Hype and the art of blogging
This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on May 10, 2002
Well, the Washington Post has discovered it, and the Los Angeles Press Club has hosted an evening to discuss it, so it must be real.
"It" in this case being "blogging."
Haven't heard of blogging? My goodness, you must not watch "Friends" either, or have the latest Madonna CD ... you are sooooo out of it.
Excuse the sarcasm, but the amount of gushing in the mainstream press over their latest discovery "blogging" seems so utterly out of proportion to the reality that it's hard not to get a little fed up.
So just what the heck is "blogging"?
First off, it's shorthand for "web logging." Beyond that, it's pretty much what it sounds like. Someone sets up a Web site then posts every random thought that comes through their brain. Blogs are web sites in which the owner rants, raves, foams and basically writes whatever is on their mind.
Think of it as an online diary with delusions of being a magazine.
Next Great Thing?
To read some of the articles about blogging, you'd think traditional media were on their way out the door. To read some of the self-congratulatory blogs, you'd think the traditional media were already gone.
(And to show just how quickly the Internet changes our normal concept of time, when I write "traditional media" here, I'm including standard, non-blog news sites.)
So is blogging the Next Great Thing?
Former ComputorEdgeeditor Ken Layne seems to think so especially since he now runs his own at www.kenlayne.com.
And Virginia Postrel, former editor at Reason magazine and owner of her own blog, touts blogs as "one of the most interesting new spontaneous orders in the world of the Web." Now that sounds serious.
While Postrel and fellow blogging convert Andrew Sullivan (andrewsullivan.com) can make credible claims to pulling in tens of thousands of visitors a day to their blogging sites, fairness demands that we point out many of those folks are only visiting Postrel's and Sullivan's sites because of the reputations they crafted in traditional media. They were celebrities before they began blogging. Your blog or my blog just ain't gonna get that kind of traffic.
Although bloggers like to tout the infamous Matt Drudge as a self-made blogging star, Drudge himself doesn't tout his "Drudge Report" as a blog.
Besides, despite all the claims about bloggers being a great alternative to existing media, there's not a whole lot if any original reporting going on in blogdom. If anything, blogging is a great alternative to the opinion sections of newspapers because that's what the vast majority of blogging comes down to: opinion.
Visiting the blogging world, with all its self-referential links to other blogs, is like hanging out with a bunch of espresso-drinking, chain-smoking French intellectuals. There's an air of Grand Importance about it all, and it's all so self-congratulatory. It's also very white and very middle-class.
And the instantaneous nature of blogging may be its greatest weakness. There seems to me to be strong arguments in favor of the considered text. Hemingway wrote and re-wrote, as did Camus, de Beauvoir, Faulkner, Steinbeck and most any author who's ever had a novel published. It's in this going over what you have already written that the best writers find the deeper meanings imbued in their works.
If they'd blogged simply puked up any thought they might have the lasting contributions they did make would have been lost to the moment. How many of all those underground publications put out by the Left Bank intellectuals in Paris during the '50s and '60s does anyone even remember? And weren't those the blogs of their day?
Of course, blogging doesn't present itself as great art. It seems, instead, intended to replace art.
Then there's this: if there are really 40,000 blogging sites (as I read on some blog while researching this, and now can't find, although Ken Layne says it's closer to 400,000) as of mid-April, just how many of them are getting any substantial readership? Outside of Postrel and Sullivan, I mean.
Now, I may well take a beating for this in Layne's daily blog, but it seems to me that the entire purpose of publishing something is to reach others as many as possible. A good piece of writing is able to create a sense of something shared, a sense of community, if you will. Part of the joy of reading a magazine is to find someone else who also reads it and then talk about the articles in the last issue.
If only a couple thousand (being generous, frankly, in the case of most blogs) read the same writing, where's the community in that?
Blogging seems to exist for itself to be written for the author's amusement. There's a real air of narcissism about blogging this assumption that every thought you have ought to be of interest to somebody else.
Or perhaps I just don't have as interesting a set of thoughts as most bloggers.
Still, it's not as if we suffer from a shortage of information. While blogger critics of the mainstream media claim that they're serving a need unfilled by the existing corporate media, what we need is better journalism, not more. Does anyone really believe that adding 40,000 (or 400,000) more opinion columns is going to make ours a better-informed society?
Whether blogging really is the next great thing its proponents argue remains to be seen. Past experience with the mainstream media christening anything as being ready for a breakthrough would seem to caution against reading too much into the blogging phenomenon.
Here to stay
Having said all that, it still strikes me that "blogging" is here for the long haul.
And there's a place for it just not as a replacement for the existing media. It may be that blogging is merely a revival of the lost art of diary writing. And the fact is that there is a lot of good writing in the blog world. Layne's site, for instance the man can simply write circles around most anyone else in journalism (although his new beard makes him look like a cross between Abe Lincoln and Che Guevera somebody buy him a razor). Or Brenda Fine's site (isomorphisms.org) the woman manages to make math seem interesting in her blog, and if it's possible to develop a crush on someone through their writing, then mark me down as smitten.
Blogging may well morph into something more than a modern online diary. For now, it's more evidence that the Internet continues to change the way we communicate. And that alone is pretty worthwhile.
© Copyright Jim Trageser
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