Monday, July 31, 2006

Featured Blogger

I'm the featured blogger on Manila Bulletin's Blog-o-Rama for this week. Thanks to Ajay for featuring me. Below is the original text of my response.

Please tell us something about yourself.
Ouch. This is always the hardest question to answer. "Who am I?" is an ongoing process of discovery and maturation. Currently: I'm a bicycle bum, a part-time pharmacy manager, and an aspiring writer. Not the most lucrative of career paths, but I can afford to do it right now after a ten-year stint in IT consulting. I'm also involved in community development in Dumaguete, working with schools and the NGOs to bring new investments into the city. Linux and open source remain my advocacies, though, and I write regularly on these subjects for PC Magazine.

Why the title "Village Idiot Savant?" When did you start to blog? Did anybody influence you?
"Village Idiot Savant" is a play on words, combining "village idiot" and "idiot savant." Why the fascination? Forrest Gump, mainly. "Rain Man" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" also had their influence. I've fancied myself a little autistic -- well-developed intellectually, poorly-developed socially. Then there's the romantic attraction of being a Fool: innocent, yet honest.

"Sketches of a Village Idiot Savant" was the title of my first personal web site (on Geocities) in 1997. Plain HTML, a real chore to manage, so it didn't last too long.

I wrote a simple blogging engine in 1999 to host my columns "Linux Links" for Philippine Daily Inquirer and "Rational Technology" for a local Dumaguete paper. It's still accessible from http://sketches.kom.ph/oldindex.php.

I started my current site, http://villageidiotsavant.blogspot.com, in September 2004.

Why do you blog?
I'm a very poor correspondent, even through email, so blogging is my way of keeping in touch with friends, letting them know what's happening with me. This is especially true now that I live in Dumaguete away from most of my gang. It helps that many of my friends also blog.

It's also a means of self-expression. Sometimes there's something that you're just dying to say because you think everyone is missing the point. Blogging is one way of getting my voice heard. Thankfully, that doesn't happen too often.

What benefits do you derive from blogging? What do you like about this activity?
It's such a boost to the ego when people you don't know come up to you and say, "Hey! You're the Village Idiot Savant, right? I read your blog." That happened on the first iBlog, and it was very flattering. I'm making connections with other bloggers. It's a great way to meet like-minded people, some of whom I have yet to meet.

But it also works with non-bloggers. One time, I got a Yahoo message from a woman asking for my help to arrange her and her friends' visit to Dumaguete. This from Googling my blog. No, I didn't make any money from it, but I made some new friends and got to join them on some of their excursions.

Finally, it helps to shape my thoughts, and to a certain extent, to shape the thoughts of others. Dean Jorge Bocobo is one blogger I admire very much. I was following his pre-blogging work way back when he was still writing for the Inquirer. I didn't always agree with him, sometimes I even got upset. But nowadays, I can exchange ideas and even argue with him. Imagine that. And he's actually a great guy in person.

On the other hand, anything you dislike about blogging?
In a way, it's a bit of a chore. Sometimes I wonder what I'm going to blog about. And when I don't blog for a couple of days, I feel a little guilty. It certainly takes up a lot of time, especially for a slow writer like me.

Sometimes I also wonder about who "owns" my blog. Is it still mine, or is it now owned by a larger and regular audience? If it's the latter, am I constrained to writing about topics they like? So in a way, it becomes something of a performance for an audience, and that's scary.

And...Adsense. Grrr! I'm still $999,990.00 away from becoming a millionaire.


Do you still see yourself blogging five years from now? Please explain.
Ha, ha, of course. Sometime soon, after I meet the right girl, I hope to have kids. Guess where the kids' photos will go to?

Are you guided by certain principles when you blog?
I treat blogging as an ongoing exchange with my friends, so I aim for a tone that's friendly and conversational. I also try to be careful with what I say because it is a public forum, after all. If I say something controversial, I ask myself whether I am sure I want to say it. But I also try to keep an open mind: if I'm wrong, I'll say so. Politicians are fair game, though.

How do you choose which topics to post?
I write on the things which interest me, and they can be a bit diverse: biking, comics, books, cartoons, toys, Dumaguete, technology, politics, entertainment, the Filipino psyche. That's why my blog does poorly on Adsense, because it's not focused on any one topic.

Your blogging habits: how do you find the time to blog?
I try to write in the morning, after my morning biking run to Valencia or my jog on the Dumaguete boulevard. I'm already thinking of what to write while exercising. The actual writing happens during the cool down.

Then I write again in the evening, if I have time.

Can you tell us more about your blog design and what platform you're using?
I use Blogger. Not the most flexible of platforms, but I like working within its limitations. It's quite easy to blog in, too. Plus, it's owned by Google, so the information technically exists forever.

My blog design is a modified Minima by John Bowman. I like its simplicity. I decided to customize it a bit, though, because I didn't want it looking like a generic blog. Graphic design, unfortunately, is not my strong suit.

In your own opinion, what are the qualities of a good blogger?
A good blogger, in my opinion, is someone who explores topics with some depth, and doesn't just relate what's happened or repeat what someone else has said. The writing style should be easy to read, almost conversational, but should not fall into text-ese or slang. And please, not too much angst! I can't stand angsty blogs.

A good blogger should also be willing to engage his or her readers in conversation. After all, that's what a blog is: a running conversation between the blogger and the readers.

And, of course, regularity and frequency of posting.


Your observations of the Philippine blogosphere, if any, in terms of its demographics, growth, and its potential.
Not counting the Personal blogs, the Filipino blogs on my blogroll fall into the categories of Tech, Politics, Literature and Philippine Travel. There's quite a number of them in these categories, and that's promising. It means there are folks out there thinking about things which define us, which move us forward, and which keep us rooted in our heritage.

One of the things I'm concerned with is the Filipino identity. I think the reason we're so dissatisfied with ourselves is because we haven't really found out who we are. We haven't really expressed ourselves in terms of heritage and philosophy. Our identity is something that's been imposed on us: by historians, by politicians, by writers, by journalists, many of whom have their own agendas. Against this background, blogs are a liberating tool, because now we can participate democratically into exploring who we really are.

The challenge is to try to get more people blogging. Blogs are still a largely upper-middle class phenomenon, so there's a large segment out there that still doesn't blog. It's not that they don't have access to the Internet: they do, but they're playing games and stalking Friendster, all in all, very passive stuff. They need to know that they also have something worthwhile to say.


How would you encourage more young people to blog, and blog with meaning?
Blogging is really only the tool. The essential activity is writing. And the prerequisite to good writing is thinking. This is going to seem off-tangent, but I really think they should be teaching more philosophy in school.

But any start would be a good start. Many young folks already take to the Internet like ducks to water. So I would probably take whatever healthy interest they have a starting point and encourage them to start a blog on it in order to become part of a community. It surely helps if they earn prestige points by becoming an authority.

Finally, the schools: some of the schools I work with are in the process of institutionalizing blogs as means for students to submit regular reports. I think that's also promising.

5 comments:

  1. Oh no, I hope this doesn't mean you're going mainstream Dom. You know, after awhile, bloggerdom will look DOWN on the demagagosphere, at least those that don't innovate and become interactive.

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  2. Thanks, Tsinkoy.

    Dean: I'm confident you'll be there to set me aright if I go astray ;-) On the other hand, I think it's our duty to make this phenomenon mainstream, if only to get other folks to speak up. Looks like I'm being drafted for more blogging workshops here in Dumaguete. After that...podcasting and v-logging.

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  3. Nice going dom. Btw, the original MB link is dead.

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  4. Being featured in mainstream media speaks a lot about the man.

    Congratulations!

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