Through the magic of networked computers you will find your people

Back in Feburary on this blog’s 12th anniversary, I wrung my hands here over feeling dissatisfied that this blog hasn’t been more popular.

tl;dr: I like to think that I’m doing this for my pleasure, and for the pleasure of people like you. But during this blog’s life I’ve watched other film-photography blogs launch, greatly surpass mine in pageviews, and become darlings of the film-photography community. It bugs me. A lot. I’m more competitive than I like to admit.

When I was a kid my dad took up golf. He liked it, he said, because no matter who he shot with he always felt like he was competing primarily with himself. Could he better his last game today?

I want to be happy for the other film-photo bloggers in their achievements, but keep improving my own game because I enjoy it.

It’s also important that I understand what game I’m playing and measure the right things about it. Pageviews are not the right measure. They’re a little depressing this year anyway, as at the current rate I’ll end up with about 25,000 fewer pageviews than last year.

Search just isn’t driving as many views my way as in 2015-2018. Posts of mine that used to be a top-five search result aren’t anymore, because competing posts on more popular blogs have knocked them down. This post about the Kodak Pony 135 camera, for example, used to be ranked third at Google. Now it’s not even on the first page of results. It has been pushed aside by an avalanche of Kodak Pony 135 reviews that didn’t used to exist.

Here’s a measure that shows what’s really happening at Down the Road: comments. If you keep commenting at the rate you have been this year, this blog will gather about 1,100 more comments than last year.

About half of those comments are mine, as it’s my pleasure to respond to nearly every comment. I’m realizing it’s why I blog: to find and cultivate the community of people who share these interests.

When I was a kid with boxes full of old cameras, I had nobody to talk to about it. I would have been thrilled for just one friend who shared this interest even a little. As I rode my bike to yard sales all over town hunting for camera treasure, I would have loved to have had a companion.

I’d like to send a message to that young man: hang on, through the magic of networked computers you will find your people.

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Ten Years of Down the Road

The whole point of blogging today is to build community

I had dreams of being well known, maybe even famous, when I started this blog. I hoped I’d say things so interesting, even so profound, that my words and pictures would go viral.

We all see how that worked out.

Me at Crown Hill
Not famous.

WordPress says I have about 2,500 followers. But realistically I think that if you read Down the Road at least semi-regularly you number among a couple hundred people worldwide.

There are two ways to look at this.

One: This is a pretty good result. The Internet is cram packed with voices hoping to catch your attention. You have only so much attention to give. I work hard to deliver good work here and an interesting way of looking at life, but so do many thousands of others, many of whom have better skills than me.

Two: This is a terrible return on investment. I spend an average of ten hours a week in front of the WordPress editor to deliver words and photographs to you Monday through Saturday. Those hours come only after the considerable time I spend out with my cameras and just thinking about what I’ll write here. That’s an awful lot of work for, frankly, such a small audience.

But this presupposes that the point of blogging is to reach a very large audience. I think it’s not. At least not anymore. As I’ve written before, the era of hugely popular bloggers ended a long time ago. If you start a blog today, unless you’re already famous for some other reason it’s never going to find a huge readership.

To find blogging satisfaction, you have to redefine the investment.

At Down the Road, you regular readers have become a community. A loose one, anyway — it’s not like Down the Road Appreciation Societies are forming, or all of you are secretly conspiring to fly to Indianapolis to take me out for a beer. (But if you do ever show up here, I prefer whiskey.)

But your interests overlap mine, and what I say and show are interesting enough for you to keep coming back. If you have a blog, too, I check it out sometimes and perhaps even include it in my regular reading list. We have conversation, here and on your blogs. We encourage each other and share our perspectives and even sometimes offer constructive criticism of each others’ work. I am absolutely a better photographer thanks to you. I hope you learn from me as well.

Community. That’s the point and purpose of blogging today. We might search for and never find that kind of community locally; few people around us might share our interests. But the Internet opens us to a much larger portion of the world. With a little effort, even the most esoteric interest can find community online.

