Context collapse

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 8 January 2012 19:14

Why do people blog? For me, it's for many reasons but two things in particular. To show what I find in the natural world through the written word and the photograph and to have a laugh in the process. But almost as importantly is the need to encourage and help others on their own personal natural history quest. We all want to make a difference in our own way and this is something I have taken a lot of enjoyment from.

I know that people enjoy the blog and have benefited from it, so therefore I have fulfilled both of my major reasons for doing this in the first place. However, is my life richer for it? I think I am spending too much time on line these days, not just with Blogger but also Facebook and Twitter, not to mention all the emails. Have a look at this interesting lecture on Youtube. 
The idea of 'context collapse' disturbs me. In the world of Web 2.0, we find ourselves talking to a faceless amalgamation of many different people. For me, these 'entities' are slightly different on Facebook (mostly people I know), Twitter (mostly people I don't know but share a common interest) and Blogger (anyone who cares to look at the blog). But when you talk face to face with someone, you constantly adjust what you say and how you say it for the person or audience you are speaking to. When blogging, who am I talking to? A projection of my own ideas of who is listening? Sometimes my own subconscious? The best of me? I think that spending more time on the Internet may have had a detrimental effect on the rest of my life by changing the way I communicate but I am not sure. As my life passes through different stages, I unexpectedly found my blog was capturing these changes. This was not a direct conscious decision. The feeling of living a very 'public' life has also got to me recently. It's been both good and bad for my reputation but the homogenising of my messages to friends, colleagues and strangers alike, feels wrong somehow.

I think an experiment is in order. I don't want to stop blogging or completely lose my on line presence but I definitely feel a change is needed. Firstly, I don't get many comments but I think this is due to how I write with very much a one way flow of information. I'd like to try and change this and I know that shouldn't be too hard. I intentionally kept it that way so that I didn't spend forever responding to comments. I'll try and keep the balance then by posting a little less frequently and putting more questions, quizzes and interactions into the mix. 

The Internet is changing so quickly that the spellchecker in Blogger doesn't even recognise the words blog and blogging, so what chance do we stand to keep up with these changes and remain unchanged and intact?

12 Response to "Context collapse"

Stewart Says:

Hi Graeme, a very deep post there. I'm not sure how long you have been blogging ( is see this one is 2 yrs old) etc, but maybe you are reading too much into it. I have blogged since July 06 and still today have no illusions that blogging is anything other than ephemera. Some people are interested in some posts and some in others but readers change over the years after they get bored or their interests change. The only constant is me!

I like to do it, hoping for the odd comment or email that is interesting. Thats all really. Treat it like say a daily newspaper. A small thing to while away time when you would other wise be watching TV. You never know who might contact...

I hope you keep up the blogging just as you are...

michael jenkins Says:

no, please, straighten you fingers ?
please don't claw your hands like that,
it's not good for the tiny arteries in your fingers.
everyone need hands rest time every day
straighten fingers
flatten hands
rest them flat on the table
make a comfort for your hands
stop your hands still
make them rest

Karin Alton Says:

I read your blog, Graeme, but don't often comment. I'm amazed that you seem able to constantly step outside and find new beetles, moths or plants! So don't stop blogging about your discoveries.

richard cobden Says:

It is an interesting area & I think people will be thinking about this more & more as we live our lives increasingly online. I've found blogging (I’ve mainly done photo blogs) starts as a simple exchange of information & views but it impossible to keep your 'real life' out of it. But a blog is only a medium to get your message out there & don't forgot how cool it is - your latest sighting of deadwood inverts can be posted online (with images & video) in minutes of you seeing them - whereas a few years ago you would have had to publish a book or paper , distribute it etc. . .

I do think blog readers also have a role to make it more of a social event, it is all too easy to be a passive observer, LEAVE COMMENTS! & join the conversation.

The merging of all the people in your life - friends, work, and strangers - is an issue lots of people are facing & I can't help but blame the facebook culture for this. Some people, & aspects, of ones life need to be kept apart - filtering is needed. So I would look at what info you want to share on each channel - this will involve unfriending / unfollowing / culling > be as harsh as you have to be until you have a social presence that you are comfortable with.

Justin Norman Says:

I'm also a regular reader, and maybe should comment more, I've just started blogging too and now understand the frustration of 1000 visits and 1 comment - from my sister.

Blogging feels less social than sites like facebook, and I think you have to take it like an author would with a book - the visits/sales say as much if not more than the volume/quality of comments?


