually find out.  The good news is that those stupid blogs aren't being updated frequently, meaning, by necessity, there is less of that increasingly trivial watery content to read. So we all WIN, right? 

It’s surprising to me to take a step back and remember how young the Internet is. And yet I can’t remember or envision my life without its own frightening shadow online. Facebook was cool, but now I’m sick of that, too. Do you know that Facebook has only been around for eight years? J.K. Rowling took nearly that long just to write the first Harry Potter book. How is it at all surprising that Facebook’s IPO tanked? What are you investing in? Like, dude, what the fuck were you thinking? These online juggernauts are unproven, all over-hyped trends. They’re hollow facades. Flimsy and easily replaceable every one.

Facebook has only been around for eight years and someone is actually sick of it? (Maybe that's why AB defriended me) Not a particularly original thought, that Facebook is a problem.  But we have all been there. I sympathize. "Like dude, what the f**ck" makes the fourth or fifth gratuitous F-bomb in this post.

Now comes the moment of "difficult" self-deprecating self-realization, a consistent feature of AB's writing that appears to be meant to disarm any hostile reactions to his rant.

"I write all of this with the complete and difficult self-awareness that I contribute just as much, if not more, to this problem as everyone else. Two-bit opinions are cheap, especially mine that I’ve written here. It’s easy to criticize or speak of “the Internet” as if it’s this abstract thing existing on some other plane, as if it’s some construct of the universe, as unchangeable and uncontrollable as the stars. But, let’s remember …

WE ARE THE INTERNET!

The Internet is us! We are the ones making it. If the Internet is boring, it’s because we are boring. If the Internet is wrong, it’s because we are wrong. If the majority of content on the Internet caters to that vile, vapid, easily-distracted reptilian side of our brains, it’s because we are vile, vapid and easily distracted."

Good news! We are boring, we are vile, we are vapid!  Never mind that some of us have a different view of human nature and its creative potential. But it will be OK because:

So really, this is less a criticism of what other people are doing, and more just my own cheap therapy. If I am bored by what these sites have to say, then why am I visiting them? I don’t have any good answer to that other than I wish I didn’t.

I’m always happiest away from my iPhone, e-mail and the never-ending stream of RSS feeds. There are many studies only now emerging that show just how much better, happier and more productive we are when we remove these new distractions from our lives
.

Many studies only now emerging? This is one of the "top ten" lazy journalistic generalizations. And I didn't just make that up. I saw it on a website somewhere. Get an intern and find some links for heaven's sake! Sources tell me that they are available. 

And apparently things are tough all over. The photo editor of Surfing, a journal that is all about critical depth and authenticity, has apparently channeled Walter Benjamin and mourns the loss of aura in digital photos. Now I read those magazines in the 1990s and as far as I can tell nothing has changed since then. Lots and lots of pictures of choice waves (maybe some bikinis) served up again and again to satisfy the craving of adolescent males of all ages. The formula was set a long time ago, and it works. Is it a bummer that everyone can do it now? Want to escape the sinking feeling that it all is weightless, meaningless? It's really simple, as it turns out because:

For me, that answer is always out climbing. To be out of reception and into a potentially deep, meaningful experience in the vertical world where I feel happiest and most engaged. To have my brain shut off and be absorbed in the movement of a hard route. That’s obvious. But the answer is also found, for me, sitting down in a quiet place and reading a book or quality magazine printed on real fucking paper. To be immersed in that contemplative experience of reading something that took someone a long time, even years, to write. To read something that wasn’t just diarrhea-explosioned out in between the pings of the e-mail, and the compulsive refreshing of the web browser.

To me, that’s where you get away from the madness.

All we have to do is get out of reception and be absorbed in the nature. Maybe read something written on "real f**king paper," not just "diarrhea-explosioned,something that took a long time to write, like a Harry Potter novel. Wait. Harry Potter? 

So after a series of syntax-challenged and insulting generalizations along with plenty of hasty swipes at the illiterati who have the gumption to  present their thoughts to the world without first checking in with Carbondale, it turns out we just have to go climbing?  Sounds good to me but could we have saved some time and some hurt feelings by cutting straight to that thought instead?

In the end, I know I learned a lot from reading this piece and I hope you did too.Here's one thought that comes to mind right away. To all of you who think you have what it takes to present your thoughts, your adventures, your ideas, even your dreams, all without the aid of a professional editor to show you how it should be done, I say Godspeed and good luck. You can't do much worse than the essay I have discussed above.





