The Year That Was, Here, On This Blog

The formal two-year anniversary of this blog was sometime back in November; as I was traveling then I couldn’t put up a commemorative post; this year-end dispatch will have to do as substitute marker for that occasion.

2013 was a busy year for blogging here, though I blogged on fewer occasions than I did in 2012. (In 2012 I put up three hundred and twenty four posts; this year, only two hundred and ninety-four.) Like 2012, I took one long break–of four weeks–from blogging because of travel; last year, I had taken my furlough while I was out road-tripping in the American West; this year, because I was traveling with my family in India. I also took occasional breaks from blogging while I traveled outside New York City; this was not a luxury I had allowed myself in 2012, but I was more fatigued this year thanks to parental responsibilities, and I took any chance I could get to catch a bit of rest.

As I noted in my first-year anniversary post last year, this blog still lacks focus; I do not have a particular subject of focus and write on almost anything that catches my fancy. My daughter’s birth sparked a particularly self-indulgent set of posts responding to her presence; I presume those readers who were parents found this understandable, while other readers’ tolerance might have been severely tested. I also remained tardy in replying to readers’ comments; I hope they will continue to indulge me and reply to my posts as I struggle to improve my response time to them. I do not know what lies ahead in 2014; I think my frequency of blogging will diminish just a bit as I spend more time on other writing projects. Do stick around though.

The five most viewed posts this year–a series started last year–were as follows:

Alan Dershowitz, Pro-Torture Plagiarist, Deigns to Lecture Us On Intellectual Honesty: When Alan Dershowitz decided he wanted to interfere with Brooklyn College’s academic departments’ rights to conduct academic events on campus, I was incensed, and said as much. The posts on this ‘BDS controversy at Brooklyn College’ also brought in a record number of comments, which should not have been all that surprising given that they were, after all, about Israel and Palestine.

The Peculiar Allure of Blog Search Terms: This post, my nod at the peculiar, intriguing, fascinating, sometimes disturbing search terms that bring readers to this blog (and others), was picked by WordPress for their Freshly Pressed series. My thanks to the WordPress folks for that; their selection certainly brought in many new readers to this blog.

American Horror Story and Torture Porn: This post was quite popular in 2013, and sometimes I wonder if it’s for all the wrong reasons: are people looking for ‘torture porn’? I don’t have any to offer, unfortunately, just some commentary on the cinematic laziness and possibly problematic morals of the genre.

Crossfit, Women, and ‘Tough Titsday’: A Woman’s Perspective: This post featured a guest contribution by my wife, who wrote an impassioned rejoinder to a wildly skewed, superficial and misleading article on Jezebel.

Male Anxiety in the Workplace: The Case of Academic Philosophy: I continued writing on womens’ station in academic philosophy, and here, in this post, I addressed the anxiety their presence seemed to cause to men.

The Peculiar Allure of Blog Search Terms

Like most blogging platforms WordPress provides statistics on blog views: unique visitors, referring pages, and most interestingly search terms that bring viewers here.  The following, for instance, are yesterday’s entries for this blog:

a municipal report what is the narrator’s attitude toward the south
failure of kindness
www american horror story season 3 walking dead
is it better for a jewish boy to be atheist or christian?
why i’m a pakistani first and punjabi second
what to put on professor door
brave announcement
bruce springsteen new york times op ed
nietzsche walter white
martin buber adolf eichmann

(A little game that may be played almost instantly on reading such a list is to try to guess which posts my visitors would have been directed to via the terms above. In the case of the list above, I can guess correctly in each case.)

I am not the first blogger to note that search terms are fascinating. On her blog, Elke Stangl has an entire series of interesting posts on search term, spam and error message ‘poetry’. Here is an interesting entry in her oeuvre:

spam poets
write weird things for search terms
crowdsourcing next level
work hard play hard
post modern art
narrating events

text editor blank sheet paper
gay steampunk costumes
a theory about nostalgia
theory of poetry satire
to flush the toilet

how do an gyroscope work? magic?
spinning top with helium balloon
gyroscope not falling over
patent perpetuum mobile
controlling the elements
cliche physics problems
gyroscopes are magic

zen engineering
subversive element
42 divided by 3
retro geek

how to combine theory with practice in physics
microwave oven radiation wavelength holes
40 below summer fire at zero gravity
can mice get into microwave oven
dead mice in the microwave
microwave oven theory
physics isn’t intuitive
pseudoscience

Our fascinated engagement with search terms is triggered by a variety of factors. Sometimes it is just the  fractured syntax, an inevitable byproduct of the urge to be efficient in the framing of the search; sometimes it is the giggle-inducing revelation that your blog contains material that brings porn-seekers to it, which also serves as a reminder of how parental and governmental confidence in porn filters is misplaced; sometimes it is the glimpse provided of the anxious student–whether high-school or college–seeking online help with a writing assignment;  sometimes the idiosyncratic connections made visible–as in the ‘nietzsche walter white’ exhibit above.

Most of all though, search terms are a glimpse of the hive mind of the ‘Net: a peek at the bubbling activity of the teeming millions that interact with it on a daily basis, seeking entertainment, amusement, edification, gratification, employment.  They make visible the anxiety of the questions that torment some and the curiosity–sometimes prurient, sometimes not–that drives others; they remind us of the many different functions that this gigantic interconnected network of networks and protocols plays in our lives, of the indispensability it has acquired.

They reassure us too, that perhaps even something quite as humble as a search term that we type into a search engine may amuse and edify someone, someday.