Guaranteed, if you've lived abroad for seven years, then returning to your home country will be a bit of a shock. It's not just jet lag you have to adjust to, it's culture shock as well. And that culture shock will be especially astonishing to you because it's your own culture, gosh darn it. Who knew things could change so much back home?
I've only really been blogging for about a year (before that I communicated via mass-emailings), so blogging's all pretty new to me. I started my blog while living in Poland and, go ahead and laugh, but at the time I didn't realize that blogging is an industry. Foolishly, I thought it was a hobby. An avocation. Something like scrapbooking or baking or whatever. I simply never had the crucial afterthought: where there's scrapbooking or baking, Creative Memories® and Pampered Chef® can't be far behind.
So for me, the jury's still out on BlogHer 2009. I attended for the first time ever and my feelings are mixed. The amount of giveaway loot was mind-boggling. I've been to lots of trade shows in a number of industries, but this was beyond the beyond. It seemed to combine the worst aspects of America's rampant consumerism with every stereotype there is about womankind's overwhelming desire to shop. And it kind of made me feel sick. Believe me, I'm not perfect. I came home with booty (even after "recycling" a lot of it), but the attention given to swag spread an oily, glistening sheen of greed over the proceedings that made some participants appear grasping and shallow.
As to the additional focus on monetizing your blog, optimizing readership, gaining followers? Well, who doesn't want money, connections, fame, big numbers? It's human nature, for sure. And at a big blogging conference, you certainly want to address the issues that are concerns for attendees. BlogHer provided a venue with lots of seminar options, so bloggers could learn about what they wanted to learn about, and ignore what was irrelevant to them. My mantra is, if you don't like to look (or read, or whatever) then don't. If I don't want to hear about advertising or getting my Twitter follower numbers up over 1K, then nobody needs to make me listen. It's my choice. So I mixed it up: a few geeky sessions on SEO and Twitter basics and social networking, a session on the latest tech gadgets (video, cameras, netbooks), a fascinating session on travel blogging. The outstanding Friday afternoon keynote highlighted 20 blog posts, read by their authors, and was by turns funny, heartwrenching, tragic, and full of joy. The Saturday keynote featuring a panel discussion with Tina Brown (Daily Beast), Donna Byrd (The Root), and Ilene Chaiken (The "L" word) was thought-provoking and empowering.
Still, even though I just said that people should attend the sessions they choose, I was completely unprepared for the shamefully small turnout at Saturday afternoon's session, "Leadership: The BlogHer '09 International Activist BlogHer Scholarship Winners Share Their Work". Bloggers Annie Zaidi (Blank Noise, Known Turf), Cristina Quisbert (Indigenous Bolivia), Pilirani Semu-Banda (The Wip, Pilirani Semu-Banda), and Toyin Ajao (Gender and Me) participated in a panel with Anita Doberman Tedaldi (Ovolina), discussing their activist work and the role of blogging in social change.
The BlogHer organizers were apparently hoping for at least 100 participants for this presentation. There were only 30 in the room. Thirty people, out of 1,500, who were interested in the groundbreaking work of these social activist bloggers from Nigeria, Bolivia, Malawi, and India? That's it? Meanwhile, next door, "Women Writing in the Age of Britney" was packed to overflowing.
Nothing against pop culture and Britney -- it's not my thing, but hey, to each her own. But I'm disappointed and surprised that BlogHer didn't feature these four women, these scholarship winners, in one of the conference-wide keynote addresses. Their work is big. Their work is shocking. Their work is the new wave of news in a post-print world. BlogHer should have chosen to have them present to the conference-wide audience. After all, they paid to bring them all the way here, half-way around the world. Why didn't they think we'd all want to hear their voices?
And it would have been a good stiff tonic for many, after all the goody bags and loot and monetization and whatnot. Families in Malawi subsist on about $1/day. Isn't that something you want to know more about?
Related posts: The Mom Slant, Motherhood Uncensored