A Cook's Diary

Shifting internet writing and reading habits over the last 12 years

Shifting internet writing and reading habits over the last 12 years | casaveneracion.com

After cooking Sam’s lunch, I had a series of photos for the molded fried rice wrapped in egg served with sesame seed dressing and chili oil. My original intention was to post the photos to illustrate how to plate food without resorting to fakery. But then that would be a no-recipe post and while it may be entertaining for a few readers and result in an echo chamber, the majority won’t get the point anyway. In fact, from experience, most readers don’t read the paragraphs that precede the recipe so when there are explanations and clarifications that are too long to include in the recipe itself, they totally miss them then ask questions in the form of a comment.

And that is why I finally disabled commenting. I just got tired of telling readers to read everything before asking questions. I got even more tired of deciphering comments posted by readers who seem to be allergic to the use of vowels and spelling out words completely. You know, like “Hi po nu po b diff ng heavy thickened cream s whipping cream?..tnx”. So, the photos went into a recipe post and the things I wanted to say but could not say there, I will say here.

I’ve always considered blog commenting as a form of discussion and exchange of ideas. Sadly, that was only true in part. I’ve been a blogger since 2003 and I’ve seen how blog commenting evolved from sometimes-irritating-but-often-truly-wonderful to almost-total-shit.

2003: When niche blogs were new

I started blogging in 2003 at the height of the Iraq war. Internet penetration in the Philippines was quite low and personal computers at home were found in only a small percentage of the city population. In short, if educational status were parallel to economic class, then, those who could afford personal computers and internet access were definitely not poor and uneducated. And those who did not access the internet from their homes did so from their offices or school (universities and colleges). So, yes, most internet readers at the time were white-collar employees and college students. I had a law/political blog where at least half of the commenters had a good grasp of the topics and decent discussions were possible. Of course, there were still the occasional assholes with nothing to substantial to contribute but who couldn’t look at a comment form without feeling they had post something — anything.

Food blogging had always been different. I started the food blog at around the same time as the law/political blog and I was always acutely aware that the audience was not the same. In the food blog, most readers were wives and students but, still, it was just as fun.

But whether it was a political blog or a food blog, the self-promoters have always been everywhere. Most had nothing to contribute to the discussion but left comments anyway for the auto-generated links to their own websites. The kind of comments they left? “Hi, just passing by…” If they had been standing in front of me, I’d have kicked them hard. That’s why I NEVER EVER used the Comment Luv plugin for WordPress. I was never one to encourage self-promotion via the comment box unless the comment came with something substantial.

Some five years later

When internet and personal computers became cheaper, the demographics of blog readers changed. It didn’t happen overnight, for sure. But, after a few years, there were high school students who posted questions as comments but the questions were thinly veiled attempts at making me give an answer that they could copy/paste and pass off for research. Some were less subtle — they had no qualms saying that they asked because it was their homework.

Another few years and it just got even worse. In the food blog, the number of readers who wanted to cook or bake so they could sell their products was growing. A good thing, at first glance, but many of these readers didn’t even know the difference between cake batter and cookie dough, and they were already at that stage where they were thinking of selling. One comment goes, “Can i use condensed milk instead of skim milk…” Seriously? And when I answered questions with shouldn’t you learn the basics of baking first before selling brownies or cookies? I was called a bitch.

The Gen-X culture

Shit hit the ceiling when the internet became available for almost everyone through their mobile phones. That was when the quality of blog comments starting to hit an all time low. This was after Nokia and the character limit on text messages had become obsolete, but a lot of people had already acquired the habit of dropping the vowels to get more “words” in. Gen-Xers, they were called, that transcended social classes and educational backgrounds, and they all seemed to be stuck in a time warp. There are no character limits in blog comments but they insist on not using vowels anyway. If, today, Twitter and its 140-character limit were their peg, they seemed unable to comprehend that the same limit does not apply on blog comments. Ergo, comments like “Hi po nu po b diff ng heavy thickened cream s whipping cream?..tnx” and “hi.. napansin ko lang n wlang sugar s ingredients, s chocolates lng b tlg mgrely ng tamis?”

I know, it’s a generation and culture thing. An entire generation growing up with character limits imposed on their messages and they acquired a “talent” for communicating in a language where spelling did not matter. I can understand that it was a necessity for a time but after the character limits in text messaging became passé, why insist on communicating without vowels? Are these people unable to revert to normal words because they grew up with shortened versions?

But it wasn’t just the low quality of the grammar that was hitting blog comments. The lack of substance in the comments was even worse. SEO practices insist that comments “contribute” to the content and quality of the blog. If there is no substantial content and quality is non-existent, why keep commenting open?

The attention span of today’s readers

And the trimmed-down style of typing words came with shorter attention span. People read the title of a blog post and post a comment immediately — on the blog itself or on their social networks. I see it everyday. That’s how scams generate viral attention and satire articles get passed off as legitimate news. On Facebook, for instance, someone shares a link to blog post, his friends glance at the title and, without clicking on the link to read the full article, re-shares it — often, with what he perceives to be a witty comment.

I don’t know how others call it but it sure looks like diminished intelligence to me.

Stock photo from Pixabay.

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