Media Blogs. (Good God!) What Are They Good For?
posted by July 19 at 11:15 AMon
The tenth anniversary of the blog-as-medium passed recently. In its honor, some writers-turned-bloggers, including Ross Douthat, have been asking: What are blogs good for?
At its best, the blogosphere exposes the enormous weaknesses of the traditional op-ed page: On the web, complicated arguments get the space they deserve, the actual underlying data for any debate is only a hyperlink away, potentially-corrective feedback is more or less instantaneous, and nobody has tenure. You can be dead wrong and still find an audience, obviously, but you can’t be stale: There are fewer Bob Herberts and David Broders in the blogosphere, and while there’s obviously a blog establishment of sorts, its hold on its audience is far more fragile than the “It’s Ellen Goodman For You Today - Or Nothing!” iron grip that the MSM used to enjoy.
The flip side of this is that blogging is the enemy of literary craft and intellectual depth. Arguments over tax policy and the proper interpretation of Knocked Up find a natural home in the blogosphere; attempts write a great novel or compose a paradigm-shifting philosophical treatise do not. If you want to be the next George Will or Paul Krugman, you’d be well-served to take up blogging now, because it’ll make you a better pundit. If you want to be the next Ian McEwan or Philip Roth, or the next Alastair McIntyre or Richard Rorty, I’d advise you to rip your internet cable out of the wall now, before it’s too late. Yes, the novelists and philosophers of the past kept diaries and wrote letters and still managed to produce longer, deeper works - but blogs aren’t a private or semi-private outlet, like a journal or a commonplace book; they’re a form of daily journalism, with all the pressures, commercial and otherwise, that form entails. And constant journalism has always been the foe of literary or philosophical greatness: I love G.K. Chesterton, for instance, but I think his sheer output kept him from becoming something more than what he was; he was a great Christian polemicist, which is no small thing, but I think he could have been greater still if he’d written at a less hectic pace. I’m sure others have their own examples of writers who might have done more had they written slightly less, and I think in the age of blogging those examples will proliferate. We’ll have better punditry, but fewer masterpieces.
The kind of brain activity that permits one to post two dozen items a day, keep track of countless more, and surf endless online reports and ideas and spats, is not conducive to also producing a long or reflective or deep work of philosophy or fiction or history or poetry. Even if you find the time, your mind cannot adjust that quickly.