Monday, November 24, 2008

the uses of blogging

While I've been a fan of blogs and the Web for some time, I've kept a degree of skepticism about some of the grander claims about the blogosphere. Partly, that's just a function of the history of the Internet, where the rhetoric has always been a bit more grandiose than the reality. Back in June-- right before I started this blog, actually-- I asked Matt Yglesias in his comments about the democratization of blogs, and he graciously responded. (That in and of itself is a feather in the cap of blogs, the immediacy and the feedback, although MY specifically I have felt like is a little more remote since he moved to Thinkprogress. Not that he's under any obligation to be accesible, of course.) As I said at the time, I do think elite media is still a difficult realm to crack into. That includes the old-media sanctioned blogs.

Yet I have to say that when I really think about it, the opportunity afforded by the Web and blogs is pretty breathtaking. Without having to meet the criteria of any gatekeepers, without having to appear under the imprimatur of any news organization, I can speak to many different people, from anywhere around the world. When you compare that to the barriers to entry in any kind of mass media just a decade ago, it really is an amazing change. Personally, my success has been modest. My readership is tiny, as these things go. But it's more than enough; I have people who read what I have to say and react in intelligent, and frequently unpredictable, ways. (It helps that I don't do this for a living, or have any particular desire to; people who would blog professionally obviously have more pressure on them to reach a large audience.) Many popular bloggers have been incredibly generous with linking to me. It's all very gratifying.

Were I to apply for an internship at the New Republic or National Review or one of the major newspapers, I really don't think I would get one. That's not a knock; my resume is my responsibility. But it is a barrier. Here, though, the only barrier is whether people are interested in what I have to say. This blog was literally started on a public computer at the library. The fact that people who work for well-known magazines have seen fit to read what I have to say is pretty crazy.

Some would say that this is the problem with the Internet, that it's a cult of the amateur and that there aren't the necessary barriers to entry into the public conversation. While that may be true in some contexts, I think in terms of blogs, it's pretty simpy not the case: if I or any other blogger doesn't bring anything to the table, or if they are irresponsible, unfair or dishonest, they'll stop getting links. You can't say for sure they'll stop getting read, but then, Sean Hannity having his head up his ass doesn't hurt his ratings on radio. Unlike Hannity, meanwhile, anyone who wants to check the veracity of what I or any other blogger has to say is to click around, and in a few minutes you can have a pretty good sense. Commenters, too, can be a great boon for ensuring fairness and accuracy. My commenting crew is pretty small, but very bright, and also has no conscience when it comes to calling me on my bullshit. Given my penchant for getting ahead of myself, that's key.

One other advantage of the Internet is the ability of small groups with mutual interests to find each other and form intellectual communities. I mean, take the Postmodern Conservatives. That's a pretty unusual philosophical position! And yet, with the web, they can meet (virtually) and share ideas and form a common community, and advance their vision of conservatism in a way that simply wouldn't have been possible even 10 years ago.

This is all banal stuff, I know, but I think it's worth saying. If nothing less, it's very gratifying and meaningful to me.


ryan said...

Well said. The unintended consequences of the internet are, for me, far more significant and interesting than the deliberate ones.

Michael said...

Yup. Good post, and pretty much on target. It's the barriers to entry that make the biggest difference, though we do have to realize that blogs are pretty much exclusively editorializing. Have you read Yochai Benkler's _The Wealth of Networks_?

Tim said...

This type of self-reflective post is actually the reason that I started reading you regularly (to the point that I added your feed to my Google Reader account.)

In fact, the specific post about your own thoughts on postmodernism and religion and a number of other things was the item that piqued my interest.

Freddie said...

Haven't read it, Michael.

Let me be clear, I'm definitely not one of those people who thinks blogging can replace investigative reporting, and I expect newspapers (whether they actually come out in paper or not) to continue on-- you've got to have people who actually figure out what's going on in the world so that we can comment on it. What the profit model will be, I don't know.

individualfrog said...

Even though you don't want to be professional, you should at least get yrself some google ads! Make a little gas money.

Freddie said...

It's tempting. I just hate the aesthetics of doing so.

rusty said...

Blogs are meritocracy writ large, and you're a great example of this, Freddie.