Another day, another low magnitude earthquake. They have peppered my day for over a month since we had 5.7 erupt out of Magna from a faultline, no one suspected exists. So this morning, I shot up from my bed wondering, yet again, if someone hit the build with a car or if the earth was burping up frakking pressure or the afterbirth of the giant volcano nearby in Wyoming.
Forcing me up for the day to drag myself to my computer to grade reflections on A Raisin in the Sun and Macbeth. While I feel somewhat privileged to have a job right now–in fact, two of them that I can do from home, the screentime gets exhausting and one starts to take pleasure in small things. Rye toast with good Irish butter and lavender jelly. Finding a good transfer of Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia to watch for free so I return a favor to a friend on their podcast.
While grading this morning and talking to my partner I realized that podcasting culture has replaced blogging culture the way Tik-Tok has replaced actually socializing for high school students. My partner has set up a barbell in the living room among my shelves of poetry and history books, giving my small city apartment the feel of terrible 90s boutique business: gym plus library and cafe. Despite the watch-word of social distancing, this would be a strange vision even in normal times.
Dropping that digression for a second, however, brings me back to blog culture. One of the things had haunts teachers write now is dropping literacy scores: students can read but without extended executive function and not particularly well. While literacy rates have been largely stagnant for a few decades–the gains have been largely in at-risk populations such as racial minority groups and “free and reduced” lunch populations–they actually declined in the years since 2014. People rush to blame political decisions, but the relaxing of reforms didn’t work but neither did either Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” nor Obama’s “Race to the Top.” “Innovations” in charter schools didn’t fix it either. Technology, which even I used to think was going to be a key to increasing access and capacity, seems to have been neutral or even damaging to gains.
What does that have to do with blog culture? The blogging culture of the aughts was interesting, seemingly developing out of a mixture of journaling and early social media, there was a kind of brief renaissance in journaling. Facebook entered in and so did Myspace, but the writing was largely shared through notes and through sharing links. This lead to a boom in writing but the bust came fast. The monetization of link-sharing algorithms, the rise of Instagram and Snapchat, and micro-blogging really seemed to suck the life out of things. Still, ideas and news were spreading faster and faster right?
Apparently not. While millennials in America read more than their last generational processors, who watched a lot more television, that has shifted down to the next cohort. Youtube dominates. While youtube seems infinitely useful to education, it also contains its opposite: charismatic misinformation served up by math-gods. One wonders if the entire media landscape was not a sprint for current social distancing.
Podcasting culture seems to be a stop-gap between blogging and Youtube. Podcasting requires more executive function and you don’t have to be physically charismatic to do it. It’s dialogical, but also leads to the strange obsession of this age, commentary. Commentary culture was, of course, a major part of blogging culture too. Hell, even Whit Stillman in the 1980s, mocked upper-class tendency to be obsessed with commentary and not what was being commented on: It comes up in Metropolitan as well upper-middle-class obsessions with obscure utopian socialist figures. This gets accelerated in podcasting as well as textual commentary. It becomes a kind of secular version of the shared bible-study group for whatever text is being commented upon.
It’s a good substitute for alienation in ways that blogging, which entails the far more lonely act of writing is not.
Waking up in an apartment, teaching to screen, and moving on, however, shows the real limits this has for relieving alienation. Furthermore, while I think it is far to easy to blame the technology, the declines in literacy in the developed world seem paired with an overreliance on these technologies. As the old and oft-repeated saying goes, correlation is not causation, but as the statistician retorts, “correlation does imply there may be causation there somewhere.”