For years I’ve hauled trashy magazines home from the public library under the cover of night. I hid my stack under Man Booker novels and the kids’ story books. I’ve read them all – Vogue and Glamour, Lucky, Vanity Fair, InStyle and even UsWeekly. English instructors read a lot. We read level one composition papers and creative writing disasters. We reread short stories from survey Lit anthologies and devour new fiction in hopes that our classrooms will feel edgy and of the moment. We memorize poetry and pick at education journals. And I confess, we hide our fashion magazines.
Then about five years ago I discovered my first blog: The Sartorialist. Now I stalk women like Emily at Cupcakes and Cashmere and Erin at Apartment 34. The content looks like frivolous nonsense, inconsequential banter about neon stripes and handbags. And mostly it is, but the sites are beautiful and contagious. And they epitomize effective blogging: make it look good, write often and with enthusiasm, share relevant (and selective) information, tell a compelling story, get to the point.
Reading online is like drinking a raspberry Slurpee without a straw: it’s difficult to get a clear shot at the good stuff without making a mess of the process. When I’m online I fight myself. I work to focus on the long and important articles – to get my vitamins – and then I fight to move faster, to get to more stuff. And I am a sucker for the well-styled, pretty stuff. A good title and a well-lit shot of shiny food gets me every time. If there is couture it’s all over – I’ll never get back to the Chronicle of Higher Ed if I can have Jimmy Choo. Some scholars, like the London School of Economics and Public Policy’s Patrick Dunleavy and the University of Waikato’s Chris Gilson, claim that blogging is “one of the most important things” academics can be doing right now. They are, of course, referring to academic research and the ability of social media and a well-tended blog to bring cutting edge ideas to the masses. The fashion world should have such lofty goals.
Blogs bring us the world, sloppy section by sloppy section at a time. We stumble upon the beautiful and the unusual through a series of unintentional clicks. Usually we are led by advertisers and clever marketing, but occasionally we float through a world of images and ideas curated by someone we’ll never know. We surf for experts. The blogosphere allows, and according to Gilson and Dunleavy in some cases obligates, us to “contribute [our] observations to the wider world.” It allows us to share ideas, to challenge one another, and to engage in a community. The potential for greatness is palpable. User generated content might fuel revolutions and topple dictators. It may unearth a cultural touchstone or a cautious poet. It might also propel the next tasteless tube-top trend. The distractions are infinite and terrifying; there is something paradoxically lovely and creepy about stumbling from the economic theory to shoes and nail polish in seconds.