I’ve put in that effort over the past decade, sharing my posts on social media and seeking out your work and interacting with you over it. And now here we all are, doing what we do and sharing the results with each other.

I still harbor a faint fantasy of fame. It’s incredibly unlikely ever to happen. But that’s OK, because this community is plenty satisfying. It takes the pressure off — I don’t need to be a guru or go viral. Nor do you. We can relax and just continue to share our mutual journeys of growth and fun.


The church’s role in community

The anti-establishmentarian in blogger Hoosier Reborn questioned the church trend of creating community. I wanted to expand on a comment I left on his post.

North Liberty Christian Church was founded in Marion County, Indiana, in 1839. I’m told it’s the third oldest church in what is now Indianapolis. I found this 1855 plat map at the Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis Digital Collection that shows the church, which is labeled on the map below.

The church was surrounded by farms for miles. Indianapolis was nine miles away along the Lafayette Road, the diagonal road on the map just east of the church. Lafayette Road is still there. It carried US 52 during most of the 20th century, and today is a heavily traveled four-lane city street. But in 1855, Lafayette Road was certainly no more than a dirt wagon trail. By horse, a man could ride to town in a couple hours – unless it had rained or snowed, in which case the road was impassable. So these farm families spent most of their lives around their land. In tough times, these families could turn only to each other. For this reason, I’m sure they built community. That they built churches like North Liberty Christian Church and worshiped together reflected the community they naturally built among themselves. Evidence of their community remains – the names on the map above are on the headstones in the church’s cemetery. This 1937 aerial photograph of the region, which I got at the City of Indianapolis’s Indianapolis General Data Viewer, shows that the church was still surrounded by farms even 71 years ago.

As late as the early 1960s the area was overwhelmingly agrigultural, even though Interstate highways were built less than a mile from the church to its east and west, and a couple farmers sold out and early suburban neighborhoods were built on the land. I’m sure the same farm families were working the remaining soil. It would take more research than I can do with online maps to know how the church had changed by this time. I feel sure, though, that these same farm families still formed the core community of North Liberty Christian Church in 1973, when it had added enough members from elsewhere that they needed to double the size of their building.

You probably guessed that the remaining farmers sold out over the next thirty years. When I first came to North Liberty Christian Church a few years ago, here’s what the area looked like, also from the Indianapolis General Data Viewer.

The farmers are gone from the land and the church. The names on the headstones are just quaint history to all but a handful of longtime members. And what do you think happened to the church community? Many of us choose our churches today because of doctrine or comfort or the programs they offer, and we change churches as our needs change. Most of a congregation’s families don’t see each other except on Sunday. Our lives aren’t centered around place as they were 170 years ago. We don’t have to depend on our neighbors anymore. What created community in 1839 doesn’t exist today.

I don’t think Hoosier Reborn turns his nose up at community – rather, he decries trying to force community within the modern church because it can ultimately separate us from others. I think a hidden point there is that we can’t be the light of the world if we’re in community only with our church.

Our modern mobility, wealth, and independence have let us rely less on our neighbor. I’m a poster child for that. I live alone for the most part. I make enough to own a nice but modest small home in Indianapolis. I have good health care, mostly paid for by insurance, and so illness is not much of a worry. I drive 10 miles each way to and from work every day, where I spend eight hours with people I never see otherwise because they all live elsewhere. I have met two of my neighbors but have never had a conversation with them. I’ve never even seen whoever lives next door to my south! I have friends at work, friends at church, friends from college, and friends from other times in my life. Some of them met each other last year when they helped me move into this house, but otherwise their circles don’t overlap.

Yet I still need connection. So do you. This hasn’t changed since 1839. I have put together my family of sorts from the people I’ve encountered along the way, and we do what community does – encourage each other, whack each other upside the head when we need it, and help out with things we can’t do by ourselves (such as move into my new house).

So then what should the church’s role be in community, given that its backbone role has evolved away? Please share your thoughts.