When I met first met the idea of "blogging" I couldn't understand how it could possibly take off. To some extent, years later, I still find it a puzzling phenomenon. Yet here I am, having just created my own blog, composing my first posting. So perhaps it ought to begin with some musing about why blogging has become the phenomenon it has.
There is probably a corner or every blogger's mind where he/she has the fantasy that their writing is going to be read by millions hanging on their every word. They all know this is a pipe dream but still they do it. Why?
Some people just love the act of writing: the polishing of phrases, the choice of metaphors, the attention to grammatical detail. Indeed, if you don't have such a bent you are unlikely to persist for long as a blogger. But there has to be more and, in order for a blogger to feel a sense of fulfillment, they have to have something to say - not once, or even two or three times, but on a continuing basis. That is why the most successful bloggers are generally writing about a continuing enthusiasm and not merely using a blog as a personal diary.
The explosion of blogging therefore tells us that there are many people with both enthusiasm and writing facility. Most of them cannot afford to care whether they have any readers, they just want to express themselves in print. That leads me to wonder whether they might have difficulty expressing their enthusiasms in any other way. Perhaps some bloggers are inarticulate in company and can only express themselves in the printed word. Yet somehow I think such bloggers will be in a minority. The late Christopher Hitchens was once asked how one became a good writer and he answered that you must first become a good talker. That seems right to me. It is not just that talking helps one polish ones prose it is more that most ideas develop best in an environment where feedback and challenge is provided. The writing environment is not so interactive and therefore what one writes about will often be tempered by what one has talked about.
But whether or not a blogger has honed the ideas of each posting by trying them out with listeners they blog because they have something they want to say and they generally don't care how many readers they have.
Has it always been the case that there were millions of potential writers who prior to the availability of internet blogging had no outlet? Certainly there must have been some but I think our present era has many more. There are two related reasons. The first is that many more people have been educated to enjoy and be skillful at writing than even a century ago; secondary and tertiary education has grown so much in this period. The second reason, and also related to education, is the decline in authoritarian systems and the consequent encouragement for people to develop their own ideas without censorship. For example a hundred years or more ago the established churches had a firm grip on the permitted discourse about how human beings ought to behave to forge a well-balanced society; nowadays people are free to present their opinions without fear of losing their immortal souls.
To summarise. Blogging has exploded not merely because the internet permits it. Our society has developed to allow people to have enthusiasms by giving them greater freedom and it has provided them with the education to express those enthusiasms through having better writing skills.
Long may it last.