The Blogging Caste

I’m really glad the Jamaican government decided to spend $12 million (Jamaican of course; J$80=US$1) on fireworks at the waterfront on New Year’s Eve. It was a mere series of blips compared to the displays in Hong Kong and Australia but they were our blips and we enjoyed them. I hear the mutterings and rumblings about how the money could have been put to better use etc but it’s not as if Jamaica is Zimbabwe or Iraq. We haven’t been ravaged by disease or war in quite the same way and there’s a limit to the difference a hundred and fifty thousand American dollars could make to the general well-being of the population.

In fact a firework display for all to enjoy was one of the few ways the money could have been used to benefit many. All things considered the fireworks did briefly manage to prop up a generally sagging public morale I think. As bad as things seemed by the end of the year at least we weren’t too poor to afford fireworks. Thousands turned out to reclaim the normally abandoned downtown and waterfront areas of Kingston and I hear Tivoli was popping with a more rollicking session of Passa Passa than usual. I’m sure vendors and hustlers did a roaring business that night. And it wasn’t just downtown. Cars and people lined the Palisadoes road all the way to the airport to watch the fireworks and set off their own.

I surveyed the numerous firework displays from the lofty heights of Stony Hill where we enjoyed a commanding view of the city. A private home in Jack’s Hill threatened to rival the fireworks at the waterfront. We viewed it as a struggle between the private sector and the public to outdo each other. The latter won, just about.

So 2008 was a rough year and 09 doesn’t promise to be any better. The Israeli pounding of Gaza underscores the grim future that awaits many of us. Meanwhile that ingenious merchant of hope, Barack Obama, gets ready to occupy the most powerful throne on earth. Will he actually make a difference? What will we be thinking and saying of him a year from now? And when is someone going to invent fast forward and rewind buttons for life so that we don’t have to leave such matters to speculation?

My new year’s resolution in 2007 was to start a blog in 2008. Determined to join the blogging caste I managed to kick start Active Voice last January and it picked up momentum during the course of the year. What an odyssey into the unknown it’s proven to be, this excursion into the blogosphere; this deepening acquaintance with the internet and cyberspace. The world wide web is a sticky place and blogs are like mini-webs spun by human arachnids who aim to trap you with silky tripwires. Not to eat those who wander into their webs but to entice them to return, again and again, leaving trails of page views and visits and occasional comments— blogfood—that rich humus that feeds the growth of blogs.

How bloggers who never receive comments or a minimum of visits continue to maintain their output is beyond me. But then again its all relative. I think i’ve done well to have received close to ten thousand hits over the last year but when you compare that to Indian bloggers whose page views number in the hundreds of thousands you may as well retire coz it’ll probably be the year 3000 by the time you get there. I mean Domain Maximus will soon reach the million viewer mark and the Compulsive Confessor is already a million plus .

So although advertisers would have us rate the success of blogs by the number of hits they attract on a per diem basis—apparently anything less than 2000 hits per day is not considered worth spending advertising dollars on —there are other indicators of blog health and success that may not be as easily quantifiable.

The other highlight for me has been allowing myself to get into Facebook in a serious way. At first I couldn’t understand why I should join such a network. It seemed to me like entertainment for the feeble-minded or ultra young with its good karma requests and its past life, monster birth and mob wars invitations (all of which can be safely ignored). Then I read a New York Times article about ‘Digital Intimacy’ or something like that which explained the whole concept of the thing and suddenly I got why it’s as innovative as it is.

From the album: Hitman Wally

Haven’t looked back since. Life without Facebook is pretty damn unimaginable today. The poverty of the print media in Jamaica was brought home to me when I read Eve Mann’s review of Sting 08 (Jamaica’s top dancehall event, held every December 26) that she posted as a note in Facebook. Her excellent account underscored the anodyne, barely competent writing we tolerate from print journalists here. It remains a mystery to me why Jamaican newspapers offer their readers a third-rate product when first-rate writing is so readily (if not as cheaply) available. Surely they realize that like anything else you get what you pay for?

This preference for second and third-best isn’t confined to Jamaica. In Trinidad and Tobago (and elsewhere) stunned readers of his column are expressing dismay that the Trinidad Express has terminated B.C. Pires’s provocative and acutely critical weekly column. Ever one to lay bare the truth with wit and originality Pires probably wasn’t as biddable as the Express would have liked. Without more information one can only speculate. In one of his last columns for the Express he interviewed himself. He was nothing if not hard-hitting and original.

