Blogging a Sense of Place

I have written a bit on this and other blogs about sense of place. For anyone who knows me, they know this is a pet issue of mine. One that I find creeps into much of my other work.

As I have been traveling around the country organizing public involvement in FCC hearings on media ownership I have been tasked in part with finding creative ways to inform the public about the upcoming events. As a blogger myself, I have often turned to the blogging community in cities where I am organizing to help cover the issues that traditional media, because of their self interest, is so loathe to cover.

It was while I was haunting these unique local alleyways on the web, that I can across this article, talking about regional blogs. It focuses on a blogger who has found a “system” of ranking the bloggiest cities, neighborhoods, etc… The article notes “Johnson, whose OutsideIn.com has been trying to make sense of location-centric blogging, recently came out with rankings of the nation’s bloggiest cities, following up a similar study of the nation’s most blog-heavy neighborhoods.”

This phrase, “location-centric blogging” struck me. One of the most popular kinds of blogs is the regional city or neighborhood blog. Like a combination of the town criers of old and the gossipy corner barbershop or bar, these new-age news hounds have their ear to the ground and their finger on the pulse of their community. And through their careful attention to their place they are fostering a sense of community across the internet.

I can’t help but think of a theorist I read in my first year of grad school. In “Imagined Communities” Benedict Anderson links the creation of community, especially in the modern nationa state to the act of reading. Graham Lampa describes it this way: “Anderson credits the daily newspaper with creating the necessary preconditions for the rise of the modern nation-state; the reading of the morning paper is a ‘mass ceremony’ during which individuals receive information relevant to their lives within the national community. More importantly, the reader imagines that the ceremony he performs is being replicated simultaneously by thousands (or millions) of others of whose existence he is confident, yet of whose identity he has not the slightest notion.”

And in fact, just googling “imagined communities” gets you more results about blogs than about newspapers – so I am not breaking any new ground here in my effort to link sense of place blogging with the creation of community and identity. And yet, I think that we might give too much credit to bloggers and to the web in general if we too readily accept this notion of imagined community in term of regional blogs.

I have to wonder if such regional blogs are made popular by local readers or expatriate locals who have moved on to other pastures, or perhaps (and most likely) some combination of both. I think of regional magazines (one of the most popular forms of magazines). For a long time I was subscribed to Adirondack magazine – but never while I was actually living in the Adirondacks. There was a sense that infused the magazine, that it was always being written for people outside the Adirondack, for people away somewhere.

If this is true, and if this same kind of writing seeps into these regional blogs. Writing that is self-conscious of its own creation of a place, or creation at least of a sense of place, then what must we think of the place that these words and images create? Not only is it imagined, as we have described above, but also constructed intentionally for someone other than those who embody the place. And thus, these blogs create a disembodied place in the way that so much of the internet creates disembodiment.

Somehow, regardless of how striking our language, how factual our knowledge, how deep our understanding of a place, here – a place itself always mediated by keystrokes and computer screens – these places are always both disembodied and displaced.

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