This post is a follow-up to last Sunday's One Million Pageviews On DOTE. In that post I explained in basic terms why a blog like DOTE will never be wildly popular. But I must confess to being discouraged lately. It appears that in the last year my blog traffic peaked, and lately it has declined a bit. I'm not going to change what I'm doing to attract more readers, but it occurred to me that there's something else going on that I didn't mention. It starts with fellow blogger Bill Hicks' comment on last Sunday's post. "Bill Hicks" (a pseudonym) writes The Downward Spiral.
Congrats on getting to one million page views, Dave!
It'll be interesting to see what happens with the audience size of blogs like ours the next time we hit a crisis like the fall of 2008. Most people who still have their jobs are complacent right now, and those who don't are too busy just trying to survive.
Yes, it would be interesting to see what happens to the traffic on Bill's blog and my blog if we have another crisis. Everything I said in my Millionth Pageview post still rings true, but I should have been thinking in these terms as well.
It is reasonable to conclude that one of the reasons my audience is flat or shrinking is because we have several slow-motion crises going on. These crises are only slow on human time scales, not on the historical time scale. And in so far as the average American has an attention span of five minutes or less, anything that takes years to unfold is effectively invisible.
I initially wrote about this problem in The Empire And The Boiling Frog.
Think about it. Does it make any sense to say the country was doing just fine right up to the moment (more or less) when it wasn't? For example, did the Wall Street banks become overly powerful and greedy in just the few years before the Housing Bubble collapsed? Did their undue influence on our venal politicians begin during those years? Of course not! Events like the financial crisis don't just come out of nowhere. To understand them, you must examine the historical antecedents. You must understand that the ground for what happened today was prepared many years before...
Why does the boiling frog story apply to people if not to actual frogs? The answer is simple. Human beings are built to adapt to new conditions. Generally speaking, they don't notice gradual change, they simply get used to it. People were designed by Nature to react quickly to sudden changes. They were not designed to notice that this year, and for many years before that, conditions got a little worse than they were the year before. Humans live in an eternal present. This observation is well-known to those who study such things. It is not original with me.
Thus Americans are being boiled alive, and while opinion polls indicate they know that conditions have not improved, they are not fully (or even partially) aware of just how far gone America truly is. Consider the recent remarks of Bloomberg senior economist Richard Yamarone.
When asked what’s really happening with the US economy, Yamarone responded, “I think people are just running out of money. We have contracting, real disposable incomes. Most of the job creation that we have is from minimum wage type jobs.”
Richard Yamarone continues: “I’m fortunate enough to travel and speak to chambers of commerce with 300 to 500 people in the audience. They all tell me, ‘Hey, listen, I am letting go of workers. I’m hiring them back at a fraction of what I used to pay them.’
You hear from the other side, ‘Hey, I finally got a job after two years of being unemployed. I used to make $100,000 (each year), now I’m making $45,000 or now I’m working part time.’ Or (you hear), ‘I used to make $500,000 and now I’m making $200,000 or making $125,000.’...
This grim assessment is not decidedly different from what I often say on DOTE. Yamarone is not some kind of wacko, and neither am I. And neither is Bill Hicks. But we don't have a shit-hits-the-fan, in-your-face, full-blown crisis going on as we did in late 2008. That's a big problem from the point of view of the realistic blogger.
Instead we've got all these slow-motion crises, a "new normal" as some people refer to it. But the "new normal" is not normal in any sense, even when we compare what's going on now to the recent (albeit illusory) situation we had before the Housing Bubble imploded.
In the shorter term, we've got slow-moving crises in the fragile, corrupt banking and political systems, in the exploding Federal debt, in incomes for ordinary people, in lack of opportunity, in health care, in education & student loans, and a hundred other things. In the longer term, we've got slow-moving crises in the crude oil supply, the climate and our degraded oceans. But none of this appears to be happening right now. We are the boiled frogs.
And 2012 is distinguished by the fact that we've got an unusually large pile of bullshit to contend with, mostly around the inconsequential political elections.
So the obvious conclusion which Bill Hicks alluded to is that it takes a sudden crisis to get people's attention. The poor schmucks who have already been thrown under the bus are powerless and forgotten, a group which includes the 46 million people receiving food stamps, the 50 million without health insurance and those with faith-based retirement plans.
The next time I get depressed about my dwindling blog traffic, I'm going to try to keep all this in mind. A sudden crisis makes all the difference.
Bonus Video — Aimee Mann, Today's The Day
Better pack your bags and run
Or stay until the job is done
Baby you could sit and hope
That providence will fray the rope
And sink like a stone
Or go it alone
And isn't it enough for you
Isn't it enough?
Isn't it enough for you
Isn't it enough?