One hears constantly about how digital media is transforming us. How our attention span and even retention is shrinking. How we now use certain parts of our brain far more than other parts that will eventually dwindle away!
Well, I have always had an attention span issue. As a child, I wouldn’t be able to study the same topic for more than say 15 minutes. During my Boards in Class X and XII, I remember resorting to pacing and reading aloud to myself in the wee hours of the night to stay focused. It was never the subject matter, but the ability to sustain focus that was the big challenge.
Which is not to say that I am fickle or uninterested. I wander away and then return to things I consider important. The process of gleaning knowledge is different and I segue into other topics much like you dip into someone else’s food while eating at a communal table, only to return to your own with even more relish!
There is still a problem. The more serious matter sort of sits around for a while before I come to it. In the good old pre-digital days, it was a print out or a bookmarked chapter that sat at the edge of my study table while other relatively frivolous content (magazines, pictures, letters, cards, easier chapters from easier subjects…you get the drift) would occupy centerstage. On my computer screen, Gmail, WordPress, Facebook and Twitter tabs sit there providing the endless tempting and often unimportant snacks while the article I mean to read occupies a corner tab patiently awaiting its turn.
Now all this makes me wonder if my habits have indeed changed with digital media? It’s just the same tendency playing out on the computer screen, right?
I am also thinking that there is a certain merit in cultivating and sharpening this ability to segue, absorb other seemingly trivial inputs and then returning to consume more serious content (which you must, and give it adequate time and attention too!). Perhaps this dipping and returning adds more dimensions to your understanding and allows you to have a more enriched perspective, which then feeds into your output. Perhaps instead of constantly berating the digital age and shouting out dire warnings, we may just need to adapt a bit?
I come to blogging with a heavy baggage of having worked as a content writer for many years. For me, every blog is an article. It is something you plot, construct, fill with detail, refine. It is something you craft, something that makes a point, reflects who you are, etc. Sometimes, I confess, I have written off the top of my head and have slept with the guilt of compromise or worse, the regret of the failure of my imagination. But most times, I enjoy what I write and I think I’ve written something worthy of another’s time.
I am beginning to discover that blogosphere is deliciously and irreverently inane. I am sure others, who like me made the transition from living in the real world to being a partial inhabitant of the virtual world, have felt the same. In the virtual world, things do not need to make sense. Creatures who trawl the net aimlessly enjoy a wide variety of information and writings; intellectual content is not a preference, novelty, freshness, easily digestible, exciting content is the order of the day.
Hence, travel and food blogs, with all the yummy photographs in there, attract a lot of attention. Interestingly, the other category is this one that is random musings about life, the self, what someone did that day….little things that simply have no big picture. Note, I am not looking down on this stuff. It amazes me and impresses me that people can make the stuff in their lives inviting and exciting for other people. I often enjoy the humor and wit on such blogs.
Many of these can be utter nonsense though. I find it hard to appreciate poor language. There are sentences that trail off in dots without making any real beginning, so you cannot possibly conjure an conclusion. I hate those. There is that terribly familiar tone I dislike as well, as if everyone out there is you best pal. I’m not always sure that works. However, it is these blogs that I often cannot comprehend, that get a zillion likes!
Today, I went to the ‘freshly pressed’ pages on wordpress and saw that they had featured a rather nonsensical life-blah sort of blog that had only one entry! One single entry….and it had over 200 responses- comments, likes, whatever. Plus the pat on the back from wordpress. And I thought, ‘Oh!’.
I rest my case. Blogging can be truly inane. I guess inanity is not my talent!
I was handed over by Rahul the inaugural issue of the National Geographic Traveler Magazine’s India edition. I die-hard lover of travel and the idea of travel, I’ve been a regular reader of the Lonely Planet Magazine, which I simply adore.
I have a relationship with the LP Mag. There is this life cycle thjat I must describe to you. LP Mag arrives. Excitement. Open it. Flip through pages. Slowly, wonder gives way to depression- so many places to visit, one short life! The LP Mag lies around unopened by me for the next few days. Eventually, the melancholy wears off and the featured get a thorough reading, every picture gets a thorough look and the soul experiences an intense sense of travel-induced gratification, even though through the eyes of another.
I flipped the Nat Geo Traveler Mag cover to cover, read snippets here and there and was sorely disappointed. The writing isn’t fresh and frank the way I like it, and that’s why I love the LP Mag. Some contributions are superb, but most of the images are smaller than I like them and not nearly as breathtaking as one would expect from Nat Geo, the God of the Gods of nature photography. There is one fantastic poster insert though! Also, the practical info is not really there. You could argue we don’t need it given that we Google everything anyway, but when you get the info while you read the article, it makes the wheels in your head turn and you can analyze whether the trip is practical for you in terms of travel time, budgets, specific interests, etc. I am not aware of the brand identity iof the Nat Geo Traveler internationally, but I expected a little more focus on what I think are Nat Geo’s core strengths in terms of content-sustainability, biodoversity and a deep love for nature. I guess they put all that conscience stuff in the Nat Geo Mag itself! They did do a good job of profiling a wide variety of travel experiences though and refrained from talking about the typical family-type holiday experience. That makes sense,because it inspires a whole lot of us to try new things.
I already had the beginnings of the itch this week, and the Nat Geo Traveler just got me started on a full fledged travel deprivation attack! I think I will grow to love it in time. Meanwhile, I’m planning my next adventure tonight!
It strikes me as interesting, and disappointing perhaps, that the post that got the maximum reads ever on my blog was written months before I started the daily blogging habit. It was a post I wrote about my sense of belonging for Goa after a trip back home for Ganesh Chaturthi in September 2011. Even after getting into the routine of writing everyday, I have been unable to recreate the magic of that post. That teaches me something very interesting, and also highlights why blogging and blog browsing has become so popular.
It’s the emotional content of that post that made it successful. Many could relate to it (Goa, longing for home when you are far away, the closeness of family, love, bonding, tradition, Ajjee!) and were enthused to refer the piece for the consumption of others as well.
Blogging is a release. For the blogger, it is a way to present thoughts, emotions, experiences to the world at large. However small your reader base, once you hit ‘publish’, there is a certain sense of releasing your thoughts into the atmosphere and letting go! In an emotional post, the reader senses and travels on that journey of the heart, with you. I’ve written articles for several publications and always believed good writing is about quality research, the ability to sequence information into a powerful argument and the final flourish of language well used. Blogging has turned that perception around for me. Good writing is about feeling what you write, the skills are additions.
The other thing that nearly always works in making a post readable is images. Visual content, and I usually use photographs, is easy for readers to relate to and really offers them a peek into how you view the world. When you combine an interesting experience with pictures, like in travel writing, it’s fail proof! Some of the best responses (in terms of traffic, comments, syndicated views and social media response) have been for travel-related posts. For some reason, the Pune bakery post worked really well, getting considerable interest from Parsis in many parts of the world, Pune-ites in general and food lovers as well!
I haven’t actually written enough about food, though I know its a great subject to explore. I guess I’m not much of a foodie, though being around Rahul and the office folks will convert me sooner than later. Hmmm, another aspect to look into for the rest of the year 🙂