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Monday, January 14, 2008

Meta-blog: motivation

Today's blog is about blogging. I'd like to examine the whole "I want to write stuff and have people read it" paradigm that seems to push so many people to blog. (And really, "so many people" is an understatement -- we're talking millions and millions of people.)

So, why do people blog? More importantly, why do I blog? What is it about blogging that offers up enough emotional reward that I keep coming back to it, five days a week? Because, really, if I wasn't, at some level, getting something out of it, I wouldn't do it. Nobody, and I mean nobody, does anything without some kind of payback. Even the most altruistic behaviour has pay-off for the person doing it: at some level, it makes them feel good about being so altruistic. You know, some people get off on eating chocolate, and some people get off on doing good things. Both actions generate a response in the pleasure centres of the brain, so both are self-rewarding actions.

(Thinking about this makes me wonder about the truism that the best motivation comes from within, rather than relying on external rewards to keep you going. It always sounds like a a good idea. However, eating large amounts of chocolate -- or frequent doses of any of a number of illicit chemicals -- is only rewarding at the internal level. No one is telling you what a great person you are, or loving you more, or giving you money or expensive things. Chocolate does not generate fame or power. The entire reward system for chocolate is self-contained. You eat chocolate, dopamine gets released into certain parts of your brain, and you get the message, at a very primitive level, that what you are doing is right, and good, and pleasing. So maybe this idea about internal motivations being the best kind is not quite as universally applicable as the sages try to make it out to be. I'm just sayin'.)

Now, what's my reward for blogging? I'm thinking it's a rather complex chain, and it must rely heavily on the concept of delayed gratification. By posting a blog, I certainly don't get much of an immediate reward (well, aside from the cheap thrill of seeing my words on a computer screen, knowing they're there for the world to see, which, quite frankly, pales pretty quickly for someone who works with computers and Internet technologies for a living). Rather, my anticipation of the response I may receive ("may" being the important word here) generates its own pleasure effect, as I dream (even if only subconciously) about the readers' responses to my thoughts, and to the craft I have applied in writing them.

Additionally, I get some small thrill at the thought that the practice I put into my writer's craft when I create a blog entry will improve my writing ability, that I may become better, and gain greater rewards because of my improvements down the road. This part is, of course, even more ephemeral, as it relies on probability projections of future rewards for work I may never perform. The weirdest part of it is that, in many ways, this is really an externally-based reward system, since it relies on my perception of possible future rewards from external sources: the classics, money and fame.

Writing in general, it seems, is a much lonelier, and more patient art, than performing. As a musician, I can get up on a stage, or pick up a guitar in someone's living room. Even before I actually produce a single note, I get real-time feedback from the people for whom I perform. Every single second of my performance gives me more feedback, and I can modify my performance on the fly to try to elicit a greater positive response. Making music, even for a quiet, reserved audience, requires zero delay of gratification. Everything is instantaneous. (Perhaps Belkar should train a level or two with Elan. Hard to imagine, but it does seem to fit. Obviously, the two have more in common than the angry halfing would ever care to admit.)

Thus, in part, my blogging is a study in delay of gratification. That in itself is also rewarding, as I anticipate greater self-rewards in the future as I contemplate an increase through repitition of my capacity for self-motivation.

Of course, I still wouldn't mind if someone posted a comment every once in a while. Those things feel good too, y'know.



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