Auld is the Lang Syne

Telephone Robot, commission by Joe Alterio

I started blogging ten years ago tomorrow–January 1st, 2001–with a quote from Parappa the Rapper, a welcome to my newborn niece, and the default Blogger theme. I wasn’t a very good blogger, but in 2001, who was? I’d make all these little placeholder posts, with the idea of going back and finishing them later. Heh. The big wheel of life keeps turning, and unfinished blog posts, I have since learned, do not typically finish themselves.

My god, this thing we (unfortunately?) call blogging has changed so much in ten years. It’s enjoyed its edgy youth, its boom town gold rush days, and its decadent high baroque. Now, with the rise of blogging’s vapid, staccato children, the blog as medium seems to be settling into old, weird decrepitude. Or maybe I’m just talking about myself. We always do, don’t we, when we talk about the internet?

It is time, I think, for Old is the New New, at least in its current incarnation, to come to an end. 

Not necessarily today, and not necessarily with this post. No, this blog will ramp down and fold up, I expect, in the same half-assed, dilatory way it has always lived. But it is time for some kind of change.

Ten years is a long run for a blogger, even one as erratic as I. If you are reading this, oh Teeming Dozens, thank you for your time. If you’ve been reading this site for any length of time, thank you. If you’ve ever commented, if you’ve ever linked, if you’ve ever gotten anything out of this at all, thank you. I am so grateful for, and flattered by, every success this little blog has had.

What exactly “come to an end” means is a little fuzzy. I am still going to be blogging about history and play at the shiny new group blog, Play The Past. I am, if a little unenthusiastically, on Facebook and Twitter. This site will absolutely stay up, maybe with a facelift of sorts. The archives aren’t going anywhere. (I’ve even been toying with the idea of vanity-publishing my best old stuff as a POD book. Would anyone buy one? Mom?) And whenever I write something new, as I expect I will from time to time, I will probably post it here. So in what sense will the blog be “done”? Why not just call this yet another hiatus? I’ve obviously had no problem letting these furrows lay fallow for months at a time before.

The reasons are mostly in my head. My life too often feels like a chain of endless open loops. (I am sure nobody reading this can relate.) As I scramble to hammer out the final revisions on my telephone book, assemble my tenure file, teach my classes, and try not to screw up my two kiddies too badly, I’d prefer to think of Old is the New New as some kind of accomplishment, rather than one more hovering obligation. And the way to do that, I think, is to draw a line and call it done.

I also want to free myself for new things. I remember talking once about “blogging voice” with Timothy Burke. For me, Tim sets the gold standard for academic generalist blogging. He’s got a brilliant, playful, wide-ranging mind and can find something interesting and original to say on any topic under the sun. But Tim has written more than once about how the “voice” he’s crafted on his blog is both “a treasured accomplishment and a frustrating confinement.” “The more you write,” he says, “the more your writing is both burden and expectation, a second self whose permission is required before you do something new.”

I know what he means. Even with my own erratic output, there are a few hundred posts below this one, trailing back ten years to the start of this century. I doubt many of you have read them all, but I have, and I do feel them dragging in my wake whenever I sit down to write something new. How many posts have I started by linking to what I said on the same subject two years ago, or three, or five, or eight? I want to be able to start fresh, to sharpen and revise my voice. I don’t know if a new format or URL or blog theme will be enough for me to do that, but it’s a start.

Finally, I’m just a little down on the whole internet deal just now. I know that every generalization about the web is wrong, including this one. Emily Gould called the internet “a chimera that magically manifests in whatever guise its viewer expects it to.” My internet isn’t yours, and again, whenever we make hand-wavey generalizations about the web, we’re mostly just describing our own neurochemistries. So read this how you will, but when I look at the web today, I get tired. There’s great stuff out there, I know. But I can’t shake the sense that rhetorical closure is setting in, and it’s not all we thought it was going to be. Four years ago, Time‘s Person of the Year was “You,” which is to say, us, which is to say, that whole user-generated people power 2.0 schtick. Yes, it was hokey and about three years late in coming, but a worthwhile sentiment just the same. This year, of course, Time‘s Noble Personage is Mark Zuckerberg. Don’t tell me there’s not some kind of declension there.

There was a time when the web, and the blogosphere in particular, surprised and delighted me every damn day. It doesn’t do that lately. Am I just old? Maybe. But the thing to do, I’m thinking, is not to get all wistful about it. It is to step back, to try to rethink and hopefully rediscover my relationship to this space, and see if, somewhere down the road, I can’t surprise and delight myself (and maybe you) once more.

Until then, thanks for reading.


  1. What a sad announcement this is, speaking as a reader. But, as a fellow traveller in the blogosphere who feels that same sense of hovering expectation and erratic output, it’s an understandable one. As this blog passes into weird history and less occasional robots, let me state for the record that I’ve found your presence on the web a continual source of erudite entertainment, and that I look forward to being further surprised and delighted.

  2. As long as we get to read you, somewhere: blog, facebook, twitter, print, it will all be ok. Yours is a voice that should continue to be available for some of our own wonder of “the internet” to continue enchanting.

  3. As someone who understands that awesome things must end to make room for more awesome things (and has acted on that knowledge), I wholeheartedly endorse this move.

    Which doesn’t make what you’ve done here any less awesome, of course.

  4. Rob, I think you know you won’t hear any argument from me against this! My own erratic output and dilatory wind-down should be enough to show that we are on the same (web?)page about these matters. Kudos with the book revisions (I feel your pain!), good luck with the kiddoes (that’s where there’s real joy to be found), and thanks for all the great posts. Looking forward to reading more of your work, in whatever incarnation it comes.

  5. Sad news, if not surprising. Thanks for all the great writing — looking forward to seeing you around.

  6. Rob, I’ll be looking for the next big thing from you. I was one of your Teeming Dozens and I thank you for helping me ponder my world. And for the robots.

  7. Really sorry to hear this, Rob. I hope you resurface somewhere else, and soon. I have to say, the change in URL for me made all the difference; hopefully it will for you too.

  8. Hey, I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts, as have my kids. We home school (in a big, liberal, child led, eclectic way) and we’ve had fun using some of your ideas. We’ve used your posts as launch boards and as writing prompts. But, as a former mommyblogger, I agree that blogging can lose it’s draw and easily become just another obligation. Enjoy your freedom and thank you!

  9. I’m sorry to have only stumbled upon this after you’ve called it quits, your writing style is incredible and, though i’ve only read three or four of your posts, I really enjoy you’re blog. Thanks for creating this kind of content, this blog is about the opposite of what dismayed you about the internet in this post.

  10. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Rob, for bringing all of us so much fun and entertainment, as well as teaching us. See you in tomorrow’s future!

  11. Pingback: History at Work and Play: Thoughts on the AA Archives Workshop | Points: The Blog of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society

  12. Sometimes you need to disconnect from the world to reconnect with yourself, with silence, with the present, with your own center, to be able to see the meaningful life, to return to “live”…

    See you on the way…

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