In Praise of Lurkers

Over the weekend 317am quietly celebrated its second anniversary. Kaze is presently off in Italy wowing the literati of Rome with his thoughts about Keats, so it was a brief and, one might say, solitary event. As I pondered two years of blog posts five days a week, a few not-so-deep thoughts kept coming to mind.

First, that’s a lot of posts. Thank heavens we have the Web. Imagine the destruction of forests if bloggers the world over had to do things the old-fashioned way, on paper.

But second, thank heavens for our readers. Put most frankly – writers need readers the way dogs need humans.

This is a little counterintuitive. Yes, the impulse to blog begins with the need to sound one’s barbaric yawp across the skies, but soon enough it gets lonely in cyber-space. A blogger without readers is like a columnist without a newspaper, a border collie without a flock, a queen without courtiers, a rapper without a posse, a juggler without a crowd – I could go on but enough metaphoria.

Perhaps I should say lurkers rather than readers. The estimable Urban Dictionary defines a “lurker” as “a person who reads the posts on a forum, message board, etc, but does not post,” and in both the real and Web worlds the word often has overtones of creepiness. “The guy was just another lurker with no life,” says the UD by way of example.

The thing is, studies show that lurkers make up 99 percent of visitors to the typical blog; they’re the folks who quietly check things out and move on without stirring matters up.  I think the world could benefit from more lurkers and fewer bloggers. In another time lurkers might have been called gentle readers or common readers.

If you’re reading this post, in fact, chances are you’ve arrived at 317am in the fashion of what Samuel Johnson would call “the common reader.”

“I rejoice to concur with the common reader, “ the magisterial Dr. Johnson wrote. ”By the common sense of readers, uncorrupted by literary prejudices, after all the refinements of subtilty and the dogmatism of learning, must be finally decided all claim to poetical honours.”

This is just the kind of common-sensical, uncorrupted reader Kaze and I like to think 317am attracts. We know from your page views, comments, tweets, and Facebook Likes that many of you have taken pleasure in something that appeared on 317am and in that we delight.

Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment,” Kaze and I even longer. But while compliments are very pleasant, what we want more than anything is a response – agree-disagree, it doesn’t really matter. Our gold standard is simply touching someone else, whether it be making you laugh, getting you angry, making you think twice,  or even stimulating the growth of a few neurons.

Photo of neon Texas BBQ sign

Ancient source of 317am blog.

You see, something happens in blogging that I did not anticipate when we started this thing so casually over a barbecue lunch in DC two Octobers back. Over time a kind of compact develops between bloggers and readers. Bloggers implicitly promise that we’ll do our best and readers that you’ll show up regularly.

A couple months back a newspaper reporter interviewed me about blogging. I’ve noticed that under the stress of talking to a reporter, the most surprising things sometimes pop out of my mouth. This time I found myself blathering about a “sacred trust,” and then, asked why I blog, I found myself saying, “”The most fundamental reason…is to find out what I’m thinking. And that exercise forces my mind to work at a higher level.”

True, actually quite true, but what I left out is that performing the whole tightrope act in public is crucial to getting the best out of my brain. And for that we need lurkers.

Photo of D.H. Lawrence and friend

D.H. Lawrence and friend.

So, in honor of our common reader-lurkers, for this special anniversary edition of 317am, I’ve pulled some of the key historical posts from the vault. I know many of you have arrived relatively recently at 317am since visits are up about ten-fold from the audience we had three months after starting the blog.

“For Openers” (Oct. 9, 2009) – the first post, on what makes for a good opening sentence of a story.

“Monkey Business” (Oct. 12, 2009) – Kaze’s first post, on where we came up with the name 317am.

“Why 317am?” (March 19, 2010) – My alternative account of where that name came from.

 “Out There Skating with D.H. Lawrence” (July 19, 2010) – Kaze’s most popular post, on “ecstatic writing.”

“Waiting for the Muse” (March 24, 2011) – my most popular post, on that favorite topic for both Kaze and me, not writing.

The ultimate teenager, Holden Caulfield, J.D Salinger’s narrator of Catcher in the Rye,  famously said:

What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific  friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.

Well, Holden was writing before blogs came along. And while Kaze and I do not encourage phone calls, we are both friendly guys who respond to comments, emails, and tweets, and even hand-written notes.

Blog cartoon

Blogging: the deram and the reality.

15 Responses to In Praise of Lurkers

  1. Armstrong Tigre Oct 11, 2011 at 7:38 am

    Congrats on your second anniversary. We appreciate all you do to produce 317.

  2. I don’t want to be branded as a “Lurker”, Just consider me one of the “Posse”. I may not respond to all your blogs, but rest assured I do enjoy them, so keep them coming! P.S. “Waiting for the Muse”, good!

  3. Congrats for 2 years of successful blogging! You have succeeded in your goal of “simply touching someone else, whether it be making you laugh, getting you angry, making you think twice, or even stimulating the growth of a few neurons.” keep up the great work!

  4. Happy, happy, most, more than happy Second Anniversary, Rasoir and Kaze.
    Don’t remember where I came in (or when I dared make a first comment. I bet that very first one was for Ted), but I am overjoyed to be a lurker, or whatever you wish to call us. Your blog is better than the best cup of strong, black coffee in the morning, it makes me laugh, it makes me cry, think, it inspires me … och, it makes me feel sumpin’ like ‘one of the family’ and I think the name is genius. So there! In yer pipe ‘n smoke it, guys.

    • Ah, RDR, thank you. You are far from a lurker. Lurkers don’t say much and, nearly from the beginning, we’ve been able to count on your comments, which we enjoy a great deal. I like that “strong, black coffee” metaphor and wish we had a few thousand more like you. Kaze and I like to joke that for every post we write, we can always count on two other readers out there – each other and you.

  5. I lurk here hoping to encounter something like that photo of D.H. Lawrence and friend. Wow.

  6. I have a Border Collie who does not have a flock to manage and let me tell you, he’s one neurotic doggie.

    Congratulations on your anniversary. I’ve been visiting off and on for about the duration, occasionally making notes but more often finding the thinking here so complete that it does not require supplementing and does not bear contradiction.

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