Graeme Lyons Says:

Well, I certainly got some comments! I do want to stress that I'm not just randomly whinging here. I do love blogging but I also get a feeling that something isn't quite right. It's so hard to put my finger on exactly what that is so experimentation and change is the only way forward. Also, my beef is with my online presence not just the blog but as this is the location of the voice of my online presence, this is where you're gonna hear it. I also think I am entirely responsible for this feeling and that Richard is quite probably correct. My 'one-size fits all' approach to save time and repetition and reach a maximum audience may be part of this.

Anne Carey Says:

Graeme - I have been feeling exactly the same about spending too much time online recently. The only explanation I have is that it's nearly Spring (well, the current climate seems to think it is) and there is a need to get out AND DO SOMETHING MORE WORTHWHILE!!! The more you sit in front of the 'pooter, the more frustrated you get. It comes down to balance and moderation in everything really.

Anonymous Says:

Your view register is nearing 100,000 - that is an indication of your popularity and the interest your blog gives people. Please keep it up. I look forward to hearing how you get on with the New Year Birdrace.
Peter Whitcomb

Flora Says:

Hi Graeme
Happy New Year! I enjoy reading your blog.
Interesting post! I've been going through a re-think about my blog. I enjoyed blogging last year even though I'm a rubbish photographer but I relish researching information about what I see and sharing that.
I had intended to start blogging again in the new year and your post is probably timely in catalysing my thoughts in that regard.
I've also been pondering why I blog and came up with more or less identical reasons to you. I get few comments and far less readership than you but visitor stats were not the reason I blogged anyway. I just have a desire to share. At least online people can choose to read it / listen rather than be a captive, patient audience.

LauraJ Says:

Dear Graeme,
Now I'm showing my age, writing a letter instead of LOLspeak. I have been reading your blog inattentively for a few months, since somehow the panspecies thing came to my attention, and I found your podcast by accident. It's a delightful podcast. I am envious of the British naturalist milieu; although there are birding groups here (New Hampshire, where, despite the really annoying emphasis on the Republican primary, there are lots of people who think Obamacare does not go far enough) I keep finding them duller (though younger than I am). We seem to be a very earnest people.

I also spend way too much time on the internet and if I had a community with every blog I read I would never do anything at all. I had a vey rich relationship with a mailing list (about fiber crafts) in the early days of the Web, but most of the people I liked left and started blogs and those who remained were shrill and bullied people with their opinions, so we fell apart.

There are some blogs I read with 'discussion questions' and quizzes and contests and all I feel about them is that I am a commodity to be manipulated for MOAR HITS. And I don't usually read comments, because on most blogs, most comments are quite sincere compliments of moderate interest to the writer and not much to anyone else. I know I risk missing out, but there are good blogs with _pages_ of comment and I just don't have time.

But I never read comments on this blog at all (except today) because in both Chrome and Safari they come out all smooshed together, as though spaced less than single space and it's hard to read them.

However. Now that I'm listening to your podcast I am going back to the blog entries about the days, umm, events, umm, species, really, DORMICE, you're talking about. I do like your writing, where your liveliness and enthusiasm show up when you let them, but you really have a lot of information (interesting and well presented) and I had no idea how much fun you must be till I listened to the podcast. Although the hair should have given me a clue.

A writer's voice really should depend on your audience, and in this kind of blog-- which may once have been telling your friends what you're up to, but now is also telling the world and the panspecies fandom (faceless Hard Men and Women... nah, not hard, but many of them more listers than naturalists?)-- may tend toward data rather than discussion. How many discussions can we have about how cute the bryophytes are that day? (Don't tell me. There are discussions like that all over the net, many of them nurtured by perfectly nice women who give us women a name for triviality).

So perhaps you need a blog for community where you talk about your life more than the lives you are enumerating, and the species who are not ticks (wow, what a disconnect that is in American; we're ALL ABOUT Lyme disease here) and the reason you have the the interesting job you do, and how you get the lovely macro shots out of your point-and-shoot. And I will probably read it if it's public and maybe even comment.

But I should get a decent book on American mosses and possibly moths and get out there. You are so lucky to live on a reasonably-sized island with a tradition of Public Footpaths and a short election cycle.

Don't change too much.


Suffolk Nature Says:

Hi Graeme,
Can I just say that you've been an inspiration to me. You are the reason that I set myself a challenge this year of spotting 1000 species, I don't have that much free time unfortunately. And through this challenge, I've now started a blog!
So please share with us your experiences and who knows who else you'll give inspiration too.
Thank you

Graeme Lyons Says:

Thanks for all the comments. Let's see what happens this year!

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