Let's Talk About It: The Blogging Echo Chamber (Or Not?!)

February 27, 2016

In her memoir The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination, Sarah Schulman dedicates a chapter to the homogenization of art and creation. She specifically discusses how MFA programs can encourage uniformity when they guide their students toward a predetermined set of "influential voices":

One is the homogenization of influences. Students in an MFA program often are exposed to the same ideas and artworks as their classmates. They don't stumble through the world accruing eclectic influences, based on their own aesthetic interests, impulses, and chance. They lose the opportunity to fight to be influenced, to check out weird things and trail after unusual people. This creates homogeneity.

Schulman took on big topics in a slim number of pages—most prominently how the AIDS crisis led to literal and artistic gentrification—and you should definitely read it to learn more about them. It also got me thinking about something smaller and closer to home.

I've only been blogging for a little over a year, and in that time, I've come across a wide variety of bloggers. Genre junkies, free-range readers, folks who only post reviews and others who never post them, people only reading the latest and greatest and others who have zero interest in chasing down ARCs. No matter what you want to read, someone is out there writing about it; if they aren't, it's a cinch to grab a URL and get going on writing it yourself. The reading and writing freedom is astounding and invigorating. Even so, I do think that many bloggers (particularly newer ones) go through a period of thinking they should only be covering the newest, buzziest books on the block.

On the one hand, perhaps this is good—if we're all going to read the same book, what could be better than having a wide variety of opinions on it, rather than a a small handful of authoritative voices coming from above, à la The New York Review of Books? Plus, we have the power to cover far more books than do the big outlets, meaning that overlooked gems are more likely to get their fair share of attention.

On the other, I do wonder if there is a tendency toward creating an echo chamber that discourages bloggers from reading outside of the publishing cycle out of fear that readers won't be interested in hearing about backlist or books off the beaten path. Even if our opinions on it vary, we're still only thinking about and covering a finite amount of source material.

This brings up the elephant in the room, the one Schulman is really getting at above: being "successful" at what we do (in this case, blogging). When we don't believe that the books we want to read or the content we want to create is "interesting enough," we may look toward other "successful" bloggers to guide us in what we should read and how we should write. This isn't necessarily bad—there are lots of excellent, "successful" book blogs out there—but depending too much on them for guidance can perpetuate sameness in what we read and how we write about it.

I'm throwing a lot of different ideas at the wall here, and I'd love to have you all weigh in!

Do you think there's such a thing as a "blogging echo chamber"? Do you think that the sheer number of blogs out there prevents this from being true? Talk to me!

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