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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Blogs. (Good God!) What Are They Good For?

posted by on July 19 at 11:15 AM

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.

Sullivan concurs:

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.

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For me, keeping a blog keeps me in touch with my family in a semi-interactive way. I'm horrible at keeping in touch, I tend to forget to return phone calls, my machine at home is full most of the time, and I never answer my cell. I'm a little better at email, but even then I go through my phases.
When I started my blog it was more of a way for me to keep track of dates, shows I'd been to and whatnot. I figured there is so much out there, my audience was probably myself, and maybe a few close friends.
On an annual birthday call from my mother, who lives in another state, I mentioned that I keep a blog online when she was complaining that I was bad at keeping in touch and keeping her updated on my life.
She had no idea what a blog was, so I sent her the link.
A couple of years later, my mom, and the majority of my extended family have blogs of their own! Thanks to blogging I actually have a relationship with my family that I didn't have before. I know what is going on in their lives and they know what is happening in mine, but there is no weirdness or tension that sometimes comes from families that never really learned how to communicate attempting to talk in person, or from relatives who really don't have much in common other than being related.

Posted by lilblackcat | July 19, 2007 1:13 PM

Allow me to reflect for a moment on... oh god I forgot to get the laundry. I don't have enough money to replace the clothes so I might have to just...well, there's Value Village...Hmm what has Metafilter posted so far today? Block Party tickets, Block Party tickets. I owe her $20. The government is watching me. Saudi, bomb, censorship, 1984. I should have thrown away this empty Turkish wine bottle, where am I ever going to find Turkish wine over here? *refresh* Oh yay, a new Slog post. On calves? My calves are tight. Shit, I have to work today. Thank God I already showered. Peace and love, peace and love, I'll just vote Democrat and pretend I think about the issues, no one will ever know. I'm glad I forced my window open finally, this is a nice breeze. I should update my blog.

Posted by Katelyn | July 19, 2007 1:16 PM

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