In the opening installment of this series, we looked at what it means to blog about architecture and the built environment – about the spaces human beings inhabit and construct for themselves. We put blogging not in the context of architectural theory, however, where it doesn’t belong, but in a long history of writing and self-publishing – a visionary legacy that includes figures from Martin Luther and William Blake to Walt Whitman and Woody Guthrie.
This month, we will instead look at something much more mundane: the equipment needed to start and maintain a blog.
This is thus the personal infrastructure of blogging, from a computer to Internet access, from spam-blocking software to an online host. This is both an abstract shopping guide for anyone who wants to start a blog and a broad look at the technical shortcomings of being a blogger. After all, there are many limitations to this form of writing, some of which are quite serious and should not be overlooked
At the very beginning of any blog, then, are two key things: a computer of some sort –desktop, laptop, handheld – and Internet access. After those come blogging applications of any sort: popular services in the United States include Blogger and Wordpress, but also Moveable Type, Cargo, Tumblr, Typepad, Posterous, and so on.
It’s important to emphasize that almost all blogging services are free, and a blog often takes no more than 30 minutes to set-up.
You could thus put this magazine down right now and start your own blog, for infinitely less money than you paid to read this article.
But there are hidden costs – and many inconveniences. Without Internet access, you literally cannot blog at all. This can have the ironic effect of making travel quite difficult.
Blogs might promise infinite mobility – a publication without bounds, based at no particular address – but if your hotel, train, airport, or even friend’s apartment doesn’t have WiFi, you’re left in a bit of a hole. You also need to back-up your content; using a free service often means that you are hosting all of your writing – years and years of work – on servers based somewhere far away in a warehouse owned by Google.
Put another way: there are still many unsolved questions about what it means to maintain a personal archive in an era of digital information, and the cautious blogger would do well to hold on to copies of his or her work.
Further, to blog you need access to a computer. You don’t necessarily need to own a computer – after all, you can use someone else’s or go to an Internet café (a social space increasingly difficult to find in U.S. cities), but you need a computer nonetheless.
For my own part, before blogging existed, I was attracted to the very idea of writing precisely because of its portability: it was something I could do almost anywhere, and incredibly cheaply. Many of my best friends needed to haul acoustic guitars around with them or pack expensive cameras – and film and extra lenses – but all I needed was a Biro and some blank paper.
Throw in a cup of coffee or two and I was good to go. Blogging is a very noticeable change from that circumstance, requiring far more infrastructure than many casual writers would once have dreamed – not to mention more time sitting in front of a screen, and more time staying indoors.
Beyond this, though, are many subsidiary tools that will also prove useful to any aspiring blogger. Twitter is more than just an ongoing report of what you ate for lunch; it is a fantastic, and extraordinarily fast, way to share links and start discussions. You can use delicious.com to save links in public, amongst networks of friends or colleagues; you can save images on flickr.com for easy reposting on your own blog; you can co-post things on Facebook etc. etc.
By the time this article is only a few months old – let alone years – much of this will sound embarrassingly dated.
But thus is the nature of blogging, where anything written more than two years ago is as ancient as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The important points to end with are that blogging requires digital infrastructure, from computers and Internet access to the globe-spanning networks of satellites and undersea cables that make all of online life possible. These technical constellations are stunning in their density, but they are not, as such, historically new; blogging’s undeniable dependence on industrial systems far larger than it should not be held against the very idea of writing online.
After all, Biros and Moleskine notebooks also required plastics factories, complex ink chemistries, paper mills, logging machinery, international import/export agreements, subsidized jet fuel, and much more. Such a list would, in fact, be coextensive with everything we now consider modernity.
What is more interesting about noticing the labyrinth of objects that lurk behind the scenes of blogging is how these can be used not for e-commerce or for Internet warfare or for downloading porn, but for spreading ideas, hosting conversations, and telling more people than just your closest circle of friends about the things you are thinking, reading, viewing, and more. Blogging represents an historically unprecedented opportunity to become more than just a consumer of other people’s opinions and reviews; you can participate in the production of the cultural sector to a degree that would have seemed unimaginable less than a generation ago.
One person, untrained in their chosen topic of blogging, can rise to a position of near-expertise in mere years; to start a blog can often be, I would argue, a better investment in your own future than to start writing a thesis in a Ph.D. program (the latter option being something of a tragic dead-end for many of my colleagues in the United States today). As we saw in the previous article, the flexibility of reference – and the freedom from disciplinary constraints – makes blogging an extraordinarily powerful form of disruption.
It is not just magazines and book publishers who have lost their status as intellectual gatekeepers, it is universities, thinktanks, consulting firms, and more. If turning the entire cultural world upside-down requires you to learn some very basic HTML and to remain tethered to broadband access, it seems like an absurdly small price to pay.