Friday, December 5, 2014

The Session #94: The Half-Life of Beer Blogs

When Adrian Dingle proposed this month's Session topic, I was in the midst of reading The Half-Life of Facts, a fun book by Samuel Arbesman who takes the reader on a historical tour on how our understanding of facts changes over time and shows everything we know has an expiration date.  In his book, Arbesman demonstrates the growth in scientific publications follows a steeply upward exponential curve. Thus, it becomes harder and harder to come up with revolutionary scientific theories or discoveries due to the increasing volume of research being performed by more and more scientists.

In their day, Issac Newton and Albert Einstein working alone revolutionized physics.  In today's "physics scene" they would be certainly be noteworthy scientists but most likely rather anonymous ones. Fundamental physics is now carried out by large teams involving hundreds of collaborators working hard to push our understanding of physics incrementally forward.  A lone physicist simply cannot be revolutionary the way Newton or Einstein were anymore.

In the same way, what's happened in the beer scene in the past thirty years has echoed the physics scene of the last 125 years.   There are just too many breweries to keep track of, too many beers to possibly drink, and too many events and happenings to follow them all.  Michael Jackson is very much the Albert Einstein of beer writers, but if a young Michael Jackson started a blog today he'd be one of hundreds of people worldwide chronicling all things beer.  I have no doubt this hypothetical young Michael Jackson would emerge as an important and influential beer writer, but it's unlikely he'd define beer writing the way the real Michael Jackson did.  Much of Michael Jackson's groundbreaking subject matter in his day is fairly well worn beer writing territory these days.

So as we ponder our place and existence in the beer scene, we must confront the uncomfortable truth the beer scene is expanding more rapidly than we can possibly keep up with and our blogs become increasingly irrelevant as compared to the whole.  I look at blogs that have gone silent in the past five years as their author moved on to others things and see quaint electronic relics of a some bygone era.  A time when 15 tap handles was a huge number for beer bar, pairing beer with dessert was a novel idea or a beer dinner at some upscale restaurant was cause for celebration.  I imagine most of us continuing to blog feel an increasing challenge to keep up with the rapidly expanding beer scene, lest we fall into a similar obscurity.

But of course, as the beer scene becomes ever larger, there are far more interesting places to explore within it, so that's what I do.   The South San Francisco Bay Area where I live has long been considered a beer wasteland, but a few new breweries are starting to change that, and I often write about this exciting transformation.  There's more beers and breweries out there which means there is another new story behind each one.   So when I discover a particularly interesting one of these stories, I figure others would also be interested so I write about them.  Along the way, I've met a lot of great people and had a lot of good times.  Even though I quietly realize this blog is a somewhat futile effort against the tide of increasing beery irrelevancy, I'm having such a good time, so who cares?

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