From the Boidem - 
an occasional column on computers and information technologies in everyday life

April 30, 2007*: In one tenth the time.

Very simple mathematical calculations show that I've needed almost eleven years for this monthly column to reach its 130th edition. During this month, however, as the Boidem has reached this 130th column, my Hebrew blog, which I've been writing for only one year, has reached that same number of posts. The coincidence of those numbers provides me with the opportunity to reflect a bit on the different sorts of writing involved in each of these projects.

I don't really intend to make comparisons - there are enough basic differences between Boidem columns and blog posts to make comparing them a rather pointless task. Be that as it may, they're both "writing", and they're both written by me. And they both get crammed into what might ordinarily be considered "free time" - in other words, they're both produced when I can legitimately claim that I'm not on "company time", meaning, primarily, late at night, or when I might be expected to be spending time with my children, cleaning up, or washing the floor of our home, or simply spending quality time with my wife - both of us falling asleep in front of the television instead of listening to music which we might prefer hearing ... until, of course, we doze off. And since both of these tasks can be classified as extra-livelihoodial writing, it's hard not to compare them. So in a single paragraph have I changed my mind and decided that even though a comparison isn't called for I'll do just that anyway? I'm afraid it looks that way.

A first, obvious, point of comparison should perhaps be length. Boidem columns seem to meander on and on, as though I'm strolling through the streets of a city and can't resist taking a roundabout route to my destination, a route that attempts to pass through every back alley along (or perhaps even "out of") the way. Boidem columns seem to purposefully resist the edging on of "get to the point already" - their "point" (if they have one) isn't in a particular conclusion, but, to a large extent, in the meandering itself. True, there's almost always something like a narrative backbone that (more or less) holds each column together, but it's a rather precarious construct, held together with spit and string rather than glue and metal fasteners. Perhaps it's less a case of being held together, and instead a situation in which I almost succeed in juggling the various parts, keeping them in the air by some magical force that succeeds in defying what would seem to be the inevitability of the whole construct crashing upon itself. This doesn't mean, however, that my blog posts are brief. To my frequent dismay, they're not.

One of the advantages of writing for myself (which isn't very different than for my proverbial eight readers) is that I can miss posting a column, and the only person who's going to notice will be me. Perhaps once upon a time a column a month would have been considered quite frequent, but in the context of the web that's almost a snail's pace. The infrequency of a monthly column plays with the danger of losing whatever readership might develop. It allows readers to attach onto other sites, to become involved with them, and to forget to return to check if anything new has been posted here. (The Boidem doesn't have, nor do I feel a need for it to have, an RSS feed.) I've become quite attached to the pace of one column a month. Sometimes I'll feel pressured to finish a column in my allotted time frame, but on the whole in the span of a month I'm able to write a column, and attend to other tasks as well, without feeling swamped. More importantly, the pace of one column a month lets me mull things over, to collect, and sift through, materials, to play with the ideas for the column in my head, and see whether they're as convincing when they appear on screen as they seemed to be while they were taking shape in my head. As I've written at least a couple of times before (here and here, for example), I'm quite content to be behind the curve on the issues that I write about. The feeling that things zip past us so quickly in the online world often causes us to feel compelled to respond before we reflect. Because of this, the "oh, wow!" factor seems to replace in-depth thinking. By limiting myself to a column a month I can at least create the impression of serious reflection on the issues I write about.

A blog is, however, different. Even if I claim that I'm quite comfortable not having any readers, the obvious truth is that a blog attempts to create, and maintain, a readership. And one of the best ways to lose whatever readership might be developing is to post only sporadically. When it comes to blogs, once a month is considerably on the far side of "sporadically". I post something to my Hebrew blog on an average of almost three times a week, and often I can feel that this takes its toll both on the quality of the blog posts, and on my ability to devote time to preparing a Boidem column. Even someone as oblivious to his readership as I often make myself out to be can't help having the feeling that someone out there is waiting for me to post something, and that if I don't do this soon, they'll lose interest.

When do I decide a column is finished? That's one of the benefits of writing a monthly column. I know that when the end of the month rolls around I'm going to have to post what I've got, regardless of whether I'm really pleased with what I've prepared. There are months when I can take a breather in between columns, while at other times I've already plunged into a new column before the previous one is finished and posted. And sometimes it's a mad rush to think of something, anything, to write about before I start falling behind. Whichever, though my commitment to posting might seem somewhat threatening, I've found that focusing on a particular date, a month away, acts as a stabilizing influence. Blog posts don't permit me this sort of pacing. Rather than stabilizing a livable pace, they seem to have an almost insatiable appetite. With the Boidem I know in advance that the next month another, but only one other, post has to be prepared, The blog is different. It seems to continually demand another, and yet another, post. There's no time to rest, since so many other items are waiting their turn to be discussed. Though the fact that blog posts tend to be considerably shorter than Boidem columns would suggest that it's easier to prepare a post and move on, the lack of a pre-determined posting date can have adverse effects. Sometimes, because I don't necessarily have to click on "Publish" at a particular date, I'll tend to rewrite and rewrite - until a new topic presents itself and begs for some written attention, such that I have no choice than to publish what I'm presenting working on so that I can move on. But it's more frequently the case that I'll find myself working simultaneously (or at least trying to work simultaneously) on a number of posts. A pre-set quota of one column a month helps me avoid stressful situations such as this.

And of course one of the central common characteristics of both my Boidem columns and my blog writing is their very limited readership. In the past I've publicly expressed a disinterest in website statistics - I write because I want to, and if, while doing so, I have readers, then I can't complain. But of course this is posing - both my eight Boidem readers, and I myself, know it. Be that as it may, it's a pose I like, and cling to. After all, Britney Spears may have made millions of dollars, but Billie Holiday could sing. So there's always that outside chance that someone is going to stumble upon all this writing and through some magical hypertextual linking is going to start a snowball effect that will garner me a vast readership. It could happen. It's my guess that if any stumbling upon is going to take place, it will be on the part of a grad student a generation or so from now. In need of some obscure topic to research, he or she will "discover" that there was this guy who kept himself busy writing to a strangely public closet, fluctuating between two not particularly similar types of writing - drawn-out occasional musings and almost concise commentary on a more well-defined topic.

Until then, I've got more pressing things to worry about than public exposure. Simple things, like how to resist the urge to write a blog post every day, or even more than one a day. The rather comfortable pacing of one Boidem column a month allows me to position myself as a participant/observer with enough distance to maintain a distinct persona (if not an identity) that takes shape as the topics I examine are reflected and refracted in the lens of my thinking. Blog posts, on the other hand, seem to pull me into a vortex. They don't permit distance, the only pacing they respect is frenetic, and they often couldn't care less about identity. They may permit me to take a position, to express an opinion, but only if I do so quickly, and often only cursorily, before the next blog post has to get written. Writing a blog post, and then another, and another, generates a sense of living on the edge. There's an attraction about it that's difficult to resist. I often feel as though I'm daring myself to actually tackle a subject in only a couple hundred words, and my attempt to do so generates something like an adrenalin rush. There's something almost addictive about it. So rather than worrying about who might discover all this writing sometime in the future, I've got to worry about taking a break from blogging - if for no other reason, than so that I'll be able to finish a Boidem column.

That's it for this edition. Reactions and suggestions can be sent to:

Jay Hurvitz

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