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The late style or elder game of blogging

In his latest Orbital Operations newsletter Warren Ellis thought about “elder blogging” and, because I’m not sure that URL will work for long, and its robots.txt file prevents from saving it, I’m saving some good bits here, accompanied by my hasty thoughts.

Warren quotes this post by Venkatesh Rao who says, of “elder games”:

The idea is that in a complex game, after most players have finished a first full play-through, the mechanics might still leave interesting things for them to do. An Act 2 game-within-a-game emerges for experienced players who have exhausted the nominal game. A game dominated by such second-order players is an elder game.

An elder game tends to be more open-ended than the nominal game. In the ideal case, it is a mature infinite game that can go on indefinitely.

Blogging is now an elder game.

I don’t know what Rao actually means, in terms of blogging, to be honest. It’s not a random chase of “virality”, but I’m not sure what it is. He contrasts the elder game with “late style”, something that, by contrast, has a lot written about it. Here, for example, is Frank Kermode reviewing Edward Said’s On Late Style, in the LRB in 2006, writing about Adorno’s thoughts on Beethoven’s later work:

Adorno had attended closely to the late works: the last five piano sonatas, the last six string quartets, the Ninth Symphony and the Missa Solemnis. In these works, which still remember, but with extraordinary distortions, the usual musical forms, Beethoven established an alienated relationship with the contemporary social order. Adorno remarks the presence in this music of ‘unmastered material’, unmotivated rhetorical devices, carelessness, inept decoration and repetitiveness. Some of these works seem to be unfinished, or in other ways defiant of informed expectation. They are intended to be, sometimes grotesquely, out of touch not only with the public but with the work of the composer’s own middle period, so forceful, so structured, so consistent with his humane politics, as in the ‘Eroica’, the Fifth Symphony and Fidelio. By comparison with these masterpieces the late works are disorderly and even ‘catastrophic’. ‘For Adorno, lateness is the idea of surviving beyond what is acceptable and normal.’ Said calls this music ‘a form of exile’.

So, that’s the kind of thing that “late style” is, which Rao sees as different to the “elder game”… but, again, I don’t really know what that is, in terms of anything except board games.

Anyway, it’s interesting to wonder whether there is some kind of late/elder stage of blogging. And so, on to Warren, who’s retired his blog, MORNING COMPUTER as part of the frequent shifting of his public communication channels.

I am unavoidably an elder blogger. The main blogging muscle wore out long ago, as I think it does for most of us, but the remains of it still twitch. I happen to enjoy floating thoughts and images out into the digital void. The question becomes: how do I do it, and, perhaps, why? …

… the elder game notion is fascinating to me. Given that I’m never going to blog like it’s 2001, or 2009, or 2010… and I wanted a more flexible frame to present thoughts and not fully baked considerations (there’s an elder blog phrase for you, from Simon Reynolds on Blissblog, once a distant blogging relation of mine) and status notes/images and even station idents if I feel like it. These things are, in large part, captured in the net of elderblogging, in that they are things that surround “a blog” without actually, kind of, being a blog. Tumblelogs gave us permission for quotes and asides and photos to be in the weave of a blog, and, without wanting to get into the ancient hellscape of blogging about blogging, it’s sometimes worth considering how the vocabulary of writing online evolved over the years.

I don’t have any kind of conclusion or solid thought about all this. And I suspect that blogging, like tweeting, or taking photos, or any other vaguely creative activity undertaken by thousands or millions of people, is too varied for any reasonable person to make a grand statement about What It Is Like For Everyone. But it is true that things change and maybe I can corral some rough thoughts that might be more-or-less true for some undefined percentage of people.

I see two main ways blogging changes over time. There’s the way blogging changes as we move from 1999 (or whenever) to today, and then there’s how individual bloggers age and change.

So, first, the environment for blogging has undergone several changes over the past couple of decades. The audience is different now. Way, way back I only felt that “people like me, and who are online” would read anything I wrote, and that was a small subset of “all people”. Blogging on a public blog felt more private than it is now, separate from the “real world”. Whereas today I’m well aware that anyone could read this nonsense. Also, now, blogging is part of a much wider and more varied system of “publishing” online, for good and bad. For example, social media competes with blogging for attention (for both readers and writers) but can also spread posts to a wider audience than before.

And then, second, maybe there’s a change to someone’s blogging as they get older, and have been blogging for longer. Which I guess is the “elder game” or “late style”. How does someone blog when they’re 50 compared to when they’re 30? How does someone blog when they’ve been doing it for 20 years rather than six months?

At the moment I feel that, for one segment of the complex Venn diagram of bloggers, blogging feels more professional than it used to be, and I wonder if weeknotes are part of that. (Here are lots of people I don’t know writing weeknotes.) I’m not saying weeknotes are a bad idea — I like writing them myself — but they feel somehow more “respectable” and “professional” than frequent, irregular blogging. A vague aura of regularity, a public face, things achieved, a respectable “brand”. Maybe this is because weeknotes sort of originated as a work thing, where small companies or departments would sum up the week’s progress and events for customers, clients or colleagues. Here’s Bryan Boyer’s in 2009:

Weeknotes are updates about what your business has been doing over the past seven days or so. They’re about reflecting on your work, your achievements, and what’s on deck.

While people writing weeknotes now aren’t all writing about work (I rarely do), there’s still a bit of this attached to it I think. This “respectable” aura feels a long way from the old criticism of blogging that it was just sad nerds writing online diaries. I’m not saying it’s bad to blog about work, or to blog about very personal things. “It’s all good”, as they say. I’m just curious about this phase. Maybe this personal-professionalisation of blogging — a regular schedule; a regular, if loose structure; a tendency to write about work; a frequent focus on achievements and progress — is a stage in the evolution of blogging. Is this the “elder game”, whatever that is?

And I also wonder… if this is an identifiable stage, what’s next? Weeknotes don’t feel like “late style”. Even the most personal and erratic weeknotes don’t feel “disorderly and even ‘catastrophic’”, or “the idea of surviving beyond what is acceptable and normal”, or “a form of exile”. What would that be like? Catastrophic blogging?

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