Do We Each Get the Comments We Deserve?

From Baldur Bjarnason, the reality of writing on the web:

15. People will always prefer you to state the obvious and spout common sense. If you say anything that requires a bit of thinking, or that would require them to learn new skills or ideas, your audience will evaporate into nothing, no matter how important those new things are. (Also see point 8 above.) You can trust that ideas that are new and unfamiliar to an audience will be either ignored or met with anger.

16. Nobody cares when you’re right but a lot of people really enjoy it when you’re wrong. They will rub it in your face.

17. There’s no way to tell beforehand which bits you make will take off and which won’t. That nicely written, funny, and informative post will go down like a feminist speech at a men’s rights convention while the quick info-dump written and posted in less than an hour takes off and gets stratospheric traffic.

18. There is absolutely no correlation between how much work you put into a post or a piece of writing and how much attention it gets.

19.Nasty people are incredibly persistent while nice people go off having lives of their own (they have lives because they are not nasty).

20. The only thing people like more than a post that states the obvious is an angry post that states the obvious. Angry and unreasonable will easily get ten times the attention of even-handed and rational. It doesn’t matter if they agree with you or not, they will still flock to your cuss-filled rant.

21. Communities get the discourse they deserve. When either the inane and obvious, or frothing lunacy are all that get attention, then that’s all you end up getting. Moreover, it’s your own damn fault. People may well instapaper the good stuff fully intending to read it at some point in the future (hah!), but bile is the stuff they actually read and it certainly is the only thing they respond to.

There is some real truth in this, but not always.  I have given up on trying to predict what will draw a lot of attention, positive and negative, outside of certain categories (if I dis your favorite technology or talk about social welfare, I will get many angry comments, if I mention climate change or my religion I will get the usual lunatics, if I post pictures of kittens or baby goats I will get many "awwws.")  It is true that an astonishing number of toss-off posts get a lot of attention, while the ones you labor over don't, but that's ok.   When I taught writing, I remember dozens of students coming to me to say "But I thought it was a good paper."  My answers was always "That's nice, but unfortunately, your opinion is not the critical one."  That remains true here - what I think of my work is not terribly important (actually, I think you could make a good case that writers in general are terrible judges of their own work.)

It is absolutely true that controversy and anger get you a lot more readers.  I sometimes do both of those things, but I find that it isn't good for my bloodpressure or stress level, and am content to be under-read and happy.  Actually, I find that happiness may be the worst thing for a writer.  As much as working on the net is interesting, and results in both learning a ton and also meeting wonderful, interesting people, it isn't what makes me really happy.  My LIFE is what makes me happy, and I find the more aware I am that my life is not my work - or rather that my life at home and my farm and my family are what really matters to me, the harder it is for me to work up a good head of steam of the sort that would bring in more ticked off readers.  This is, for a writer, a genuine dilemma - the musings of happy people rarely get read.  My maternity leave is winding up, and I find myself wondering whether I want to remain a writer for just that reason.

The last point, #21, I hope is true - although I suspect I've gotten better than I deserve.  This blog has picked up some trolls, particularly in the last few months when I've been around a lot less, but generally speaking the culture of this blog has always been a really wonderful one.  Most often the twits go away and find someone else to bother, simply because there isn't enough excitement in a community that works from the assumption that others are acting in good faith.  That is the great joy of this work - the discovery that I am lucky enough to have a body of thoughtful, intelligent commenters who are willing to buck the culture of the net and assume others are indeed, intelligent beings who deserve to be given the benefit of the doubt.  If there is one thing about writing that does increase my net happiness, it is the majority of my commenters, from whom I get a great deal.



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I think we live in a culture that is profoundly embarrassed by any public display of joy and happiness. Maybe that's partly Puritan hangover, but I think it also has something to do with consumerism. The satisfied customer is the death of consumer capitalism, so satisfaction (much less happiness) is never encouraged except as a very momentary payoff. Our public culture and certainly the media we are supposed to consume is all meant to chafe and irritate and excite - so we're vulnerable to the next sales pitch. And with any great totalitarian ideology worth the name, we ourselves become carriers of it.

By Andy Brown (not verified) on 06 Feb 2013 #permalink

Actually, I really like reading the happy, contented descriptions of how you live and respond to the challenges that will face us all. That's what I came here for in the first place. There is plenty of controversial writing on the web, and plenty of good writing that talks about the coming doom, but very little about how we might deal with it in a constructive and caring way. I do also appreciate the occasional post that makes me question my thinking and my priorities. I don't comment very often, but I read everything! Please keep writing - I've been looking forward to the end of your maternity leave!

