I consider myself to be a bit of an internet veteran; I can remember 14.4 modems, bulletin boards, Usenet, and how exiting it was to see the first web pages, with their plain text on grey backgrounds. I still think ASCII art is pretty cool. So I’d have to admit that I initially approached the whole Web 2.0 thing with an old-timer’s conservatism, and I started reading blogs at a relatively late stage.
What first got me into the blogosphere was my interest in US politics. Around the time of the last presidential primaries there was a lot of talk about how bloggers were going to change the whole nature of political discourse, by bypassing the sclerotic mainstream media and engaging in polemical warfare reminiscent of the golden age of pamphleteering in the 18th century. Intrigued by this promise of a new style of politics, I started looking at the Blog Report feature on Salon, and following the talking points as they bounced around the blogs of the left and right, and I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s certainly entertaining, but not always particularly enlightening.
Now I live in western Europe, Scotland to be slightly more precise, and so perhaps I don’t really appreciate how bad the TV networks and newspapers are in the US, but I have never felt that blogs add a great deal to the experience of being a politically active citizen. It’s not that they don’t contain useful information, just that it’s very hard to make any sense of just how important, in political terms, any given story is. Although events in the real world are (usually) the trigger for whatever debate is exciting bloggers at any given moment, the self-referential nature of the medium almost always means that a sense of perspective is quickly lost.
Here’s an example: Glenn Greenwald’s column from a couple of days ago. Now Greenwald is a good writer, he’s living the dream by getting paid to blog for a reputable media organisation and his politics are not too objectionable (though personally I’m well to the left of him), but this piece is just nonsense. Over 1200 words (words that could have been devoted to any one of a myriad of unreported stories) to bring us the “news” that right-wing bloggers don’t always tell the truth, and can sometimes use objectionable language. Greenwald tries to make some overarching point about the “right-wing noise machine”, but it doesn’t really wash, and just exposes how badly he misjudges the resonance that such stories have within the mass of the population. Five minutes spent talking to real people on the street would set him right. The irony is that Greenwald and other left bloggers continually (and correctly) criticise the Beltway media for existing in a world of their own, but seem not to realise that the blogosphere is in many ways equally self-contained.
I’m not saying that blogs never break big stories, just that the political impact of such issues is best judged by how they are debated on the streets and in homes and workplaces, not by the blog entries they inspire.
A bit off-topic there; no Second Life, not really any psychology, unless you want to analyse the meaning of a blog post about the irrelevance of blog posts. It’s because I’m no further forward with getting the SL linux client to work – I didn’t notice that the blog I thought would be helpful hadn’t been updated in ten months. Look out for more posts about blogging, maybe something about social networking sites.