Andrew Sullivan on the toll of blogging

Andrew Sullivan has written a TL;DR explanation of what it was that drove him from blogging.

There is much in his article that resonates with me.

I was sitting in a large meditation hall in a converted novitiate in central Massachusetts when I reached into my pocket for my iPhone. A woman in the front of the room gamely held a basket in front of her, beaming beneficently, like a priest with a collection plate. I duly surrendered my little device, only to feel a sudden pang of panic on my way back to my seat. If it hadn’t been for everyone staring at me, I might have turned around immediately and asked for it back. But I didn’t. I knew why I’d come here.

A year before, like many addicts, I had sensed a personal crash coming. For a decade and a half, I’d been a web obsessive, publishing blog posts multiple times a day, seven days a week, and ultimately corralling a team that curated the web every 20 minutes during peak hours. Each morning began with a full immersion in the stream of internet consciousness and news, jumping from site to site, tweet to tweet, breaking news story to hottest take, scanning countless images and videos, catching up with multiple memes. Throughout the day, I’d cough up an insight or an argument or a joke about what had just occurred or what was happening right now. And at times, as events took over, I’d spend weeks manically grabbing every tiny scrap of a developing story in order to fuse them into a narrative in real time. I was in an unending dialogue with readers who were caviling, praising, booing, correcting. My brain had never been so occupied so insistently by so many different subjects and in so public a way for so long.  

I was, in other words, a very early adopter of what we might now call living-in-the-web. And as the years went by, I realized I was no longer alone. Facebook soon gave everyone the equivalent of their own blog and their own audience. More and more people got a smartphone — connecting them instantly to a deluge of febrile content, forcing them to cull and absorb and assimilate the online torrent as relentlessly as I had once. Twitter emerged as a form of instant blogging of microthoughts. Users were as addicted to the feedback as I had long been — and even more prolific. Then the apps descended, like the rain, to inundate what was left of our free time. It was ubiquitous now, this virtual living, this never-stopping, this always-updating. I remember when I decided to raise the ante on my blog in 2007 and update every half-hour or so, and my editor looked at me as if I were insane. But the insanity was now banality; the once-unimaginable pace of the professional blogger was now the default for everyone.

If the internet killed you, I used to joke, then I would be the first to find out. Years later, the joke was running thin. In the last year of my blogging life, my health began to give out. Four bronchial infections in 12 months had become progressively harder to kick. Vacations, such as they were, had become mere opportunities for sleep. My dreams were filled with the snippets of code I used each day to update the site. My friendships had atrophied as my time away from the web dwindled.

That is exactly what it is like to do what I do. One reason I hunt is to get away from the phone, the laptop, the endless demands of what I do. I even know the bend in the access road where coverage disappears and I sigh with relief as I drive through. But the pull of what I do exists still…I also know the parts of the areas I am hunting that have a small area of coverage to check emails, update Facebook and grab the latest Tweets.

But the rewards were many: an audience of up to 100,000 people a day; a new-media business that was actually profitable; a constant stream of things to annoy, enlighten, or infuriate me; a niche in the nerve center of the exploding global conversation; and a way to measure success — in big and beautiful data — that was a constant dopamine bath for the writerly ego. If you had to reinvent yourself as a writer in the internet age, I reassured myself, then I was ahead of the curve. The problem was that I hadn’t been able to reinvent myself as a human being.

Again very similar to my own thoughts.

Andrew Sullivan checked himself into a meditation centre to “detox”. It was rather extreme. He lived in total silence for weeks. I couldn’t do that but I do enjoy silence. It is part of the reason I live where I live. Knowing that if anyone wants me they have to drive an hour to get to me. The beach, the wave sounds, the trickling stream and the beautiful ever changing view are all things that keep me reasonably sane. But cabin fever does build, the need to solace and peace sometimes. Like I said, hunting provides some of that, plus the benefit of a freezer full of meat.

These past few weeks have been a trial in reality and in my mind. I’m going to have to get some me space back again soon because if I don’t the black dog is going to bite…he’s already sitting there growling at me.

As is usual it is Andrew Sullivan who reaches out and sends me a message with his writing.

  • Odd Ball

    Do what’s best for you & your family Cam.
    Working for the common good might give you a warm feeling, but it can be a thankless task.

  • oldmanNZ

    Oh no, i think i feel like him, have to check internet for every news, message, useless or not.

    Maybe its time to take a break once in a while.

  • Sally

    Free advice from Aunty Sally
    Like everything there comes a time when one must pull back and revaluate life. Maybe it is one of these times. Ask some hard question of yourself. Are you achieving what you set out to do? Do you look forward to each day?After your sabbatical did you look forward to coming back?

    Maybe all it will take is some simple thing such as refreshing the website, getting a few more regular guest commentators, and remember the old adage quality, not quantity. Maybe set aside more regular days off.

  • gerard

    Do what you have to do to kill the black dog.

    • Miss McGerkinshaw

      Unfortunately from experience one never ‘kills’ it but the trick is to keep it in its kennel and I trust Cam manages to do that.
      It can be not only sneaky but also a seductive beast at times but taking it for a walk is never good or fun.

  • andrewo

    It’s hard to see where the internet is going.
    > One the one hand it’s clear newspapers are finished. Even in online form there is insufficient advertising revenue to prop them up long term.
    > It’s also clear the traditional TV is waning fast and losing its revenue and status
    > On the other hand I don’t see much commercial viability in blogging.
    So what will we finish up with?
    My guess:
    1. A handful of mainstream online newspapers who present an agglomeration of news.
    2. Some government funded media outlets like BBC, PBS, RT etc
    3. Lot of agitprop sites with a massive bias and untrustworthy information.
    4. Niche business and trade publications behind pay walls
    5. Millions of bloggers going it for fun

  • cows4me

    I remember when I was at school my science teacher use to make us punch holes in bits of card which she would send to some university to run through a computer. We were suppose to run maths problems but I think it was more like picking lotto numbers. The teacher would say “computers will make your lives better and you shall be free to do anything you can dream of because the computers will do everything”. I haven’t seen her for a few years, perhaps she would like to revaluate, I wonder just who works for who now days.

  • I like the idea of many more guest contributions. Make it easy for WO readers to submit their views in the form of submissions on topical issues by clearly inviting contributions. These can be edited, stored, released or published as Pete sees fit to retain the essential characteristics and philosophy of the blog. Take regular breaks to rest up from the constant responsibility and encourage others to truly make WO a multi-faceted information source.

  • Miss McGerkinshaw

    Whilst I appreciate and admire what you do frankly I have often wondered at the how.

    The above explains the toll of such an enterprise on someone like yourself and perhaps it’s a wake-up call to take time to do the old ‘pro’ and ‘con’ lists of doing something like this and evaluate the toll it takes on yourself and no doubt your family?

    Much as I would miss your voice you and your family are more important.