23 comments:

David Crothers said...

Nicely put, Peter.

Anonymous said...

additional irony in that AB posts this when a) Rock & Ice's site is guilty of most of the things he decries and b) his site is mostly just reposts of his old work.

maybe climbing is just getting old for some?

Scott said...

These exchanges sometimes remind me of the letters that Fitzgerald and Hemingway sent to each other.

Aaron Schneider said...

Brilliant. Bisharat's post peeved me, but in my head I glossed over the small stuff (read: wasn't astute enough to pick up on all the, erm, issues), and just criticized his complaints as being nothing special to the internet climbing community, but rather the state of the blogosphere as a whole. I very much appreciate your crafty, blow by blow analysis.

Anonymous said...

You spelled response wrong.

Peter Beal said...

You are absolutely right! Fixed.

chuffer said...

AB and writers like him are the reason that after 15+ years of Climbing & R&I subscriptions, I said enough. I don't even look at their sites and I don't miss them.

Dan said...

I was expecting a well thought out response to AB's article, but was surprised by what I read here.

I've read previous posts of yours, Peter, and have listened to you on ClimbTalk, and was fairly impressed by what you've had to say about this-and-that and some other stuff. But, not by this. It seems that you jumped at the chance to one up a well known editor. One that you've traded shots with before. And, it come across as fairly immature. Nitpicking over a "'the' after 'this'", but never really addressing the real issue that AB is talking about.

I enjoy reading AB's site, and I know that his post was a diarrhea explosion about diarrhea explosions (and could have included some references to studies). But, I don't get all up in a tizzy about it.

Peter Beal said...

Thanks for the comment Dan. While it could be seen as immature, I get frustrated by a writer who claims special insight into climbing writing and then presents us with what I took apart. I didn't jump at the chance but simply responded as a writer myself. To be honest, I am not sure what the issue actually was in his piece. He was apparently bored or overwhelmed or something. No specifics, just a lot of general mudslinging. I could never drill down to the argument because he never articulated what the problem really was. If he can present his ideas in public, I will go ahead and present a response to them and let readers decide what they think.

Steve said...

Obviously there's some bad blood between you guys, and it wouldn't take much from AB to prompt a response from you. That being said, at least half the criticisms you raised are stretched and picky to the point of being useless. I enjoy reading your and AB's texts for very different reasons. You criticize him for sloppy research and not citing his sources as if he was a student handing in a paper in one of your classes, while he couldn't care less about precision and thoroughness since the obvious goal of his text is entertainment and fun. That's the kind of writer he is: fun, entertaining, provocative. I don't read him for the quality of his sources and the validity of his stats, I read him because it's fun, for the same reason one would read, say, Vonnegut, or Thurber. And really, faulting his post for bad usage, is pretty much like criticizing David Foster Wallace for his ungrammatical sentences and bad French: it' true, but who cares?

Peter Beal said...

Thanks for the comment Steve. I have to admit I don't find AB's comments particularly funny and having had some very sharp-edged exchanges with him in private, I take his statements at more or less face value. I think he is actually quite serious. My critiques may seem nitpicky (remember he is an editor) but the deeper purpose is to ask why someone like AB needs to say such blatantly unsupported and all too often mean-spirited things about our sport and the people in it. If I choose to call him on something, well he chose to write and publish it. To compare him with Thurber, Vonnegut, or even Wallace is very generous in my view, but that is just my opinion. By the way I am much less nitpicky with my students. But they might disagree!

Anonymous said...

ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

Nick Martino said...

I like Steve's comment but there isn't a like button.

how to climb said...

Really interesting post. Intellectual also. Thanks. 5 star :))

Steve Climber said...

Peter, I'm afraid your hyper-critical blog posts just take the fun out of it all. I don't think AB could ever say anything right in your eyes.

I haven't seen a post from you about actual climbing in sometime. I really enjoyed your older posts and your writing about you experiences in nature bouldering, your Flag videos, even your latest progress on your project. These mean-spirited blog posts don't add any value to our community.

Steve Climber

Peter Beal said...

Hi Steve Climber,

I posted this not too long ago. http://www.mountainsandwater.com/2012/08/what-ive-been-up-to-this-summer.html

Nobody bothered reading it in case you were wondering.

Are you saying that I ought not to respond to a writer saying things such as AB has written? He gets a pass and I don't?

Duncan Idaho said...

