The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Blog Genie Is Out of the Bottle

Posted on | February 22, 2011 | 20 Comments

The guys who run the Memeorandum political news blog aggregator have another aggregator called Mediagazer, which is the source for this comment by Matt Schuler:

At the heart of the New York Times article is the suggestion that Facebook and Twitter are monopolizing the time that used to be dedicated to writing.

When I wrote about the New York Times “Death of Blogging” article yesterday, some of the commenters took an either/or view:

Blogging takes an ability to write and something to write about. Most people who text and pay attention to their Facebook pages have neither.
A blog dies because the blogger has no ability or reason to write. Texting and following a Facebook page is a waste of time. But to those who waste their time texting and visiting Facebook, their time isn’t worth much.

So you see here the idea that people “waste their time texting and visiting Facebook,” an idea I don’t share: What you do on Facebook or any other medium may be important or trivial. The medium does not determine the value or content of the message, but there are certain types of messages best suited to different media.

Many people have argued that blogs are best suited to short-form writing, although I’ve used this site from time to time to write articles of 2,000 or more words. The form and the content are independent of the medium, but if you want to write something longer than 140 characters, Twitter obviously won’t do. However, as I said yesterday, the argument whether Facebook or Twitter or any other medium can somehow “replace” blogs requires us to ask, “What do you mean by ‘blog’?” WordPress developer Matt Mullenweg writes:

Blogging has legs — it’s been growing now for more than a decade, but it’s not a “new thing” anymore. Underneath the data in the article there’s an interesting super-trend that the Times misses: people of all ages are becoming more and more comfortable publishing online. If you’re reading this blog you probably know the thrill of posting and getting feedback is addictive, and once you have a taste of that it’s hard to go back.

That’s just it: The phrase “blog” can mean many things, but at rock bottom it means “instantaneous self-publishing” — without any institutional barriers to publication. In that sense, it doesn’t matter whether you’re using blog software or Facebook or Twitter (I use all three). You can leave a comment here and instantly see it online (unless it gets caught in the moderation queue) and someone can respond to your comment in the same instantaneous way, so that you are having a real-time written dialogue to which anyone can contribute.

Participating in this conversation, however, requires a certain level of skill in reading, writing and thinking. There is no point writing a blog for the semi-literate, but there are lots of semi-literate people on Facebook.

Dan Riehl’s observation that the New York Times was engaged in wishful thinking — they want “blogs to go away so badly, they consistently look for ways to suggest that’s the case” — points toward the self-serving narrative of the traditional media, who wish to regain their lost monopoly on publishing. They are the middlemen who are eliminated by self-publishing technology.

Some of my Catholic friends deride my Protestant faith with the phrase, “Every man his own Pope,” and in the unfettered environment of online communication, every man is his own Pinch Sulzberger. That is to say the reader becomes his own editor, and can choose his own filter for information. You can subscribe to Alyssa Milano’s Twitter feed and get updates like this:

LIBYA: Protesters post videos to substantiate claims

Or you can bookmark Bob Belvedere’s The Camp of the Saints and get headlines like this:

A Is A And Treason Is Treason

And you can read this blog as a route to finding all that and more. The idea that people are using Tweets from an actress to stay updated on the latest news is perhaps no stranger than the idea that I, sitting here in my pajamas, can treat Alyssa Milano and Bob Belvedere as equals. Regular blog consumers probably wouldn’t even notice that contrast if I didn’t call it to their attention, because you have become accustomed to reading Charles G. Hill or Dan Collins cited as authorities equal (or superior) to bigtime pundits like Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post.

The Decides have lost their authority to decide.

Bloggers undermine the media establishment’s authority, as do all readers who seek out alternative voices online. Not everything about this democratizing influence of New Media technology is good, of course. The same technology that enables Ann Althouse to be a widely-read commentator also enables idiots to make death threats against her.

For good or ill, however, the genie of instantaneous self-publishing is out of the bottle, and nothing the New York Times writes about this phenomenon can put the blog genie back into the bottle.


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