Monday, September 28, 2009

Cartoon Of The Day

Reader Annie sent me this cartoon (from xkcd) and told me it reminded her of me:

Hilarious, no?

It's funny though. I mean, I've been blogging with these guys for more than three years now, and I've seen a bunch of blogs rise and die in that time. I may be wrong about this, but I think the reason that so many blogs die is the frustration bloggers get with a lack of interaction on their blogs. In other words, they don't get loads of readers first up, they get bored because they'd like people to read their stuff and comment on it, and eventually give up after a few months. Again, I could be wrong, but I think that's the major reason for the high turnover.

I know that, personally, we never really wrote for our readers. That may sound mean or ungrateful or whatever, but it's the truth. We didn't even have readers our first year, except for our close friends. In our second year, we got a few more but by no means that many. It was only in our third year where a more sizable community of people started reading us, and commenting on our posts. Seriously, just go through our archives, and notice the number of comments.

The basic point I'm making is that if you're writing for the sake of other people reading you, or other people commenting on what you have to say, you're going to end up giving up pretty soon. That's just the nature of the enterprise. I know for a fact that the three of us basically started blogging just because we liked sharing our views on public issues with each other. By the middle of our college years, all of our emails stopped being personal, in the sense that we suddenly discovered that none of our emails ever mentioned girls or families or college stories. This may sound nerdy, but our emails basically looked a lot like the blog posts you read today: some controversial broadsides on the hotbed issues of the day (I wish I could reproduce my exchange with NB on the Danish cartoons thing in 2006, but I'd rather not right now), some making fun of Shoaib Akhtar's receding hairline, and random articles from newspapers and whatnot. Eventually we thought: why not just make this stuff public?

Do I love the fact that people actually read us now, and take time out of their day to click on Rs.5. and contribute to the debates here? Absolutely. But I'd be lying if I said that's why I (or we) do this. It's a real slippery slope when you start trying to appeal to (and for) readers. I mean, if it's just readers we want, wouldn't it make sense to put up pictures of Megan Fox every day? I just think it's easier, in the long run, to just write what you think about things that interest you, and let the readership stats take care of itself.

I also can't overstate how much I love writing. I love writing. Many times, it helps me organize my thoughts. That may sound backward to some -- aren't you supposed to write once you already know what you think? Maybe so, but not always, at least for me. For me, writing often helps bring some of my unstated assumptions to the surface, forces me to confront the logic of my arguments in a serious way, and brings nuance to my ideas. In short, writing helps form my ideas just as much my ideas form my writing.

And one other thing: blogging four or five times a week has helped my academic writing immensely. Again, that may sound strange when you consider that the two styles of writing are completely different. But what blogging has done is forced me to write more simply, dispense with jargon if it is unneeded, and try to get my point across in as few words as possible. And you only get better with practice, irrespective of what you're talking about -- music, sports, Scrabble, writing.

I don't know where I'm going with this. I guess the take-home point would be there's no right or wrong reason to want to blog, but there are reasons that are more amenable to longevity in blogging, and there are reasons that are not.

As a somewhat related matter, it's always funny when people confuse why I'm studying Political Science. The most common question I get from people is, "Oh, so you want to become a politician?" Let me ask you a rhetorical question: how many politicians do you know who have PhDs in Political Science? From anywhere in the world? Yeah, that's what I thought.

There's a hilarious Facebook group for Political Science PhDs and PhD students called "No, I do not want to 'go into politics'". As some of the commenters there have mentioned, does anyone ever ask paleontologists if they want to become dinosaurs? Did anyone ever ask Jane Goodall if she wanted to become an ape? Do med students get asked if they want to become AIDS? Then why us? Why don't people get it? Why are we destined to politely say at weddings and parties and get-togethers, with a quiet laugh, "no, probably just teach and research instead"? Ugh.

I suppose there's bigger problems out there to worry about. Still, it's pissing off. So, for the sake of clarity, let me say once and for all:


(Now watch me end up as foreign affairs adviser to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in fifteen years. That'll teach me to talk big).

UPDATE: For the record, while the cartoon is obviously from xkcd, the reader who sent this to me first saw it at Xebiliciouss.


Annie said...


I got it from Xeb's blog :P...

( i mentioned that in the email)

and when i sent this, never in a million years did i imagine you being so bleak about it :P

and if you do go into politics, i'll vote for you :P

Ahsan said...

Yeah, sorry about that, I'll give a link to that blog in an update.

Anonymous said...

'many blogs die because of the frustration bloggers get with a lack of interaction on their blogs.' Sometimes people are busy and can't blog. JJY's blog was pretty good but he stopped blogging.

zeyd said...

'But what blogging has done is forced me to write more simply, dispense with jargon if it is unneeded, and try to get my point across in as few words as possible. And you only get better with practice, irrespective of what you're talking about -- music, sports, Scrabble, writing.'

Totally agree with this. One of the first tasks I was assigned at a writing workshop in college was abbreviation. The prof would make us write a 1000 word essay during class. For homework we'd revise it down to 750 words, and eventually to 500 words.

The objective was to get your point across as succinctly and concisely as possible, avoiding repetition and superfluous language/grammar. It was one of the first things I learned about writing and perhaps the most important.

JJY said...

Thank you much, Anon. As much as I would love to blog, I have far less time than I thought I would (saving Mumbai's children requires a significantly stronger commitment than I had initially expected).

That being said, I'm also quite lazy, so I tend to waste whatever little free time I have dithering about, rather than doing something constructive. Maybe someday...

Farooq on the other hand, has no excuse.

Gigi said...

@JJY I had such a good time reading all of your posts.Love your writing style and thoroughly enjoyed participating in the discussions which i really miss .Someway, your blog and this blog has motivated me to start blogging and writing.Whenever,i see my name in print, i always say thanks to you guys. I hope you start blogging again.

Your commitment to Mumbai children is very inspiring.Do let me know if i can also help. Wish you a very Happy Dusshera.Good Luck and do keep in touch.

Kalsoom said...

I agree completely Ahsan. Yeah, it gets frustrating when the posts you spend hours and hours on get less viewers than say something you wrote in 5 minutes about an unnamed Lollywood actress, but for me, blogging is a way of organizing my thoughts on an issue - it's me thinking out loud.

And I think that's the beauty of 5 rs. you guys write what you want, not what others want to read.

Anonymous said...

I think you should definitely enter the Washington Post contest.It's a great chance to win the opportunity to write a weekly column for the Post and a launching pad for your opinionating career!