Prediction: the niche blog is old. What I’ll call the lens blog is what’s hot right now.
Of course, that assumes that for one thing to blossom, another must die, which is stupid, but hey, that’s how the prediction game works, right? You have to predict that one thing dies if you’re going to predict that another rises, right? Maybe I’ve been reading bad predictions.
Anyway, someone more influential than me has probably already coined a better name for this phenomenon, but here’s what I mean by a lens blog: we all know what a niche blog is. It’s one that is about a single subject. But consider BLDGBLOG. You might say it’s an architecture niche blog, but is it really? There are practically no limits on what kinds of subjects might appear on the blog. Everything is open to Geoff Manaugh’s investigation. What binds it all together is this: every subject is analyzed through the lens of architecture. Likewise, its sister site, Edible Geography, examines everything through the lens of food. For Strange Maps, the lens is cartography.
You can extend this to books: there are niche books, and then there are those books that try to convince you that everything in the world boils down to game theory or evolution or Freudian undercurrents or class struggle and that if only we analyze everything in terms of this one thing, see everything through its lens, we will learn astonishing facts about reality. But where these reductive books fail I think the lens blog, as exemplified by BLDGBLOG and Edible Geography, succeeds; because — I feel — these blogs don’t insist on reducing anything to anything else, they are simply showing us one perspective on things. These perspectives are often really interesting. They might even be what “interdisciplinary” research ought to look like. Their beauty is that they allow us to examine things in new ways that may be interesting even if you don’t care about either the lens or the subject by itself. I am not that interested in architecture qua architecture but I think exploring video games as architecture, war as architecture, and so on and so forth can be really interesting. Likewise, I’m not a foodie — while there are obviously foods I like and enjoy, I do not on the whole look on preparing or eating food as one of the greater pleasures of life — nor am I all that interested in North Korean diplomacy, but the combination manages to be interesting nonetheless. (If you’re wondering, then yes, there is an analogy to physical lenses: in photography, I enjoy photographs of subjects I don’t care about in themselves and taken through lenses I don’t care about.)
I wish I had more examples but I don’t. They are surely out there, maybe their category already has a name given to them by someone else, but there must surely be more lens blogs out there. And I think they will multiply, or should, anyway.
Of course, personal blogs are a peculiar type of lens blog in that everything is refracted through the author; and in that sense, every kind of writing is “lens writing” because everything that is written is seen through some kind of perspective. But to make the lens something external and deliberate — like food or architecture — is what is new (well, nothing’s new) and interesting.
Here’s a few lenses I’d like to see the world examined through: collections, tribes, kinesthetics (when was the last time someone said something intelligent about the way it physically feels to move your limbs through the world anno 2010?), smell, water (how is the world organized socially and individually around this most precious resource?), games (not video games or board games — the whole conglomerate of senses of the word “game”), information flow (this probably exists, but I don’t know of any venues that regularly analyze the world intelligently in terms of the flow of information in its most general sense). And many more. The beauty of it is that before I saw these blogs, I would never have imagined that the world could be made sense of through the lens of architecture or food, but once someone intelligent who has a genuine interest in the subject starts documenting the world through their chosen lens, I can see just how much can be learned through that perspective. Way beyond my limited imagination, there are interesting lenses that intelligent people are seeing the world through, lenses I could never imagine would yield anything interesting but which are saying important things about How Things Are, and I’d like to read these perspectives.