Monday, January 16, 2017

10 Year Reflections: On Blogging

(source)
This blog, Ask a Korean! was born October 21, 2006. (Here is my very first post, and my very first question answered.) The decade mark of the blog last year should have been a significant occasion. But because of the circumstances in my life (which I will share in due time,) I was not able to give this blog a proper celebration.

So here it is to open the new year: a belated 10 year celebration, through a series of reflections about different topics--on blogging, Korea, and myself. Yes, this is going to get a bit self-indulgent. If you have a problem with that, go read The Most Important Policy of this blog one more time.

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I began this blog as a way to kill time during the slowness of third year in law school. The direct inspiration for the blog, reflected in its name, is ¡Ask a Mexican! by Gustavo Arellano, who ran (and still runs) his syndicated column in OC Weekly. The blog was somewhat of a joke to myself--in fact, that is still the case in my head to this day. I gave myself a ridiculous pen name, The Korean, and wrote in a ridiculous style, referring to myself in third person. The joke was: you are really not supposed to take me very seriously. I'm just a random guy on the internet with a blog.

As many of my jokes go, this one failed. For reasons unknown to me, people kept reading the blog. Publications like the New York Times took me seriously enough to send a reporter to interview me. Although media appearances now have become a regular feature of the blog, I still don't really understand why they keep reading my stuff. In my mind, it means the journalists are not doing their jobs; if they knew what they were talking about, they wouldn't read this internet rando's blog.

I can't get over this point partially because I cannot get over what blogging was like ten years ago. Back then, having a blog was a mild embarrassment, like online dating was back in the day. Calling yourself a "blogger" meant you could not manage to get a job. Blogging was not real writing; it could never be serious. 

In the past ten years, I saw this change in different ways. First came the boom times. Starting around 2009, blogging became mainstream to a point that every company was essentially required to have a blog on its website, just as much as it needs to have a Facebook page and a Twitter account today. On the particular subjects I covered--Korea and Asian America--there was a thriving network of blogs like Marmot's Hole, Roboseyo, Brian in Jeollanam-do and Korea Beat. It helped that this period was also the peak of English speakers visiting Korea to teach English, which led to more bloggers and blog readers. 

Another turn came around 2013. Blogging became so successful that it turned into something else entirely. Big name blogs, written by serious people discussing serious stuff (like Marginal Revolution or Volokh Conspiracy,) were absorbed into the framework of mainstream media (in their cases, to the Washington Post) and simply became "media." For people who simply wanted to chronicle their daily lives (or minutely or secondly lives, as it turned out,) first came Tumblr, then Twitter, where they could vomit their thoughts in real time.

This larger trend was visible in Korea bloggers also. One by one, lights started going out. Some wrote much less frequently; some shuttered their blog entirely. The list titled "Korea" in my RSS feed became shorter and shorter. I could not help but notice that as bloggers got older and more involved with their family or career, their writing slowed down. After all, blogging was just a hobby. Time to move on from childish things.

The latest turn affected this blog also. I went from being a graduate student to an attorney who has been practicing law for nine years, and recently, father of a newborn girl. At its peak, AAK! used to have an update nearly every day. Now, my short impressions have migrated entirely to the blog's Facebook page and Twitter. The blog became the place for a more involved writing, requiring more research and reflection.

All of this leaves me in a bind. My blog never got big enough to be a money-making venture. Not that I would want it to be so--that would drain all the fun out of writing. But this does mean that my blog remains a hobby, a very time consuming, expensive one. (Remember, I am in a profession that charges by the hour.) What is more, the cost of engaging in this hobby is rising every day. Being a more senior attorney means more demand on your time. I have been a father for exactly 12 days, and I cannot see the task getting any easier in the next decade.

Ironically, the blog's success also constrains. I would have never, ever guessed that Ask a Korean! would become what it is today. I would have never, ever guessed that the blog would have more than 15 million pageviews, or one of my posts would get more than a million pageviews. I would have never, ever guessed that having a blog would allow me to connect with people who shape the world we live in. The attention the blog has received compelled me to become a better writer and more rigorous thinker--a happy result. 

But it also made me more cynical and calculating in the topics I choose to write about, especially because each post now requires so much work. I always enjoyed writing about random trivia about Korea. One of the big moments for this blog was when I translated Prince Fielder's neck tattoo, which made this blog the top Google search result when anyone searched for tattoo in Korean. Can I enjoy trivialities with the blog anymore, when the time I spend to write becomes more and more precious? Can I continue to afford this hobby? Really, who blogs any more, except those who are paid to do?

