The Inexact Science

Rather than using this piece to explain what this site is, I’m going to use it to explain why this site is.

The genesis of this glorified blog dates to a years-old conversation with my best friend.  I conveyed to him the frustration of having untapped creative energies.   I lacked a necessary outlet.  Although I was blessed enough to have a makeshift writing career, and I certainly enjoyed and continue to enjoy it, I had been working for the same publication and writing about the same subjects since I was in college.

Writing had become that which it should never be: an exact science.  It was a routine.  A rut.

Working out a problem or a riddle is often fascinating, especially when the problem takes years to solve.  But once it’s solved, that’s it.  The answer always comes out the same, no matter how many times you retry the equation.

To use a different metaphor, I spent years tinkering with my writing “recipe.”  A dash more of this, a pinch less of that, until I knew the exact proportions I needed.  After almost a decade of trying, I had figured out how to create the dish in the most efficient and effective manner possible, thereby removing the creative component from the endeavor.

Making matters worse, the target audience was very well-defined.  Specifically, I had to produce content that was appropriate for these readers while also remaining relevant to the narrow theme of the publication.  It was a fairly small “box” in which to live.  To his credit, my boss is very generous with the freedom he affords me, but I feel a personal obligation not to stray too far from the publication’s stated purpose.

Meanwhile, my “day job” involved even less creativity.  As in none.

I’m being too kind.  I should say that my day job involved no higher-level brain function whatsoever.

That brings me back to the aforementioned conversation.  I respect my friend a great deal in all matters, but particularly creative or artistic ones.   He suggested that I try writing a blog.

While I appreciated the suggestion and had toyed with the idea myself, I was ultimately against the idea.  Decisively so.

Yet, here we are.  I’m writing it.  You’re reading it.  This begs the obvious question: What has changed in the interceding years?

First, there’s been a tremendous cultural shift relating to online social media.   This shift has had a very beneficial side-effect within the “Blogosphere.”  While there have been quality professional blogs for many years, those written by run-of-the-mill dreamers and intellectual doodlers (i.e. folks like me) were generally unbearable.

Prior to the explosion in popularity of Twitter, blogs were often used merely to post updates on basic daily tasks or bodily functions.  The inanely narcissistic nature of what I perceived to be the majority of blogs turned me off to the whole concept.   The Blogosphere is littered with startup accounts with a few scant updates about the author’s pets, significant other, or job, followed by months of inactivity, followed by one more post about how said author resolves to resume blogging, followed by a permanent and merciful silence.

I didn’t want that to be me.  Not only did I not want to be the jackass who writes one-line blog entries complaining that someone cut him off in traffic that day, but I also didn’t want to get excited about blogging, only to promptly give it up five minutes later.

Thankfully, the culture has shifted: Twitter has done a wonderful job of siphoning off much of the lazy, navel-gazing demographic from the blog universe.  To be sure, there are still many terrible amateur blogs.  However, with much of the garbage removed, it became easier for me to see, read, and appreciate the well-maintained and interesting blogs that did exist.

My perceptions and preconceived notions about blogs shifted in concert with the online culture, allowing me to open my mind to the idea that blogging could be a worthwhile endeavor for an amateur nobody.

But the inquiry didn’t end there.  Even if running an entertaining blog was theoretically possible, could I specifically pull it off in practice?  Was this a good idea or not?

I gave this a lot of thought.  I identified some pitfalls that I think many bloggers fail to sidestep, and promised myself I wouldn’t make those same mistakes.  Chief among them is the issue of understanding the difference between something subjectively interesting or entertaining, and something objectively interesting or entertaining.

To be sure, there’s always going to be some lingering vanity attached to any blog commentary, no matter how objectively interesting it might be to readers.   That’s because there’s no getting around the fact that the author has melded intrinsically valuable or newsworthy information to his opinion or his voice / style.

The trick is to make sure that the component that the blogger adds has its own “hook” or entertainment value.  The mistake comes when bloggers overestimate how much others care about the life of the blogger.  That’s the key.

That speaks to the subjective / objective point.  We’ve all experienced that moment when we’re with old friends, recalling a story from days gone by that causes everyone to break into a nostalgia-fueled chorus of laughter.  However, sharing that same childhood story with an outsider may very well elicit nothing more than a blank stare, or, at best, a polite smile or chuckle.

By contrast, if someone I’ve never met is telling a story about winning a gold medal, or killing a tiger with his bare hands, or winning a gold medal for killing a tiger with his bare hands, or killing a bear with his tiger hands, then that’s a story I want to hear.

Trying to discern the value of content isn’t easy, but that’s part of the fun.  That’s what makes this an inexact science, and, therefore, worth doing.

I hope that podcasting will be a major part of this site.  The relative success or failure of a podcast breaks much the same way.  Someone as talented as Adam Carolla can take the mundane and make it uproariously funny because he has the ability to convey information in a smart, humorous, catchy manner. On the other hand, a podcaster with a high level of expertise in a given field (plumbing, auto repair, baseball card collecting, etc) need only be well-spoken enough to convey the information, because that information itself has value.

This is where the challenge and excitement comes in for me. I am neither as entertaining as a comedian nor as useful as an expert. My goal is to be entertaining enough and useful enough to make this site a success. Even if I define “success” as “My five friends and I enjoy it.”

Here goes nothing.

For more basic and general information about this site, check out the “About Us” link at the top of the page, or the site FAQ

This entry was posted in Commentary, General Culture and News, Site Stuff and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Inexact Science

  1. Pingback: Best of 2011 | The Axis of Ego

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