By Sarah in Oz (not verified) on 06 Feb 2013 #permalink

I don't like anger and controversy, or their blogs. Also, though, I rarely comment. I mostly read blogs for something to think about while I'm doing dishes. Or weeding. Or any other thing that is repetitive and tedious but oh-so-necessary. So, I I like your blog. I read every post since I found it, though I haven't gone through the archives. I think it's not a good idea to judge a post by the comments it generates.

so, does this mean you haven't really "abandoned" your other blog, which will now be blessed with new articles...and that i will have more to read and think about here as well? hope so. i think what you are writing about--having a good life without taking more than your share of our shared (?) resources--is about as important a thing as you can write about.
we can't, all of us have your life. we can see, thru your eyes, that such a life exists and is meaningful. we can look at that life and see ways to adapt it to our own.
i did have a life like yours, long ago. now, i live in a townhouse in a suburb of portland, oregon. i can't heat with wood or keep goats anymore. i can and do find ways to live lightly, to produce much of what we need, to share what i know and have with my community. for a majority of people who live in this country, urban is where we are and will remain.
what you have to share is an attitude and a body of knowledge that benefits us, whether rural or urban, as we change from being consumers of goods to being producers of our own lives.

I've been thinking about this overnight and find that Sarah in Oz has spiken my mind. Climate degradation and resource depletion are the largest issues the world faces. Your blog lets me read and think about them without processing a writer's anger and fear. God knows I have enough of my own. Your blog was recommended by another regular reader when I was despairing after reading The Long Descent.
Your blog also lets me feel proud of the many things I'm doing to lessen my impact...things that strike many in my life at bat-shit weird.

By Mary in Maryland (not verified) on 07 Feb 2013 #permalink

The books you have authored and the blogs you write have inspired not only myself but my husband as well. We have learned a great deal about discovering ways to use less, re-use what we have, extend what we have, and make a smaller impact on the environment because of you. We are farmers and I work at a community college. Our greatest distress is that our farm is part of the system of herbicide & fertilizer farming, a cycle not so easy to escape and still pay the mortgage. We have, however, sought many ways to reduce our impact on the land and continue to strive toward more improvement. Recently, it was necessary to do a major overall of our neglected farm home. We re-furbished many of the home's out-dated or damaged fixtures with repairs and paint, used No VOC paints, and recycled products throuout the renovation. Nothing that could be re-used was thrown away & non-usuable items that could be recycled were all sent to a recycling center. We even used a contractor 1/2 mile away for task we could not perform, which saved carbon emissions. Thank you for your contributions to our knowledge and our lives. I understand the 'maternity-leave' redirecting your current focus. In reality, raising your children and your foster kids is once again improving lives and our planet. God bless.

I rarely comment of read comments on blogs, but I figured you were looking for some reader feedback here. Your blog is quite different from most blogs I've found on similar topics - you put way deeper thought into what you say, and of course write much longer prose. I don't always agree with you, but I do always appreciate the fully fleshed out points, and general rationality. I've learned all sorts of things, and more importantly, thought in more detail about things I'd already formed opinions on. So, thanks.

I am guilty of commenting on facebook links to blogs a bit more than on the actual blog, usually because it's just easier that way. I very much enjoy reading your blog; after I found it I went back and read every post and then bought all of your books. I have also found other blogs through your blog, Crunchy Chicken, Greenpa, Kathy Harrison and Dmitri Orlov just to name a few. As far as the content of this particular post goes, I have this to say: I enjoyed watching Jerry Springer back before he began encouraging the fighting on his show (early '90's). He was genuinely trying to help people overcome their differences. Apparently, the fighting was good for ratings, but I am not the average viewer. Please don't change or stop writing because of the negativity of the masses. We love you just the way you are :)

You're always informative and thought-provoking, which is valuable. But you've said, many times, that part of what you are trying to accomplish is to show that it is possible to live quite simply and frugally, doing a great deal of work by hand that in our society these days is often done by some type of machine, and to be very happy and fulfilled doing so. And that's exactly what your happy musings do accomplish. That's tremendously thought-provoking, informative, and valuable, too, I think. There's quite enough anger and negativity in the atmosphere as it is.

Sharon, you have made a huge difference in my life. Others first made me aware of global warming, my carbon footprint, and the failure of a growth-based economy. But you -- and Nicole Foss (Stoneleigh on The Automatic Earth blog) -- actually talked about how I can prepare to live more lightly on this planet. How I can find true contentment in life. From reading your blog posts in early 2009, I signed up for your online Adapting in Place course that fall. Today my husband and I are both on the same page about the future. Your course -- and an overnight visit from Stoneleigh, who convinced him that the economy is never going to recover -- made all the difference. We are retired, own our home in the country, have no debt, can live on the Canadian equivalent of Social Security, and are becoming better gardeners every year. This spring, we'll have laying chickens, and someday I'll be studying your blog posts on goats before taking that plunge. We hope our children will someday live here and continue farming. Our push now is to make strong connections in our neighborhood. Without your blog and your course and your books, Sharon, I would still be clueless. I really can't thank you enough for showing us not only how to prepare for the future but also how to live fully and joyfully.