Closer to home the Gleaner seems to have terminated the column of the punderous Dr. Orville Taylor (it never fails to amuse me the childish glee with which people brandish their titles here. Even ‘Mrs.’ is an honorific in Jamaica and she who has earned the right to be called ‘Mrs.’ is likely to rub it into your face with all the zeal of a Pond’s Cold Cream salesperson). Dr. Taylor liked to announce his witticisms with an advance marching band of quote marks and both bold and italic type just in case there was a reader who didn’t get it. In many ways Taylor was the opposite of B.C. Pires, lacking his finesse and acrobatic way with words and ideas, so his departure is likely to be met more with sighs of relief than regret, although he did have his fans (Stero?). Of course no one could be more grief-stricken than Dr. Taylor himself. Contrast his parting column, Swansongs and Auld Lang Syne with that of Pires, Write time, wrong place.

But guess what guys! The twenty-first century piece of all-purpose advice is no longer “Get a life!”; its “Get a blog!” Come join the blogging caste–the only caste you don’t have to be born into. So what if your papers have cut you loose? Its their loss…light a candle, sing a sankey and find your way to! Your readers will follow suit.

Author: ap

writer, editor and avid tweeter

20 thoughts on “The Blogging Caste”

  1. Twitter is full of twits, if you ask me. That’s why I’m on it.A good pun doesn’t need announcing, it should make itself felt as directly as possible. Why, by the bye, does Taylor lavish so much praise on the <>Gleaner<> which has been against almost every change in Jamaica since its inception? And why does he say that Morris Cargill was ‘forced into exile’? Nobody was holding a gun to Morris’s head, and nobody stopped him from writing from abroad (from New Jersey, to be precise) in the pages of the <>Gleaner<> urging Jamaicans to collapse the government of Michael Manley. Equally, nobody stopped him from coming back, before Manley’s defeat, to continue the battle on the ground in Jamaica. I should know. I had a front-row seat, after all, since I worked at the, ahem, <>Gleaner<>.

  2. i still don’t get twitter…so i’ll have to wait for some illuminating article about it.yes, i’m completely mystified by OT’s encomiums about the Gleaner. Dawn Ritch also used to go on about it being a grand old paper. bull@£$&!its better than the other two, that much i’ll give it and its got some priceless writers like Robert Lalah and some good reporters but as an overall paper?? blah!what i’d like to know is whether 2009 will be the year when the Jamaican media discovers the community of bloggers–

  3. Twitter’s fun, if you have the time and want to share ideas &/or the minutiae of your day.Dawn Ritch? Ah, yes. She does have a, shall we say, interesting attitude towards the lower classes.

  4. A Kenyan colleague recently suggested (on Twitter!) that “Facebook is for the people you used to know, twitter is for people you would like to know”, which is a neat way to look at it…. Here’s how someone else sees it: personally find Twitter much more interesting than FB–there’s less posturing, less gratuitous cleverness, and nobody tries to throw sheep at you. It’s a very speedy way to share news and links, and recent events in Mumbai, Gaza etc. have also shown how useful it can be in a crisis, to communicate with a very wide range of people who may all be interested in an event but not know each other. Plus FB is walled off from the rest of the world–you have to be an “insider” to communicate with someone there. Twitter is public. It combines a lot of the best features of blogging, email, and instant messaging. (And integrates well with your blog and FB page.)And of course it’s one of those phenomena that gets more useful and interesting the more people join….(Like many people, I thought it was pointless till I started using it.)

  5. Hi Annie, 2000 hits a day, huh? That’s daunting. Don’t agree about the fireworks – here are some things we could do with $12 m.Fix up a school or a clinicMake a parkPay someone who works at a non profit for at least six years, maybe more Clean a gullySupply a homeless shelter with food for several yearsEtc.We’re too focused on short term, feel good stuff…DianaP.S. What is Twittering?? I’ve just managed to come to grips with blogging…can’t keep up…

  6. Good riddance to a certain now-former columnist, I say. He really made sociologists look like twits.Now, about Twitter: the term “twit” comes to mind every time, and just doesn’t strike me as the kind of activity I want to be involved in. Birds twitter in an interesting way; humans? not sure. And since texting is starting to get on my nerves, I’m very reluctant. But if Annie is going to get on this bandwagon, i guess I can give it a try and see how it goes.

  7. I forgot to say: sometimes a little feel-good is ok, and fireworks are pretty much unrivaled in that category.The material conditions are not the only place where the lives of Jamaicans are in dire need of some improvement. Sure the money could have cleaned a gully, but how much of the money would be around to maintain the gully, and do the kind of public education that would keep the gullies clean?The fact is that there is very that happens in Ja. that is truly public and free in terms of cost (and thus, stigma). I think it was a good idea to bring people out from behind their splendid burglar bars into community with each other, even if its just to look up at the sky together and make the same oohhs and aahhs. And that the focus was downtown certainly helps to reshape people’s images and experiences of the place. Slowly but surely it will not be so easy to dismiss downtown as a war zone/ghost town or trivialize the lives and contributions of people who live and work there.Now, what would be nice is to have some feel-good AND some evidence of hard work about which we can all feel good.Talking about feel-good moments amidst filth brings up another question: have you seen Slumdog Millionaire yet? What did you think?

