Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Eulogy for The Marmot's Hole: The Official End Of The K-Blogosphere

After four years or so with the same layout, I've been making small tweaks to the blog and the sidebars: the names appearing there will be changing. If you know a blog or podcast that deserves a place on my sidebar, please let me know: I'd hate to be like one of those blogs I used to snicker at, with three-years out-of-date blog links in the sidebar (says the guy who just yesterday removed the link to ROKetship, who repatriated in 2011 or so).

Last December, something important happened in the "Korea-blogosphere" or "K-blogosphere." K-blogosphere is a term first used by GI Korea in a comment at Metropolitician Michael (now Dr.) Hurt's blog (here - sez google). I used it a lot myself around 2008 and 2009, when I blogged the most. It was a word that imagined there to be a community of Korea bloggers, who were connected, and that those connections meant something. One could (or at least, I did) talk about the "K-blogosphere" as if it were an organism, the way many Korea-bloggers like to talk about "Korea" as if the country were a character in a drama.

At that time, there were a handful of blogs that one could probably refer to as the go-to Korea blogs: a group of blogs that referred to each other, and that everybody kind of assumed everybody else was reading. We even met up sometimes. We teamed up on projects like The Hub of Sparkle. You could rattle off their names. Zenkimchi. Expat Jane. Scribblings of the Metropolitician. Korea Beat. The Grand Narrative. The Marmot's Hole. Gusts of Popular Feeling. Brian in Jeollanamdo. ROK Drop. A little before my time were The Big Hominid and a couple of others.  K-pop K-blogs created their own little ecosystem, led by Dramabeans and Allkpop and Eat Your Kimchi. Outside those "big ones" there were a swack of others that were a little less famous, but part of the web of connection, linked on the sidebars and in articles.

As time went by, more blogs, both "big" and "small" fell defunct, the bloggers repatriated or started repeating themselves or moved on to other projects or had kids, changed jobs, and got busy. Or the commenters went berzerk. Or people eventually noticed they sucked, or the authors found better ways to get attention/notoriety. A few bloggers got harassed and bullied into removing their blogs.

The very idea of a K-blogosphere has always had its skeptics. A few commenters, one who is a good friend now, always argued it was a stretch to call K-bloggers a community. This became more and more true as tumblr, twitter, reddit, Facebook groups and pages, vlogging and podcasting all came into their own, and each developed its own niche, and all the "original K-blogs" that vanished were replaced by newer blogs. Finally, there wasn't really a K-blogosphere anymore, but many. The tumblr k-blogosphere. The social justice K-blogosphere. The teaching K-blogosphere, the K-pop one. The foodie one. The military/security one, and they intersected less and less. Somewhere around the time ATEK imploded, I became disillusioned of the idea expat teachers could align their scattered interests. Likewise, I stopped believing expat blogger community could be called into existence simply by using the term K-blogosphere a lot. Little knots of convergence would remain, but social media seemed to supply quicker, richer connections, and seeking "likes" "shares" and "upvotes" was more fun than taking the effort of writing out blog posts and hoping for comments. Eventually, the very idea we needed a K-blogosphere kind of dissipated. Or maybe I just got married and decided to invest my energy in a different set and type of connections. I won't rule out that I'm just out of touch now, but I'm unwilling to participate in That. Facebook. Group. just to get dialed back in. So be it.

Through all that, there was one go-to, one lodestone in the ever-changing Korea blogosphere. Or maybe it was the last tent peg stopping the entire tarp from blowing away. For everyone who'd graduated Dave's and gotten bored of those Facebook groups where the new wave of teaching first-and-second-years k-eep k-omplaining, there remained The Marmot's Hole.

One of the original K-bloggers, Robert Koehler's blog went through a number of phases, but spent a longer period with a higher level of sustained output, popularity and relevance than any other Korea blog. And really, it wasn't even close. Robert Koehler has been cited by more major western news sources than any other Korea blogger and over a longer span of time, and he has also had more foreign journalists commenting and visiting his page. I don't think there is anybody who would dispute that. In December, The Marmot announced his retirement from blogging, and the last intersection of the increasingly dispersing venn diagram of Korea blog niches vanished. With The Marmot's retirement, I don't think the idea of "the big k-blogs" exists, or is a useful term anymore, and if it hasn't been for a while (probably the case), this is the locking of the door as it shuts.

It was a great run though, so my hat is off to The Marmot, Robert Koehler (you can see what he's doing now by following his photography tumblr). Everybody blogging in Korea owes him a debt, so thanks for the links, the fun, and for being the biggest tree in the wooly ecosystem that was the K-blogosphere for so many years.

Where to now? Who's to say? Now that all the touchstones have been pulled up, I think everybody's going to crawl further into their little niches. Nobody will be filling The Marmot's shoes. Dave's, Facebook and Reddit aren't generating the combination of diversity, cumulative knowledge of commenters and liveliness found at The Marmot's Hole. I expect things to continue fragmenting, and I expect that the best thing I get out of blogging (as has been the case for a few years now) is no longer some measure of fame (snicker) but the chance to send up a flag to find some small number of interesting, like-minded people to find me.

The Marmot's Hole is gone. I am sad that the archives have been pulled offline, for the sake of history. The other legacy I hope continues is this: The Marmot never claimed to be an expert, and often said that the longer he spent in Korea, the less he knew. I hope that kind of humility and uncertainty remains an undercurrent in the attitudes of future K-bloggers.  It's sure nicer to read than the pretense of unearned authority. But I'll take curiosity over the fear of saying anything substantive, if it comes to that. As for the comment boards... they're probably gone forever, and I don't think they're coming back.

Good luck in the future, Mr. Koehler.