Why This is Here: Thoughts on MAPH & the Maphmatically Yours Experiment – Part 2

Not to turn my experience writing this blog into a Lifetime Movie of the Week (c), but–as anyone who has authored a blog will commiserate–the process tends to generate a bit of anxiety.  You see, you Internet is a bit like high school–full of people who you don’t know and aren’t particularly interested in you–and setting up a blog is a bit like constructing a sandwich-board with the words “Pay Attention to Me!” painted on it and wearing it to school.  Now, it is possible that the posts that you write really do strike a chord with the rest of the world by managing to express the zeitgeist of your particular age, but the chances are far better that you will continue to be ignored–or even more likely be ignored in ever more pointed ways.  The whole situation is enough to make anyone but the most meglomaniacal extrovert run in horror.  So, in order to convince yourself to put in all the work of creating a semi-regular blog you really do have to delude yourself into thinking that many, many people want to read what you have to say.

Now, for whatever socio-economic reason(s), it is not difficult to find someone under the age of thirty-five living in the United States who can convince themselves that their thoughts and musings are so interesting that a large chunk of the world will want to check in on a regular basis to read them.  However, the vast majority of these blogs are left after a handful of posts to languish in obscurity until someone finally, mercifully pulls the plug after too many years without any updates or traffic–and it’s not difficult to understand why.

In the first month of Maphmatically Yours there were an average of seven hits on the site per day.  In the second month there was a daily average of twelve hits per day.  In the third month there was a daily average of just twenty hits and it wasn’t until eight months in that the site could expect a consistent traffic greater than forty hits per day.  For the first several months–struggling to write this blog in addition to pursuing my Masters–I was largely writing to myself, my family, and just a couple of friends also in the MAPH program.  As it was unlikely that anyone in my family was considering attending UChicago, this site was obviously failing to meet its goal of providing unofficial commentary and insight on the program to inform future MAPH candidates for all that time.

Blogging Strategy: Phase ONE – Blogging on when no one is listening.

The stalwart soul has two main tools at its disposal to make it through that–hopefully–transient lean time.

1) Writing to oneself – Many early posts were spawned because I wanted to work through some issue or discuss some topic that only I really care about.  For example, I have written extensively on the creation and maintenance of my digital library largely because I think that the topic is interesting and I want to think through my own process.  Strangely enough, sometimes these posts about fountain pens and social awkwardness actually wind up being some of the more popular on the site–at least after the traffic picks up.

2) Celebrating one day or one week traffic records – Sure, the majority of early one day or one week traffic spikes were flukes resulting from having a particular blog reposted on another site or having a friend link back to the domain, but one can pretend that the all time high of 37 hits after three weeks on the web is the beginning of your blog’s discovery by an adoring world–rather than the result of a friend shoving traffic your way from a better, longer established site.

Blogging Strategy: Phase TWO – Blogging because it’s the right thing to do.

Then, suddenly, you stop caring about whether anyone is reading and just write posts because you think that the world ought to wonder why so many words fail to communicate or be warned that Chicago drivers really are horrible.  You write every day and you stop checking the “stats” page to see how many people are reading.  You invite others to write and carry on arcane little conversations in the “comments” boxes.  You tell yourself that with so much great content on your sandwich-board, they’ll just have to vote you prom king–eventually–but no need to keep an eye on the ballot box just now.

This is the phase of Maphmatically Yours that I treasure the most.  I’m terribly fond of looking back at how Bill and I made sense of our first quarter grades in ‘Foundations’–though not of the grades themselves and I still get a little indignant our younger selves behalf even while the me of today realizes that the B+ was paradoxically both meaningless and capricious.  I’m very proud to have co-hosted Bill’s animality posts along with his own website and to have had guest posts from some of really fine friends.  My sense is–and traffic patterns have testified to the truth of it–that the posts from this middle period will be the ones most often viewed and most helpful to those considering a future in MAPH–or trying to muddle their way through.  As of today, the all time most popular posts all hail from that period including “The Perpetual Interview,” “Continental Drift” and “A Virtual Paper Chase“–though “The Real Difference Between Analytical and Continental Philosophy” will probably never give up its crown.  

Coping Strategy: Phase THREE – Not blogging because it hurts less that way.

However, there can be no doubt that the experiment that is and has been Maphmatically Yours is winding down.  With all the pragmatic concerns demanding attention and all the final homework projects pressing me for time, posts are getting fewer and farther between.  While I really would rather finish strong and go out with a bang, the thousand-yard stare that this program–and my life in general–has bestowed upon me is already looking beyond graduation–to my classes in the fall and the opportunity to take up again the hobbies and interests that I’ve been ignoring for the past four years (three getting my BA and one for MAPH).  As is already obvious, I’m already growing nostalgic for the University of Chicago, my fellow MAPHers, and the halcyon “golden age” of Maphmatically Yours.  But, this was always a site with an expiration date and with my final version of my thesis due in just two weeks and grades for all my classes due in no later than May 25, graduation on June 9th will feel like some obligatory anti-climax to a year already “in the can.”  The fact is, I’m letting go of Maphmatically Yours a little prematurely in order to cope with the anxiety that its lingering presence brings to mind.

Now, that is not to say that I’ve got nothing more to say and that there aren’t at least a couple more surprises in store.  Also, it is deeply gratifying after so many months wondering if I was talking to myself to see daily traffic over fifty hits per day and quite a lot of interest in the blog’s more content heavy installments.  If this blog has always been about allowing potential University of Chicago students to examine their presuppositions about the U of C and MAPH in light of an unofficial, objective experience, then it seems Maphmatically Yours is finally meeting its goals–which is not so much a feather in my cap as a boon for those who find some help among its pages.

Thank you!

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