There is a disdain reserved for bloggers nowadays that is similar to the contempt in which we hold mini bus taxi drivers, metro police officers and pilfering government officials. They grate on the nerves of seasoned journalists who scoff at these young ‘pretenders’.
We have to accept the presence of bloggers among us to preserve the tenuous harmony in which we live. Lest we scare the rating agencies. But even as bloggers integrate into polite society, they remain a rather curious sub-species of South Africans. With a set of awards created by themselves to recognise their categorical awesomeness, they are further honoured with a taste of the newest, hottest, most fabulous stuff out there. Mind, some of them are prone to unseemly outbursts when due deference is not paid to their awesomeness, but that’s another story.
They are bloggers – and some of their best friends are bloggers too.
Though some may argue that it’s just a small group of Cape Town bloggers that give the rest of their ilk a bad name, the self-image of bloggers as a group of South Africans whose opinions and experiences add value to the chorus of the country’s chattering class is not untrue. Blogging in South Africa, as elsewhere in this crazy world, has opened up the space available to ordinary people to share their opinions, experiences and milk tart recipes. Blogging and its more popular cousin these days, micro blogging (better known by its street name, Twitter), have opened up the public sphere – the area in which us plebs can come together to diagnose and discuss social problems, and through that discussion influence political action. That space is no longer the sole preserve of journalists. Bloggers are as vocal in their chatter as the most prolific of South Africa’s “bloody agents”.
Blogging has also made one further contribution to the way the public sphere in South Africa is formed and contested – it has opened up a path to journalism, real-life Clark Kent stuff for some people who did not necessarily leave high school with the intention to work themselves into the newsroom. Bloggers have become journalists, turning a hobby into a job.
You see, I was once a blogger too.
I began blogging on a lonely night in December 2007, when I ought to have been preparing for honours exams. I published a couple of posts to an obscurely-named blog fully believing Google, like the Internet deity it is, would send adulatory readers my way.
When Google failed to deliver me any readers, never mind any who mollified my existential quandaries, I grew sceptical of its powers.
I also lost heart with blogging.
Besides, I had exams to pass.
A few months later, a friend who had just started blogging recommended I do the same. I was forced to confess that I did indeed have a blog. And in a quirk of fate that I never fail to marvel at, a couple of hours after that confession to my friend I received an email from a journalist in Uganda confirming that I had at least one reader.
It was sign enough from Google.
I began blogging with gusto.
I soon fell into a blogosphere where I met some of the finest young South African writers who were writing in their blogs – and passing comment on others’ blogs – without any expectation of remuneration and certainly without any sense of duty. I like to think we were blogging for blogging’s sake, doing it because we liked the sound of our voices drifting over the incestuous little circle we’d formed among ourselves. We wrote because we wanted to. And we had fun doing it.
At the risk of offending the more cultured among you by comparing blogging to art, that experience, for me, was something like Walter Pater’s description: “Art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass.”
I just liked blogging and that enjoyment spurred me on to carry on doing it.
There is a certain freedom in that writing that I recognise when I now read some of those old blog posts. It is an openness with self and others alike, but there is also a confidence that I could air my thoughts and opinions without any fear of recrimination. Some of that freedom was certainly lent by a sense of the invincibility of youth. I was young and I thought I was clever. But there is something else too in that writing – the knowledge that I had an audience that would read what I wrote and perhaps too agree with me.
In The Scarlet Letter Nataniel Hawthorne says, “The truth seems to be… that when he casts his leaves forth upon the wind, the author addresses, not the many who will fling aside his volume, or never take it up, but the few who will understand him better than most of his schoolmates or life-mates.”
I blogged, I wrote to be understood.
For the friends I met through the blogs, blogging was a hobby. Some of what we wrote was hardly any good at all. Some of it was just the sproutings of a bunch of young people with a curious interpretation of poetic rhyme and metre. And yet three of the “bloggers” I met in that blogging circle are now published authors. I too earn my supper by “writing”. Somehow, many of us from that circle have made the transition to being actual writers.
As for myself, I am trying to understand why I write now.
If bloggers are reviled, then journalists are abhorred. My own father once took it upon himself to caution me against spreading falsities in my work. “Please don’t lie, that’s all I’m asking you,” he pleaded. The journalism profession certainly lacks nobility (at least in the eyes of many), so why do I do what I do?
I cannot pretend to know the answer to that question for sure. I certainly don’t know what I would do if I were not writing, or being a journalist. Recently, however, I have begun to question if the lure of what I do would be as great if I did not receive the daily recognition of work done that comes with the byline. I want to think that I am not so vain. But I also realise now that even as a blogger, I wrote because there is a compulsion to put words to an idea, a thought, a feeling, an experience. It is a magnet-like attraction. The stories are out there and they must be told. DM
PS. No bloggers were harmed (or intended to be harmed) in the creation of this column.
Khadija peddles words on street corners, in polite company she's known as a journalist. Words are her only defence against impending doom, old age and iniquity - spurring her interest in what language tells us about where we are from, what we are doing and where we are headed. Don't mind the headscarf, she don't need no liberation.
Microwave popcorn is nothing special. You can have the same effect with normal popcorn kernels and a brown paper bag.