I sense that soon, I will have to make some type of decision about what to do with this blog. But I don't even know what that decision will be.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

13 comments:

  1. I really enjoy your blog and hope you keep writing it in some form. I especially enjoyed your rundown of the current scandals, because, culturally speaking, I didn't "get" what was going on, or the connection to Sewol. And those blog entries too were enlightening. So how about doing quarterly updates? And don't leave out the "trivial" blogging, because what I like about the blog is its sometime breezy air, even when engaged in serious subjects.

    As to fatherhood, I've been there, and my experience was that once they get to be around 4 or 5, they have the "being a kid" thing down perfectly, and if you're lucky, this phase lasts until they are 11 or 12, when the challenges get a little steeper, because they think they're grown up already, and well, they ain't. So that part is tricky. Good news there is, as a lawyer, you're well equipped to negotiate and perhaps compromise. My other experience as a dad? I was way more protective of my daughter than my son. Logically, it shouldn't be the case, but empirically, that's what happened. So good luck with fatherhood. Some days horrific, more often just quietly fulfilling, so long as you make yourself make time. Cheers, and keep writing, when and if you have the time.

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  2. In the midst of all the threads in your life--threads like parenthood, marriage and career, alongside others like friends and travel--I hope you'll find a way to continue writing, in a way that I and so many others can read as easily as we do now. The parts of this experience (AAK)that have 'celebrity' are delightful, but I realize that folk like you sometimes decide that life must have a different mix...
    Thank you for your writing in these past years, I look forward to the coming ten...
    --Mark

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think I have followed this blog for about 5 years now. One time I even bravely mustered the courage to ask the korean to help me understand what the ajumma at the convenience store wrote down for me...and the korean kindly replied. I second Mark and theonemacduff in hoping that you keep this blog running even if its as an occasional banchan in the feast of life. I hope all areas of the korean's life are fulfilling, joyous, interesting, enriching, and satisfactory in some level...including this blog. Here's to 10 awesome years and hopefully many more! Thank you!! Ü

    ReplyDelete
  4. Like the others, thank you for writing and I hope you continue, even if less often. I loved the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of each cultural facet you presented, no matter how silly or slender the topic. You have at various times a pointed, or sensitive, or passionate viewpoint, and I appreciated each one.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Whatever you do with this blog, I support. But if you continue to write here, I hope you write things that you find enjoyable. There is no point if you're not having fun. I wish you the best of luck, as a person who enjoys your blog very much.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I value reading your blog, and it would be a loss to me if you discontinue it. I realize that's a selfish viewpoint, and your need to balance your time between the demands of career and family must have precedence. I will say as a parent of an adult child that it's very easy to allow yourself to pour all your energy into career and child raising, and leave nothing for yourself. That tends to have negative consequences long term. So, if blogging is still an enjoyable hobby, I hope you will consider continuing with it in some form. Perhaps you might outsource some of the research work, or write more infrequently, or choose to write about subjects that don't require as large an amount of time to prepare. In any case, thank you for your years of providing the world with interesting and informative reading about Korea.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have followed your blog intermittently over the last few years, each time involving a binge read of your articles, so I think I must have read most if not all of what you have wrote. I appreciate all the works that you have put into it and hope that you value the compensations you get, albeit not monetary, but the positive influence you have in encouraging people to think. I certainly much rather read your article than read some poor attempts in journalism that we see even in mainstream news. Having said that I'm equally happy to read any random stuff that catches your fancy because I am a fan of The Korean :).

    ReplyDelete
  8. Am I the only person that wants to read the conclusion of the Top 50 KPop Artist list? Don't leave me hanging!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, you're certainly not the only one, Mr. Anaconda.

      Delete
  9. The fact that you're the the top logical and respected voice giving Korea's perspective on the plethora of issues covered says a lot of about the importance of your blog and the sorry lack of Korean voices in English language media. I sincerely hope that you will continue this blog in one form or another.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I literally sent your choi soon sil explainer to a younger friend as an example of whats been lost since blogs by interested people writing for themselves and their fans changed to SEO driven hot-takery.

    Can't tell you to sacrifice work or family for my enjoyment, but do know that this was a good run, and a hell of a blog, and Id love it if you kept it up.

    Also, as someone who found it while living in korea to teach english, right aftet the blog started, has the ESL wave peaked? Whats that mean, whats it like now?

    Wasn't aware I was part of a wave. Though we were all of us hugely unqualified to teach kids. They were definitely taking all comers.

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