Whilst growing up in post-war England during the late 1940s to early 1950s, my impressions of the USA (America is an inappropriate but common abbreviation that I will use here for convenience) were molded by a number of factors, including my mother’s vociferous opinion (“problem with them is that they’re over sexed, over paid and over here“), Hollywood (we were all in love with American film stars), and ‘Letter from America,’ by Alistair Cooke.
We would go to the movies once a week, if we were lucky, and use our radio the rest of the time (or read books, of course!). I can see us now, sitting around our crackly valve set, listening in rapt attention for any news of the outside world. America was exciting and Alistair Cooke was one of our favorites. His commentaries were always informative and thought provoking. They were also relaxing, as his gentle voice would lull us into the quiet, calm world of his stories about wide-ranging topics, from politics to science.
Here is a short YouTube video clip of Alistair Cooke discussing the race between ‘Decadence and Vitality’ in the USA during the cold war period.
In a way, Alistair Cooke was ‘voice blogging.’ He was conveying his opinion on issues of his choice. I am sure that the British Broadcasting Corporation, or BBC as it was affectionately known, had a say in anything he said. In order to be aired on the BBC, strict criteria would be applied, including voice quality. Today, anyone can express their opinion to the world on the Internet through the medium of web logs (blogs). This simple communication tool, built upon incredible technology, is increasingly easy for anyone to employ. I currently have two blogs, one for which I pay a modest fee to my hosting company, GoDaddy, and the other one is free on the AARP website. The free site comes with less formatting control.
When it comes to blogging, there appears to be little or no control over my subject matter, though as I experienced as a scientist, there is helpful and sometimes critical feedback from readers. Another controlling variable is the fact that there are so many blogs available. Bloggers have to compete for attention if they hope for a large audience. It would appear that high quality content and consistency is the key – the Alistair Cooke approach! So, why do people blog?
I started blogging purely out of fear for my life. I was in Barcelona, alone in a hotel, and I was just getting used to the fact that I had, only weeks before, undergone aortic surgery. I was learning to live with the fact that my magical Cook Stent Graft, for a recently detected abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), was keeping me alive. But I worried. I worried a lot. Will it move, crack, become clogged with clots, projecting me into a wheelchair or an early grave? I had no one to talk to who would understand my fears. I had heard of blogging, so I just gave it a go in order to try to find someone to talk to – another athlete with an AAA-stent. I’m still looking, ten months later.
As time went by, my blogging turned into one of the oldest of human pastimes, storytelling. I found that I enjoyed it! So my reason for blogging started as fear and ended as a pleasure, and I don’t really think too much about how many people actually read my posts. How about other members of the blogosphere, I wonder?
Firstly, how many blogs are there? On February 1st, 2010 there were apparently about 450 million, including thousands that have been abandoned, with an estimate of one in six people on the planet having a personal blog. That is a far cry from Alistair Cooke and a few other radio celebrities, but can this be true? When I talk to people in my immediate environment, few of them actively blog or even appear to read blogs.
Then I wondered, what is the average lifespan of a blog, or as a surrogate the number of posts on a blog before it is abandoned, or the average readership, the actual influence provided by such blogs on peoples lives, and so forth until I started to yawn and become really bored. I am no statistics guy, so I searched for and found a blog by someone who had done this work for me, through the year 2009 at least, which was good enough for me. Here are the answers provided by Caslon Analytics:
Empherality: 60 to 80% are abandoned within one month of their creation (remarkable statistic, seeing how long it took me to set this one up). Average lifespan of just a few weeks.
Audience: “in practice, many blogs have no more than two dozen readers.”
Demographics (who blogs?): You will have to read the article to get all of the information, but a couple of snippets caught my eye. Half of bloggers are between the ages of 13 and 19, and males are more likely to abandon blogs than are females.
Why do they blog?: The answer to this question is scattered through the article, and ranges from wanting to chat with friends to seeking community. The latter was my initial reason, seeking a community of athletes with an AAA-stent, which appears to be a community of one, so far.
Here is a nice narrative by Lisa Mende, explaining why she blogs
I continue to use Alistair Cooke as my model, but I have a long way to go to reach his standards of storytelling.
Kevin (Old Dog)