Wednesday, August 3, 2011
The Birth of a Blogger: Why Do 12 Million American Adults Write Them? For that Matter, Why Do I?
I was expecting this to be a hot topic given the explosion of this form of writing. I expected commentary on who these people are, and what they want! While it is parroted again and again that there are an enormous amount of web diaries -- apparently there are so many that nobody wants to try to count them. Maybe 10 million? Maybe 100 million? Who knows? We all agree there are a lot and its an interesting thing to think about, but that's not exactly the same thing as examining how many people are writing them and what is motivating them to do it. And whether they are finding it satisfactory.
According to fairly recent census data, there are well over 300 million Americans and at least 200 million between the ages of 15 and 74. How many of those folks sit down and write web log entries on some sort of regular basis? Surely someone has done a survey, I thought. ... And then I thought of the Pew Research Center. Thank heavens for Pew! According to a research report written by by Amanda Lenhart and Susannah Fox (dated July 19, 2006), 8% of internet users maintained a blog. This study found that about 68% of adults were internet users. It can be found here: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2006/Bloggers/01-Summary-of-Findings.aspx.
This boils down to about 12 million American adults (in 2006) who kept a blog. And about 57 million American adults, of which you are one ;) who read them.
Most of these 12 million people (37%) wrote primarily about their "life and experiences." The next most common reason was "politics and government" -- a distant second at 11%. What I write about, entertainment, was the third most common topic, with only 7%. [Still, if I have done the math right, I count 840,000 American adults writing web journals about entertainment.] The other topics mentioned were sports, general news/current events, business, technology, religion/spirituality, their hobbies, a health issue or illness, and a few other things.
Pew, ever thorough, also asked why people were writing. To express themselves creatively and share personal experiences were the highest rated purposes, with about 50% of bloggers indicating these were major reasons. Staying in touch with family was also a big one, with about 37% of people citing it as a major reason. Sharing knowledge, motivating, entertaining, or influencing people were other major factors, cited by about 30% of these folks.
OK, so this is all wonderful research, but it is still not getting at exactly what I want to know, which is the deeper, underlying, perhaps more philosophical question: why, do people feel the need to express themselves creatively on the internet? And what did these people do before this mode of expression existed?
For that great majority of bloggers who write to share their own life & experiences, I wonder if it is helping people re-connect or just plain connect, given our disjointed modern life. Is this similar to our use of Facebook -- seeking a community somewhere in the midst of our separate little life-bubbles?
And for those who blog about politics, what for them? Is there just more need to express political opinion than can possibly be contained in any one relationship or on any one Facebook page? In this way, maybe political web logs are doing us all a great favor by giving outlet to that need, so that it doesn't have to boil over at the dinner table?
For me, doing this fills a need that simply went unmet before I began blogging. I love to write; I have a lot of thoughts and opinions but, now that I'm not in college anymore, very little opportunity to share them. Most of the writing I've done in the last 10 to 15 years has been legal writing. I enjoy that as well, but not in the same way as writing this.
I suppose the counterpart to what I do and what someone with similar interests might have done in the pre-blog era, would be to write a newspaper opinion column or be a movie critic. But the thing is, I'm more of dilettante, so having to actually fact-check, do "real" research, keep from breaking any laws and adhere to professional standards seems far too troublesome. I feel the need to express! because I think rather deeply about things, but not so deep as actual writers and movie critics. So, my need went unmet -- as I suppose many people's needs for expression do.
If you think about blogs in terms of what they are doing for the blogger, not what they are doing to society (you often hear about clutter and overload), I think this use of the internet is a beautiful one.