While I occasionally find some insightful nuggets in Bisharat's musings, too often they seem to be nuggets of, , a different sort. I don't see a problem with a critical response to something like this, especially when Bisharat's haphazard criticism of climbing-related blogging is being levied almost specifically against avid bloggers like Beal.

Editors at R & I, including Bisharat, have taken potshots at Beal's writing before, so I don't see the problem in his critical reciprocity. The fact that TNB is a more casual part of a published climbing media source doesn't mean that we shouldn't respond to its 'light-hearted, fun' banter, especially when it's targeted at those of us who sometimes enjoy blogging about climbing.

Bisharat can write all the half-baked, sardonic, climbing counterculture prose he wants but should absolutely expect critical responses. In fact, criticism is usually the very thing that sort of writing seeks by its very design. It just helps when there's actually something there to discuss.

It might seem immature to point out grammatical errors, but to me grammar is a measure of the care a writer takes in his craft. Bisharat's mistakes aren't intentional, pointed uses of language and as such point more to a lack of thorough proofreading.

With apologies to both Beal and Bisharat, I will say that the allusions to Hemingway, Fitegerald, Vonnegut really have little place here.

I find a lot of insight in Beal's posts and a lot of self-effacement and sarcasm in Bisharat's. Since I tend more towards the latter in my own musings, I don't dismiss Bisharat's writing offhand; that said, I also don't find his style particularly provocative or insightful either.

Steve Climber said...

Peter,

I would agree with the other Steve that AB’s stories are fun, entertaining, self deprecating, and in most cases they are actually about rock climbing. They’re not perfect, but still pretty darn good. This latest post of yours just seemed to be way too critical and it makes me agree with him that, yeah, climbing blogs are in fact getting old.

Steve Climber

Peter Beal said...

Sorry Steve Climber but I could find nothing that was particularly funny or entertaining about being "bored to s**t" by other people's writing. Nowhere in the piece was there anything constructive, encouraging, or specific in any way. It was sloppy, vulgar and hostile. In fact it felt more like projection than a legitimate critique. Anyone can read my response, which was based on specific quotations and simple logic, and draw their conclusion about my views. None of my critics in the comments have found anything to dispute so far in my comment, beyond a vague general opinion that I am being too picky or mean-spirited or critical.

My history with AB by the way is based on his initially attacking my writing, which he has done on a number of occasions, not on my constantly singling him out for abuse. In fact I tend to ignore his work as it is relatively predictable and insincere when it isn't manic, self-aggrandizing and even downright hostile. That said he has written some excellent work, in particular a profile of Eric Scully published way back in the day. This most recent piece was too much to ignore and if my response looks immature or mean-spirited, wait until you (or something you believe in) is attacked in such a vicious and lazy way. He picked what he thought was an easy target, climbing blogs, which, ironically enough, are actually getting better in my view. That will be the subject of another post.

Leslie said...

Wow. I came over from my reader to comment and discovered a whole other world over here...
I was originally just going to say "great post"
After reading the comments I'd like to add that AB's argument could be summarized as follows:

Technology is shortening our attention spans, doing other harmful things...etc therefore, we should get back to basics and read books, go climbing, etc.

Umm. Kind of cliche. I feel like I've read something to that effect a thousand times. He's fairly guilty of the same things he complained about.

Peter Beal said...

Thanks for the comment Leslie. Yes, a whole other world! I should add that there has been a resounding silence from the editorial powers-that-be on this post. The upside is I haven't received the usual hate mail. The downside is, well, no downside so far, except that my chances of ever being published in a magazine again just receded that much farther away :)

Peter Beal said...

Duncan, just wanted to add that I revisited your blog after a long hiatus. Great stuff! Keep it going!

dan said...

I liked your post. There is nothing productive in AB's post. Seems like a pretty mellow job over at R&I.

As much as I agree about irregular updates on the blogs of professionals, I still think there is a ton of video and picture material available online for free, often enough provided by or with said professionals. I would rather be able to get a 20 minute long video like the ones produced by Jan hojer than a blog post by him about his thoughts on downgrading. We should therefore be happy how many people in this community invest their time to provide others with videos, pictures, thoughts, access and area information or training advice for free.
Doesn't sounds so bad to me.

I must also congratulate you on your computer related preferences. Maybe you would like the original chromium browser.

I will also thank you at this point for your review of Dave MacLeod's and Udo Neumann's books. Better late than never.

Thanks to both authors for their time investment (even though one of them is getting paid for this assume).

Enjoy
Dan