Monday, October 23, 2006

Blogging Along

“You have a blog?” she asked. I wasn’t paying attention and I missed the interrogative inflection. It sounded nasty, one of those new social diseases, I assumed, and, just as I was wondering if my health insurance would cover it, she went on, “You know. One of those on-line diaries. Everyone has one.”

She was an attractive girl in an academic sort of way and looked as though she would have got her facts straight, but here I knew she was dead wrong. For everyone did not have a blog. Myself for one.

However, It struck me that, as I am usually a couple of light years behind in fashionable matters, I would do well to look into the blogging business. A bit of rattling around on the internet and I saw that, although she was somewhat adrift with her statistics, practically everyone did seem to have one. I reviewed a few samples. Some that I assumed were written by teenagers or possibly nomadic shepherds in Siberia, were incomprehensible to me, apparently using a Cyrillic alphabet (hence my confusion over the Siberian shepherds) and I gave up on those. Later I found that they were in a language called texting, shorthand for the orthographically challenged. Others were so specialised, banging on about politics or religion, that I found them of little interest. But there were some, mainly those that dealt with the everyday facets of life, that I found fascinating.

Much of my daily work is concerned with biographies, a subject that requires an insatiable curiosity as to the lives of others, and, of course, such blogs offer a window into their lives. This not an invasion of privacy as here the blogger is at liberty to reveal or conceal exactly what he or she wishes.

Private diaries are a little different. I don’t mean those that are received as Christmas presents and that inevitably fall by the literary wayside around mid-February, but the honest-to-goodness, Samuel Pepys, variety that provide an invaluable insight into the lives and times of the authors. Being private, one wonders whether or not the writers ever envisage that their affairs will become publicly announced. Pepys, for instance, who was unwaveringly honest in his recording, took the trouble to have his often scurrilous pages carefully bound, and preserved them in his library during his lifetime. Surely he must have had an inkling that they would someday be published. Joseph Goebbels, on the other hand, had his carefully photographed and preserved for what he hoped would be an appreciative audience after his death. No great literary shakes, they have been useful to historians, but not as much fun to read as Samuel’s or James Boswell’s.

But with a blog, there’s no doubt about the publishing date. It’s virtually instantaneous, and to a pretty wide potential audience. And it has that tremendous advantage – you can write exactly what you like without having to pander to client, agent or publisher. It’s literary freedom!

When I started to write mine, I appreciated that I am, by nature and inclination, pretty idle and that in order for it not to go the way of the Christmas diaries, some self-imposed discipline would be necessary. Making it an “as and when” business was not going to work – so I elected to try to produce a daily version whenever I was in the office. Remembering the injunctions of The Lord’s Day Observance Society, who, amongst other things, dictated that one could not buy groceries on a Sunday, I elected to give myself that day off, thereby aligning myself with cabbages, brussel sprouts and sundry other items. The society does not seem to have much clout nowadays so I’m hoping my example will cheer them up a bit. Enforced idleness should, I feel, be encouraged.

Since I knock this effort out usually in the small hours, it tends to be an “off the top of my head” affair and subsequent revisions an unaffordable luxury. So it comes out, as Lord Mountbatten had requested his biographer, Philip Ziegler, to write his, with “warts and all.”

I just wish someone could come up with a more attractive name. The English language has suffered enough already. Take that lovely word “gay” that can no longer be used in its proper context for fear of being misunderstood. An orthographic tragedy – and a quite unnecessary one.

But I suppose blogs and blogging will be in the next edition of the Oxford that I buy (my present one has nothing listed between block and bloke – I’m sure they’ve rectified that omission by now) and I do feel that it is a wonderful development. For in a world that is so overshadowed by that menace to civilisation, television, I think it’s marvellous that so many are actually doing something creative, whether in Cyrillic letters or not.

Perhaps the only downside is that it is all being preserved in that most transient of mediums, the internet, and few will be bound up and preserved for future generations.

It is a growing social disease, and this time an admirable one. Let’s hope nobody finds the antidote.

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