My last semester at NYU, I had the opportunity to take a class with Steven Johnson. Just to set the record straight for those of you who’ve only encountered his name on Gawker, Johnson was a fabulous teacher and looks nothing at all like Steve Buscemi. (Having always had kind of a thing for Buscemi, I can’t say I’m entirely happy about that.) In any case, during the course of the class, we were visited by a couple of blogging luminaries, shipped in to discuss “the dissolution of print journalism and the future of new media.” I won’t bore you with the specifics. Suffice it to say, print journalists are none to happy about the ‘advent of the Inter-Web’ and new media pundits continue to overplay their hand. One interesting thing did come out of these discussions, however. I realized that the blogosphere has engendered a new syndrome that has yet to be named. Syndrome X is widespread, afflicting the vast majority of Blogspot and Live Journal users, along with several million others from Myspace.
Every blog – be it personal or professional – is initially powered by a surge of inspiration. Typically, the burgeoning blog writer is a compulsive blog reader, who one day loses patience with his self-appointed cultural authorities and decides he is more qualified to comment than they are. This peculiar concoction of spite and self-righteousness is highly conducive to productivity, spawning copious entries on a broad spectrum of topics. Not only does his analysis appear to him incisive in the extreme, but his prose strikes him as crisp and melodic, reminiscent of [insert name of favorite dead author here]. These feelings are accompanied by the sudden and unshakeable belief that writing for a living has got to be the easiest way to make a buck short of stripping. Then the honeymoon period ends and the symptoms of Syndrome X begin to take root.
Round about Week 3, the newly-minted blogger becomes obsessed with his hit rates, checking them throughout the day as if repeated viewing will somehow inflate them. When this method fails, the doubts start to creep in. Impossible as it may seem, the sagacity of his observations appear to have attracted the notice of only 10 people, two of which are his parents. But how could this be, he thinks? Is it possible that his blog is not, in fact, a harbinger of the next intellectual revolution? Could it be that his prose sometimes sounds more like the text from a Dilbert cartoon than Nabakov? The answer (unless you are Christopher Hitchens) is likely to be ‘yes.’
It’s unpleasant to realize that you’re not that special. That you, like the rest of us lowly humans, have occasional flashes of insight, but spend the bulk of your time parroting other people’s opinions and bitching about real estate prices. And this revelation often leaves the new blogger feeling deflated and lethargic. After you fall prey to Syndrome X, the ratio of browsing to writing (once at a healthy 70/30) becomes something closer to 99/1. The dates on your entries move farther and farther apart, and you experience a newfound respect for blogging’s big hitters, doggedly posting lucid entries every day. If this doesn’t leave you so demoralized that you give up blogging altogether, you will go on to develop a chronic condition known as blog-guilt: the relentless compulsion to blog regardless of whether you have anything of interest to say.
My guess? 2 out of 3 bloggers suffers from Sydrome X. In fact, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that if you’re reading this blog, you either have Syndrome X or know someone who does. The syndrome seems so all-pervasive that I’m astonished it hasn’t been given a name. So, what do you say readers, wanna take a crack at it? Who knows, if it’s catchy enough, it might even earn a place in the urban dictionary.