  8. Diana: People need some roses as well as bread. There is nothing wrong with a little public display, and some fireworks. They are auspices of a better age, as it were.

  9. yes, Natalie those are the lines along which i was thinking…getting people out in the streets, particularly downtown, is so important, instead of huddling terrified in our respective cages.Diana by any chance are you reclaiming your Sunday column with the Gleaner? that space used to be yours before it was given to a certain ‘sociologist’…yes thank heaven for small mercies. small bits of good news add up.yah, why did they have to call it twittering…twit inevitably comes to mind. nevertheless based on N’s recommendations i shall try it and i don’t mind some company Natalie.

  10. Hail Annie Paul,I’m surprised that I’m NOT the only one that was annoyed by OT’s scribbling at the Gleaner.(You guys are very polite and restrained in the way you show disapproval. “unno fraid?”)I gather that Orville was cut because of the new financial reality that the Gleaner has to face. His departure maybe due to that Global economic crisis we keep hearing about. “…there’s a limit to the difference a hundred and fifty thousand American dollars could make to the general well-being of the population.” I STRONGLY disagree!While Jamaica’s state of poverty is far from “Zimbabwe or Iraq” we are still POOR. We should not therefore look at the extravagance of “Hong Kong and Australia” and suggest that US $150,000.00 is a pittance. I think it was Dudley Seers who opined that “the margin of utility for one dollar is less for a person living above the poverty line than it for a person living below.” Or something like that…I couldn’t find my development theory book! Interpretation: A dollar means more to me than it does to most Australians because there is extensive public poverty in Jamaica. This is evidenced by the state of most of our roads and public buildings.A dollar means more to a person in Tivoli Gardens, Rema, Matthews Lane, Gravel Heights, Buck Town, Tawes Pen (infinity) than it does to Annie or Stero. $12 million can change the “general well-being of the population” of any number of these communities with serious knock on effects for the rest of the country. Ms. Paul (and other supporters of bright lights and big bangs) the debate about how public funds should be spent in hard times is nothing new. Friends and I had this same discussion when Jamaica tried to enter the Guinness Book of World Records by making the largest football in the world. That dream was however deflated when the ‘object’ was not classified as a ball by Guinness. That was a waste and so is putting fire to my tax dollars. Yes, there are merits to hosting free family events downtown. However, it becomes meaningless (despite claims made) and unable to change attitudes towards downtown in the face of continuing violence. Additionally, even if it did change attitudes, were fireworks the best bang for my buck? Did $12 million worth of fireworks have to be the main attraction? We already spent a hefty sum for the concert / stage show and other parts of the event.A friend and I (ironically both strong advocates of the right of ALL law abiding citizens to bear firearms) were disturbed that the major attraction of a family event should be bright flashes accompanied by loud explosions. “How wi fi vex when man gi gun salute a dance ar funeral ar new years night?”By the way Annie, the new slang is no longer “to di wrel” but “boom bang” (it per dates the fireworks)…no joke. It generally refers to the ease with which something is/can be done. Finally, please don’t twitter your time away! This blog and FB is enough.Peace and love, Stero

  11. Alas too late Stero, i’ve twittered the day away…i remember that absurd ball. in fact thanks for reminding me, that was such a preposterous idea…you really had to wonder at the sanity of people who would propose such a thing…but that was nothing like spending money on fireworks. still you’re the policymaker despite having misplaced your dev theory textbooki agree that a dollar means something quite different to a poor person but there’s no guarantee that any part of this 12 m dollars would have reached their pockets. it usually gets diverted along the way into other less deserving you have to admit that at least it gave us pleasure to see that money go up in flames rather than enrich the unworthy.boom bang!

  12. The $12m wasn’t just for fireworks, it was for a huge public concert as well. There was also a big thing of rides and attractions for kids from 4pm. I went and it was quite an experience. Over 100,000 people, all very orderly, a very nice vibe. Of course I’m biased here, but for a rare few moments I felt like I live in a normal country that is not just about dysfunctional interactions and negative occurrences.

  13. entertaining the masses doesn’t come cheap, you could fix up a school but then again theres so many things to do, which is why we have budgets

  14. The fireworks display could be considered a boost to the economy not only because of the night’s take by vendors but by the show of confidence by the Government. However, when wastefulness becomes an economic policy then the people should be worried. I already put up a link to on my blog and I can’t wait for it to become active. I wonder how much of the removing of the TGIF column was based on BC being an outspoken atheist? Nice blog 🙂

  15. It’s a hard call, entertaining the masses for one night or improving the condition of a school in need…. I think I’d probably come down on the side of the school…although I do realize that the entertainment side does have some merit…as I said, a tough call. Congrats on your blog and facebook…twitter can be fun and a good way to promote your blog too…Bloggers to the werl…

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