Sunday, May 15, 2005

Sunday Reading

  • As demonstrated by yet another Rolling Stones world tour, nobody just retires anymore.

    Society likes its citizens to be busy. Parents are famously harried, and children overscheduled. And older people, these days, are often subject to the same pressure: they cannot just be retired, they must be superretired.

    Because people are living longer and staying healthier for longer, of course, they can afford experiences they could only dream about in their youth. And plenty of companies offer those experiences, for a fee, of course.

    But it’s not just that people have the option of keeping busy. In some ways society is demanding that they do so – to be less of a drain on resources, to remain physically and mentally fit, and as a source of support for the pharmaceutical and other aging-related industries.

    The social pressure grows, too. Some sociologists and gerontologists have described a “busy ethic,” a continuance of the work ethic that defines many people’s careers. Older people feel compelled to say they are keeping busy, experts say, as a way of defending the leisure time they have.

    David J. Ekerdt, director of the Gerontology Center at the University of Kansas, who coined the term busy ethic in a 1986 paper, said there is an expectation that old age should be filled with activity. “Contemplation and inactivity is highly suspect all through life,” he said.

    Dr. Ekerdt said that when he used to interview retired couples for his research, “The wives would express dismay about their husbands, saying ‘He just sits around and reads all day.’ ” That would hardly seem to be a common complaint now.

    I can attest to the fact that a lot of people I know who are “retiring” are just changing jobs…and my parents — both in their 70’s — are busier than ever.

  • How hard can blogging be? David Greenberg finds out.

    How hard could blogging be? You roll out of bed, turn on your computer, scan the headlines, think up some clever analysis while brushing your teeth, type it onto your site and you’re off.

    But as I discovered, blogging is no longer for amateurs or the faint of heart. Blogging – if it’s done well – has evolved into an all-consuming art.

    Last Sunday, after a cup of coffee, I made my first offering, a smart critique, I thought, of an article about liberal politics in The New York Review of Books by Thomas Frank, the author of “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”

    I checked back a while later. There were, I think, three responses. Later, another post generated eight replies. Another, two. A couple got zero.

    I checked the responses to Dan’s posts. He seemed to average about 50. Sure, my wife, Suzanne, had been blogging for weeks on her own site,, but still how was she getting 12, 19, even 34 replies?

    I started to worry. It wasn’t just my ego. I didn’t want to send Dan’s robust traffic numbers into a downward plunge.

    As I thought about what else to opine about, I started to see that blogging wasn’t as easy as it looked. Who were these people, blogging on other sites, who so confidently tossed about obscure minutiae relating to North Korea’s nuclear program or President Bush’s proposed revisions to Social Security benefits? Where did they find the time? (To say nothing of the readers.)


    By the end of the week, with other deadlines looming and my patience exhausted, I began to post less and less. There was a piece for Slate due, a book chapter to finish, my baby boy, Leo, to entertain and a piece to write for the Week in Review.

    I wasn’t the only newcomer to blogging last week. On the ballyhooed “Huffington Post,” Gary Hart, Walter Cronkite and David Mamet dipped their toes in the blogosphere as well.

    I don’t know how they’ll fare, but I doubt that celebrity will attract readers for long. To succeed in blogging you need to understand it’s a craft, with its own tricks of the trade. You need a thick skin. And you must put your life on hold to feed an electronic black hole.

    What else did I learn by sitting in for Dan Drezner? That I’m not cut out for blogging.

    His story reminds me of my days when I went to the gym every morning. Every so often a new guy — usually a kid in his late teens — would come in to the gym, make a lot of noise hefting weights that were far too heavy and try to impress his buddies. Within a week we’d know if this kid was serious about working out and learning as he went, or was just a flash in the pan who, when he found out that it took real effort and steady diligence to get strong, he’d bail out. Those of us who had been around for a while would smile and, when asked, offer some advice, but more often than not we’d let him go off and find out for himself what it’s like to work out day after day and not expect instant results: you don’t go from ten to sixteen-inch biceps to in a week. And we’d remember with nostalgia the first time we strode into a gym, too.

    I can’t count the number of blogs that I’ve seen start up, promise a lot, and then are gone or inactive in six months, usually because the writer isn’t getting whatever it was that they thought they’d get out of it. Just like the kid in the gym, if all they wanted to do was impress other people with their presumed knowledge — flexing their biceps, as it were — they’d be disappointed. Most people that I know who blog do it to make a contribution, expand their vision, and improve themselves, not just show off.