“The revolution will not be blogged”
That’s the title of George Packer’s story about blogs in the May/June issue of Mother Jones, which I’ve read but haven’t fully digested yet. The parts I found particularly appetizing: The constellation of opinion called the blogosphere consists, like the stars themselves, partly of gases. This is what makes blogs addictive — that is, both ...
That's the title of George Packer's story about blogs in the May/June issue of Mother Jones, which I've read but haven't fully digested yet. The parts I found particularly appetizing:
That’s the title of George Packer’s story about blogs in the May/June issue of Mother Jones, which I’ve read but haven’t fully digested yet. The parts I found particularly appetizing:
The constellation of opinion called the blogosphere consists, like the stars themselves, partly of gases. This is what makes blogs addictive — that is, both pleasurable and destructive: They’re so easy to consume, and so endlessly available. Their second-by-second proliferation means that far more is written than needs to be said about any one thing. To change metaphors for a moment (and to deepen the shame), I gorge myself on these hundreds of pieces of commentary like so much candy into a bloated — yet nervous, sugar-jangled — stupor. Those hours of out-of-body drift leave me with few, if any, tangible thoughts. Blog prose is written in headline form to imitate informal speech, with short emphatic sentences and frequent use of boldface and italics. The entries, sometimes updated hourly, are little spasms of assertion, usually too brief for an argument ever to stand a chance of developing layers of meaning or ramifying into qualification and complication. There’s a constant sense that someone (almost always the blogger) is winning and someone else is losing. Everything that happens in the blogosphere — every point, rebuttal, gloat, jeer, or “fisk” (dismemberment of a piece of text with close analytical reading) — is a knockout punch. A curious thing about this rarefied world is that bloggers are almost unfailingly contemptuous toward everyone except one another…. So far this year, bloggers have been remarkably unadept at predicting events (as have reporters, who occupy a different part of the same habitat). Most of them failed to foresee Dean’s rise, Dean’s fall, Kerry’s resurgence, Bush’s slippage. Above all, they didn’t grasp the intensity of feeling among Democratic primary voters — the resentments still glowing hot from Florida 2000, the overwhelming interest in economic and domestic issues, the personal antipathy toward Bush, the resurgence of activism, the longing for a win. The blogosphere was often caught surprised by these passions and the electoral turns they caused. Rather than imitating or reproducing external reality, it exists alongside, detached, self-encased, in a stance of ironic or combative appraisal…. Blogs, by contrast, are atomized, fragmentary, and of the instant. They lack the continuity, reach, and depth to turn an election into a story. When one of the best of the bloggers, Joshua Micah Marshall of talkingpointsmemo.com, brought his laptop to New Hampshire and tried to cover the race in the more traditional manner, the results were less than satisfying; his posts failed to convey the atmosphere of those remarkable days between Iowa and the first primary. Marshall couldn’t turn his gift for parsing the news of the moment to the more patient task of turning reportage into scenes and characters so that the candidates and the voters take life online. He didn’t function as a reporter; there was, as there often is with blogs, too much description of where he was sitting, what he was thinking, who’d just walked into the room, as if the enclosed space in which bloggers carry out their work had followed Marshall to New Hampshire and kept him encased in its bubble. He might as well have been writing from his apartment in Washington. But the failure wasn’t personal; this particular branch of the Fourth Estate just doesn’t lend itself to sustained narrative and analysis. Blogs remain private, written in the language and tone of knowingness, insider shorthand, instant mastery. Read them enough and any subject will go dead.
Reactions — as you would expect — from David Adesnik, Kevin Drum, Wonkette, and Matthew Yglesias. My half-digested thoughts: 1) Almost against his will, Packer reveals an essential truth for why blogs do matter — the press reads them. Why does the press read them? Because, apparently, the political press will read anything about politics. 2) In the sections where Packer criticizes blogs, conduct a mental experiment — replace the word “blogosphere” with “New York Times op-ed columnists” or “David Broder.” See if the criticism about lack of predictive capabilities or incestuousness still hold up. Indeed, short of a “Letter from New Hampshire”-length essay in The New Yorker, Packer’s expectations of blogs seem well-nigh impossible to meet. 3) One wonders what Packer thinks of commenters on blogs. UPDATE: One additional thought — I think Packer wants to keep the blogosphere and the mediasphere separate, when in fact a lot of bloggers can cross the great divide. For me, the utility of the blog is that it functions as a kind of ongoing link-filled notebook about interesting political and economic trends — well, that and an excuse to link to Salma Hayek, of course. The stuff I write for the mediasphere starts off as half-formed thoughts in blog posts. Once they’re fully thought out, they can have the coherence, texture and craft that Packer seems to crave after reading blogs (I would never have written “The Outsourcing Bogeyman” if I hadn’t been tracking the issue closely in blog posts, for example). Which might explain why one of Packer’s colleagues at Mother Jones is quite willing to link to my writings.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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