Thursday, May 16, 2013

Not just another blogging statistic

In this recent post, I embedded "This Is Water", the amazing new short film based on David Foster Wallace's commencement ceremony address of the same name.  

The partial text behind the actress reads as follows
(emphasis partly mine):

"But if you really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know that you have other options.   It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer hell-type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars  - love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things."  
Film screengrab from "This Is Water" by TheGlossary (as attributed). 
Life in a cookie-cutter tract home is often parodied as the ultimate "consumer hell-type situation", to use Wallace's turn of phrase.  No, that isn't Centerpointe above - it's a photo of another subdivision, an iconic photo that has come to symbolize everything that's stultifying about such a lifestyle.  But whether or not those homeowners' lives are actually hell has a great deal to do with how they choose to perceive their own realities, and how they decide to work with what they've got.  For instance, they could choose to grow organic vegetables in their microscopic back yards if they wanted to do that.  Or they could choose any one of a number of other potentially meaningful pursuits, such as blogging, for instance. 
Now I'm going to offer you a glass of Wallace's water in order to complete the picture of it on a small, relevant scale.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you might wonder from time to time why on earth I write about some of the obscure topics I choose.  For instance, attic stair cords?!  Really?!  Who writes a blog post about attic stair cords?! 
Quoting both Wallace and the Sydney Morning Herald simultaneously, "But the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance."
Who writes a blog post about attic stair pull cords?  People who pay enough attention to know that some other people need that kind of stuff.  This is a zero-money blog.  I don't pay for anything; I don't get paid for anything.  So I can access hit statistics, but only for a few days at a time, because I only have the freebie version of Statcounter, which is a piece of code designed to capture web traffic information.  But even a few days of data at a time is enough to tell me what's going on out there, and what people need.  In just a few days' time, look what happened, as indicated by the green typeface:
Google rankings are often accessible in Statcounter because Google owns Blogger, this platform.   
Replacing an attic stair code is about the dullest task any of us will ever do.  A person has to have a real need for that kind of information before they'll bother taking the time to Google it.  And who might have such a need?  Maybe one of Austin, Fairfax or Cedar Lake is a newly widowed and frightened person who has never had to tackle home maintenance before now and doesn't have a clue where to start.  Maybe one of them is a newlywed who is feeling overwhelmed by the demands of home ownership.  And do you know what?  They would almost certainly figure out their attic stair cord issue without reading my blog post, but the unmitigated fact is, they were never really looking for technical instructions to start with.  What they were really searching for was an affirmation, however small, that they weren't alone - that someone else was with them in the spirit of humanity as they faced their tiny attic cord challenge.  And if I can write a blog post to meet that need for a fellow human being, that is water. 

Sometimes the search strings are even more revealing than that example.  I write a lot of stuff that is mostly fun and indulgent, and there's nothing wrong with enjoying the fruits of one's honest labor by describing the neat stuff that its rewards can produce, but sometimes those same topics can have a much more serious place in other peoples' lives.  Late last year, I wrote a post about installing ceramic tile throughout an entire house.  Most of the search strings for that one have been fairly neutral:
It's cool to score a #1 topic rank on Google, especially if the searcher is non-geographically-proximal (because Google prioritizes rank based partly on distance from the source), but ranking goals were not the reason why I started this gig.
So those above were neutral, but every once in a while, a search string will stop me in my tracks:
I was Dallas' #1 ranked hit as well, but that's not what's important here. 
What's important is the tone of that search string.  Dallas is clearly apprehensive about something.  Dallas is afraid of looking funny, afraid of making a bad decision, maybe afraid of degrading their property value.  Only Dallas knows the reason for that fear, but from the tone, it doesn't sound like Dallas is an average happy-go-lucky affluent suburbanite who is about to indulge in the purchase of some new floor tile.  It sounds like Dallas might be going into this decision somewhat reluctantly.  Maybe Dallas can only afford one kind of floor tile, the kind that's on clearance, hence the question.  Maybe Dallas has a child with asthma and the medical bills that go with it - asthma is probably the most common reason for installing a hard-surface floor like tile throughout an entire home.  Or maybe Dallas cares for an invalid parent who simply cannot manage to navigate their wheelchair through pile carpeting.   

If I can help one person who finds themselves in a situation such as what Dallas might be facing, that is water.  And so that's why I write about a variety of things that might seem obscure, dull, or maybe just plain bizarre.  I don't get many hits on much of what I write, but that same stuff seems to find its way onto the computer screens of people who really need it.  And the way I see it, that is what this is all about.  My consumer indulgences and artistic pursuits are fun, but the only real meaning comes from the opportunity to help a few people like Dallas along the way. 

Welcome to the 'burbs, where our experiences really can be deeper than the pockets needed to fund them. 
"The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to see it.  This, I submit, is the freedom of real education ....  You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.  THAT is real freedom.  THAT is being educated, and understanding how to think.  … This is water.  This is water."

Film screengrab from "This Is Water" by TheGlossary (as attributed).

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