Sunday, February 7, 2016

To Blog or Not to Blog: Is that the question?

""There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about." Oscar Wilde

 I have been diving deep in the waters of writer's block for the past year, in part because I have been really busy, bogged down in family, work and actually training and climbing. The other issue is deciding what's worth writing about. I tend to seek out issues of contention instead of the feel-good mode typical of most climbing media these days. It's not that climbing is not worth writing about but that the current ecosystem of magazines, videos, and social media posts is a self-reflecting pond of complacency and plenty of marketing. How to move past this to the real thing is the only interesting path to follow in my view. To cut through the noise and image seems the only goal worth pursuing.

 Truth is I don't mind marketing per se. We all need things in order to climb well. Good products deserve our support. It's the mindset that in the end the market is all that matters that is the problem. Climbing becomes a mere conduit to the market and the value of a climb is its marketability. This is giving rise to a startlingly large number of social media presences who are far more about the marketable personality and photogenics than substance. If I point this out, I will be described as a "hater" and a critic. But what's wrong with being a critic?

 Basically there is a double standard at work here. For whatever reason, someone decides to tell the world about something and how awesome it is and then there is a video or a Kickstarter, etc. The key point is that this person wants something from us. Attention, time, money, whatever. They want to be recognized for their work. I consider this kind of presentation more of an argument than a statement of fact but many are surprised that a statement regarding the excellence of something could be debatable. In the current mode of thinking a critical reaction is seen as a problem, as though somehow everyone has an equal opportunity to be heard and to benefit from it. This equality of opportunity and reward is to say the least highly debatable. Why can't we say this and debate it?

 In fact climbing used to be full of arguments and critique. Questions of style, ethics, the environment and so on filled the pages of climbing magazines and journals in the past. Granted that some of this argument was competitive bluster, nevertheless a lot of it was actually serious and very relevant to the present day, which, for the most part, sees next to no discussion in public fora on important topics in the areas mentioned above. If we factor in the deadening hand of social media which tends to flatten all too quickly the contours of a question and combine in with that a general tendency to present a cheerful and likeable social profile, suddenly there is a vacuum regarding serious discussion of serious subjects.

 This vacuum certainly exists today. If any readers can point me to people writing regularly in even a mildly polemical mode, let me know. I'm still making up my mind as to whether it's worth it. I kind of think it is but then again I'm a busy person with too much to do and not enough time or money to do it. We'll see.


jacob ojile said...

nice write, peter.
as one that also enjoyed hearing the the questions and controversies that ultimately arise from climbing's growth, i completely agree with you.
but i do think that if you raise these questions, the debates will happen. don't give up, but instead plant the seeds of discussion. be a voice that opens the questions we all care about, even if we don't know it yet. the climbing community will thank you for it.

Micah Bryan Humphrey said...

I definitely think it's worth it. Whether it's worth it to you or not is certainly a different question. I look forward to your posts when they do come out and derive a lot of 'things' from them (introspection, motivation, individuality to be just a few). My vote would be to keep going but I also don't have a family, a demanding career, and a training/climbing schedule on top of it all. Your perspective is one I value Peter. Hope to keep reading and learning.

Micah Bryan Humphrey said...

With all of that being said, what's the goal here? I've noticed that the trend in blogging lately is to, well, not blog :) Which I personally find sad, but maybe I'm part of an ever-shrinking community. I depend on online blogs or journals for my information or opinions but maybe I need to 'evolve' like the rest of the technocrats in my generation. I just don't know what the next step is (or am too lazy to try and find out). Tweeting? Reddit? Tumblr? FB? Instagram? None of these forums seem to capture the depth and personal attention required to address topics that you are fond of bringing up. Yet, if the audience is waning, who are we, in the end, blogging for? If our questions go unanswered, or our message does not inspire new readers to engage, then it does become a lesson in futility, right? But maybe not.

Andrew Philbin said...

As someone who maintains (or used to?) a largely polemical and admittedly at times rant-filled blog, I could not possibly agree more with what you've said here. My blog also currently suffers from a similar malaise, but given the fact that my readership likely numbers under two dozen on a good day it's often hard for me to justify crafting posts that may or may not even be read. Promoting my long, often critical posts on social media just doesn't seem to affect the quality or quantity of discussion either.

I believe it's largely because of the situation you've described here, wherein critical writing and, more ominously still, critical thinking, are becoming more and more heretical to this notion of "positivity at all costs". I think you've hit it squarely that saving face now often trumps having discussions that, while difficult, would ultimately yield better understanding of issues. Further, it even seems that the more well-reasoned something is and especially if it takes longer than two sentences to effect said reasoning, the worse it seems to fare, especially in the online world. A you've said, the power of capitalism plays a strong role as do ever-shrinking attention spans, the latter probably being largely the result of the former's inexorable influence.

If it makes any difference, I'm one person who wants to both read and write more contentious prose about climbing. I'm sure there are more of us out there, people for whom the discussion still matters and perhaps more importantly who still believe there are things that warrant discussion. There are still a few of us out here who haven't yet succumbed to the "just go climbing" platitude, which I liken to saying "simply enjoy the ride but don't ask where it goes".

In any case, you may have inspired me to write in my blog for the first time in 6 months. It's hard to say what determines whether it's worthwhile, but generally simply hearing that one or two people enjoy my writing helps steel my resolve; hopefully it's the same for you, because I've always enjoyed your blog.