Bring Back the Nerdocracy

by Paddy Johnson and Corinna Kirsch on January 8, 2015 · 7 comments Off Our Chest


“Raise your hands if you’ve heard of Star Wars Modern.” No hands shot up. “Raise your hands if you’ve heard of” This time there was a giggle, from an artist just a few years older than me—she knew what I was trying to gauge from yesterday’s audience at BHQFU. I wasn’t too surprised that this group of MFA and MA students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago didn’t know much about single-author art blogs, but the fact that they didn’t recognize even one confused me. Both and Star Wars Modern are cited regularly by larger blogs. Part of the reason they are so great to read is the sheer volume of knowledge they bring to a subject.

That kind of knowledge was once the grease of the Internet. Back in 2010, Jezebel asked if everyone was a nerd now that it was cool. “The nerdocracy,” a term referring to bloggers and influencers on the web whose taste tended towards nerdery, was common parlance. In 2008, a website called Blogebrity ranked the web’s most influential blogs and bloggers.

A lot of what got posted was dross or worse, but we weren’t where we are now: terrorist beheading videos, Kim Kardashian’s ass, and Sony hacks. These are not nerd-friendly topics.

So what happened to the blog nerd over the course of the last five to seven years? Some went on to form multi-author blogs (Forrest Nash of Contemporary Art Daily), work for art publications (Andrew Russeth of 16 Miles of String, Kriston Capps of Grammar Police, Carolina Miranda of c-monstah), curate and contribute to other art publications (Karen Archey, Image Conscious), or form non-profits (like Art F City). These were mostly writers. Artists like MTAA, Anonymous Female Artist, and Nicole Eisenman ran blogs that eventually closed when their interests changed or they outlived their purpose.

The tide has changed for blog nerds. Tech is cool, but text is not. That’s a big change from the days when bloggers were reluctant to embed video for fear no one would watch it. Now, we’re to the point where satire news sites produce clips about viewers being lured with the promise of text and then bombarded with video. Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, even Tindr, prioritizes images over writing. Those sites are great, but how much of your nerd-knowledge can you put inside a selfie?

All of which is to say, what is the future of the nerdocracy? It’s hard to say, but a trajectory can be traced. The prominence of the 90’s indie music nerd and record collector has been replaced in 2015 by the lumber-jack cheesemonger and prohibition-style cocktail nerd. Similarly the prominence in the aughts of nerdy single-author bloggers have been replaced by social media nerds who now favor messaging and chat services.

All that’s great, but I’m a little disheartened that some of my favorite independent bloggers aren’t being read by my students. Informed, opinionated commentary creates the best version of the web I know. Let’s bring that back in the year to come.



Patricia Maloney January 8, 2015 at 7:02 pm

Not to toot our own horn, but this is exactly why Art Practical and Daily Serving have entered the classroom and are partnering with the California College of the Arts. When students use arts writing to be an essential pedagogical tool, when they themselves have access to independent arts publishing, they learn that reading and writing arts criticism can be crucial acts in shaping arts communities.

Kyle Clements January 9, 2015 at 2:03 pm

Great post. It’s about time someone said it.

Just because nerds *used* to dominate the internet, and the internet is used by more people now than ever before, does *not* mean that their are more nerds now than ever.
It’s not even about being “the internet” anymore. It’s just another bucket of content for people to consume, like radio, magazines, or TV.

tom moody January 9, 2015 at 5:43 pm

Hi, Paddy and Corinna,
Can you give more detail about what you mean by “messaging and chat services”? Does this mean just Facebook? Are these discussions meant to be a substitute for criticism, or are they functioning as criticism (on the fly, without a “public record” or accountability)? If that’s the new blogging, isn’t the loss of a record and a searchable trail a pretty significant difference?
Best, Tom

Paddy Johnson January 9, 2015 at 11:05 pm

I was talking about snapchat and slack but facebook applies too. Snapchat has worse archiving, slack is better for that. Overall, we’re seeing a rise in private chat forums, and that’s because they are needed. I wasn’t thinking of them as a substitute for criticism, just a change in the preference of tools we use to communicate.

Poor archiving is absolutely a problem, though somethings have gotten better. People, in general, are more used to commenting and have gotten better at writing more clearly. Overall, I think people are less self conscious about conversation in text.

I’m reminded of a comment you made in Art Lies a while back about how the years you toiled over a blog can disappear at a moment’s notice because someone decides to shut down a program but that picture of you partying like a fool never goes away.

tom moody January 10, 2015 at 11:16 am

In the ’00s we had the “blogosphere” and there was a fair amount of mutual support among early adopters who were attempting something different than the “mainstream media.” That support has fractured as authors have either joined social media platforms, with their readymade communities of friends and followers, or returned to the old path of building a brand by writing for better-promoted media outlets. I think of the blogger Digby, who is now writing regularly for Salon as “Heather Digby Parton.” There is no going back to what we did in the ’00s, and I don’t expect students to have heard of me as an “indie blogger” (what the hell is that?). I’m continuing with that platform/format because it works best for me and gives me some sense of being in control, while still managing to find readers through search, word-of-mouth and (much appreciated) plugs from fellow former blogospherians such as AFC.

Paddy Johnson January 10, 2015 at 11:26 am

I miss some of those days. I was going through the archives of some of the blogs back in the day, and there was a whole lot less crap. I mean, I remember people having much disinterest in the press release-y type news that came out of artforum all the time. Now we’ve got a billion sites trying to do that and it drowns some of the individual voices out.

There also was a much better sense of community. We fought a lot, but bloggers really supported one another. That’s changed though, and the fragmentation of the community is certainly part of that.

tom moody January 10, 2015 at 12:32 pm

When you say “a billion sites trying to do that,” meaning press release-y news, right? If so, agreed. All the clickbait and listicles. Salon has thoughtful writing but their model is pure churn and constant shrieking scandal. I don’t even know what Rhizome is trying to do with posts that disappear in 24 hours (besides not being accountable for having opinions).
As an adamant “single author blogger,” I feel the least I can do is offer a calm place on the web, free of all this link frenzy and pressure to monetize. The agenda and motivation is less clear, and that’s by design. Beyond the given of “self promotion,” of course.

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