The New York Times recently published a story , “In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop,” that created a lot of buzz. The story told about bloggers who were literally working themselves to death. As if it were a quickly advancing trend, the Times’ Matt Richtel declared, “a growing work force of home-office laborers and entrepreneurs, armed with computers and smartphones and wired to the hilt, are toiling under great physical and emotional stress created by the around-the-clock Internet economy that demands a constant stream of news and comment.” The gist: The 24/7 news cycle of bloggers is killing them.
As I write this I am the picture of all that is unglamorous and unhealthy about being a blogger: wrapped in a blanket, in pajamas (quite the clichÃ©) and suffering from what might be the flu of a lifetime. My current state is both a salute to those who see bloggers as lazy bums who work in pajamas and a testament to the exhaustion brought on by being just the opposite. I’m not lazy; I work too much, and my immunities are paying the price.
I cringed as I read the NYT piece. Just a few months ago I had a stress-related headache so massive it left me half blind (temporarily) and cost me a trip to the emergency room. I had to pause when I read the anecdotal data the author used to make the case: At least two bloggers have died of heart attacks in the past year. Prolific tech blogger Russell Shaw died last month and his colleague Marc Orchant died in December of last year. And tech blogger and entrepreneur Om Malik thankfully survived his heart attack.
Blogger burnout is nothing new. Back in 2004, Wired reported on the phenomenon, which was forcing some bloggers to close up shop and quit blogging altogether. In 2005, one of the world’s first bloggers, Justin Hall, gave up his blog after 11 years of writing on it. The San Francisco Chronicle article about Hall’s departure from the blogosphere was titled “Time to Get a Life.” That title might refer to the fact that some people out there still think bloggers are just geeks with no social lives. Or it might allude to the sad truth that haunts so many of us: we’re isolated.
We are consumed by our work. We see our friends less. We spend entire days without leaving the house (sometimes more than that). We get our views of the outside world via those who actually live in it, more often than not from an email or an IM conversation. We spend more time chatting online with people we don’t know than with our “real” friends. And being tethered to a machine all day isn’t exactly great for one’s social (not social networking) life. In turn, our overall health suffers.
Then there’s the work itself. Many bloggers might not have an editor to answer to — though some do — but they’ve got throngs of readers always waiting for new content. If you’re a blogger who writes with any regularity, there’s the sense that if you’re not publishing you are letting down your readers (or letting down your colleagues, who fear you’re “getting soft”). And this applies to bloggers big and small.
Blogging for VivirLatino, which gets a few thousand visits per day from the same regulars, I feel indebted to those people. While journalists of old might have wondered about readers’ impressions of their work or waited to hear about them in Letters to the Editor, bloggers know instantly what readers think of them. Sometimes it’s nice. Sometimes it’s downright mean. If depression is brought on by isolation and lack of sunlight, it’s augmented by the thought that there are people out there who think you’re an idiot. But it comes with the territory.
Those who actually like what you write also pose a problem. Every post that is well received by readers creates a self-imposed quality level that is often hard to live up to. Many of us think we have to be the first to write about something, the first to dig deeper into a topic or the first to respond to something huge that’s happened in the world. And many of us do on a daily basis.
While I’m not going to deny the fact that people have died in the blogging community, I can’t help but think that this article is rather sensationalistic. People from all walks of life and all professions die every day, and it’s hard to tell whether these deaths or illnesses are directly related to their work.
Web entrepreneur Jason Calacanis put it well in saying, “The Times would have been better off blaming entrepreneurship over blogging.” Many bloggers are entrepreneurs whether we know it or not, attempting to build a brand for ourselves through our work on our own or other people’s blogs. But while our lifestyles might be unhealthy they are — at least for most people — hardly deadly. Ask a coal miner or a deep sea fisherman what they think of our vocation and then let me know what they say.
The dangers of blogging, if they exist, are self-imposed and the fruit of our own ambition and myopic view of what’s important. Blogger Larry Dignan at ZDNet puts it best: “Sure, the web has a lot of stress but let’s get real: If you’re stressed out over 5,000 RSS feeds chances are good you’d be stressed by any profession you chose.” The premise that we are all sick in body, mind and spirit because of blogging is overblown.
Tips for the Healthful Blogger
Even so, there are some bad things about being a blogger, and we all could use some moderation. So how do we balance the need to be online all the time — either because our livelihood depends on it or because blogging is a passion — with a healthy lifestyle? I ask that not as a rhetorical question but one that I’ve been struggling to answer myself. Here are three things that I think I could personally benefit from, both as a blogger and just as a person:
1. Get out of the house.
As crazy as it might seem to non-bloggers, many of us are holed up in our homes for days on end, afraid of missing breaking news. In my case, I’m researching stories, writing and helping maintain multiple blogs while also handling a handful of demanding clients and new ventures. Common sense would tell you to take a break, but our inability to be away from our computers keeps us indoors. It’s not healthy.
2. Stay in touch with the unwired set.
Talking to my mom once or twice a week is a good way to help put things in perspective. She has no idea what a blog is and helps me see the bright side of things. After all, according to her, I get to sit around in my pajamas all day and tap on a keyboard. But the serious side of this is that we are doing work that we love and can do it from home. We’re quite lucky (and relatively safe from harm!), and should value that.
3. Do research offline, or take a vacation from the Net.
Going off the Internet is hard for bloggers, and feeling disconnected is one of the biggest reasons why. But guess what? That feeling isn’t real. Stay off the computer long enough and you’ll see that the world got along just fine without your Twitter updates and your blog didn’t implode.
And if you need your information fix, I think it might be helpful to feed our intellect with information that isn’t real time, from say, a book or an encyclopedia (not Wikipedia) or even a real live paper newspaper. Or if you really want to go all out, take an Internet vacation; it’s important to take time away from technology, whether it’s for a real vacation or for a weekly “Day of Rest” where you have no tech for a day.
Blogger Om Malik, in a post responding to the NYT article this week, had some sensible advice: “Blogging doesn’t need to be a race. Really. Sometimes you need to learn these lessons the hard way. I certainly have.”
I haven’t quite learned the lesson yet, but I plan to put some of these experiences of my colleagues to good use and some of these tips into practice. Loving what you do doesn’t mean killing yourself for it.
What do you think? Is the blogger death phenomenon overblown or is blogging actually hazardous to your health? If you blog, what tips would you give other bloggers to help them stay sane and healthy? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Jennifer Woodard Maderazo is the associate editor of PBS MediaShift. She is a San Francisco-based writer, blogger and marketer, who covers Latino marketing at Latin-Know and Latino cultural issues at VivirLatino.