P066: The Polymaths These Days

Heather Armstrong has announced that she is stepping back from writing her blog full time and the old (check), blog-loving (check) people on the internet gasp, and then do linguistic gymnastics to explain Dooce to the youngins without using the word “mommyblogger.” In her post, Armstrong talks about the increasing stress and diminishing returns associated with the pro-blogging racket and lays out the consulting / public-speaking focused vision for her next, HBA Media. As a long-time-but-recently-lapsed reader, this is the kind of move that makes sense and rings true but then she goes and complains about The Kids These Days:

“Everything has been reduced to a small square photo on a phone. Attentions spans are now 140 characters long, sometimes as short as a video or a picture that self destructs in a few seconds. I have stood in a line at a coffee shop and watched as seven people in a row ordered something without looking up from their phone. The quick fix is king.”

Now, I pulled that paragraph from the middle of her article and it’s presented with about the same amount of context here as it is at the source. It doesn’t really support her argument or set up an anecdote. You get the sense that it was just a fun paragraph to write and was left in because of the sick coffee shop burn.

Can I make a living as a writer

It may very well be true that we collectively have shorter attention spans today than we did in 2005 but it’s also true that it’s always been difficult to make a living as a writer, as Jason Kottke’s post on the issue makes clear. While the idea of the writer toiling away in their Fortress of Solitude for years before dropping a novel and doing a 50-city book tour is romantic, many if not most professional writers have diversified their incomes to support themselves.

Paradoxically, the technology that enabled the blog revolution is also what is killing it. The days of being able to get paid for writing a blog and slapping some ads up in the sidebar are over – not because blogging is dead but because the march of technology has removed the advantages for the early pro-bloggers. Now that you don’t have to be a programmer and server administrator to publish on the web, the supply of great web writing has increased, far outpacing demand and driving down the price overall.

Heather Armstrong has shared so much of her life with us and I’m excited for her next adventure but if the collective takeaway from this announcement is that “blogging is hard and people won’t pay for original, independent content” then we all have missed the point. For me, this is just another anecdote that supports the notion that we are evolving into a society of freelancers, each with at least one day job and a multitude of side hustles. Those who embrace this new reality are those most likely to prosper. Diversify yourself.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron