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A snob's paradise

Column net.wars
Fri Feb 28 2003, 10:26
WE ALL must, occasionally, come to terms with our failures in life, and in the last couple of weeks I have had to come face to face with a truly unpalatable one of mine: I do not have one of the *important* blogs. People do not read my blog looking for informed debate, valued opinions, or breaking news. Journalists do not read my blog and get ideas for stories they then sell to the Guardian. Even my friends prefer to link to other people. (Danny, about that stuffed frog. You do know you're going to need plastic pants on the actual baby?)

Actually, the second of those is kind of a good thing. You would be able to hear without benefit of modem the howls of rage that would ensue if I realized I'd missed a chance to capitalize on a story myself. Recently, for example, I happened to realize - for embarrassing and illegal reasons to do with file-trading and the latest episode of, oh God, Friends -- that the IRC network Dalnet was under persistent and concerted distributed denial of service attack (DDOS). I thought of putting it in the blog. I called the Independent instead. A medium-term boost to my bank account, but long-term it dooms me to be a paramecium in the blogging ocean (which the Guardian chooses to call the "blogosphere"). I am ruining my own future.

Not that I can blame anyone. What's been in my blog for the last week or two? A magnificently unimportant complaint that Reese Witherspoon doesn't do interesting enough movies, a brief comment on the big march - as if it hasn't had enough pixels elsewhere - and a fantasy conversation with a tennis ball. Not the stuff of which great blogs are made.

I probably wouldn't be saying any of this except I had a stupid argument recently with someone to whom blogs seem to be as despisable as television. It's really interesting how media snobbery plays out. No one ever boasts about how few books they read, and few people boast about how few movies they see or how little music or radio they listen to. But the number of people who like to boast about how little TV they watch is legion, up to and including John Perry Barlow, who refers to TV as "toxic" and likes to say "there is no safe level" - while appearing on it every chance he gets.

To the category of "media people boast about not consuming" we can add Usenet newsgroups, probably IRC, and apparently blogs. Magazines, of course split more or less evenly across the Media Divide: you read The New Yorker with dignified pride, and boast about being above computer magazines, and, these days, Wired . Similarly, there are class newspapers (the British broadsheets, the New York Times et al) and crass papers (the British tabloids and the National Enquirer. Porn seems to be a case of inverse snobbery: if you openly regard, say, Readers' Wives and the Pigs Who Boar Them with contempt it means you're a porcophobe, and therefore probably a closeted porcophiliac. So you'd better either boast about reading that magazine or never have heard of it.

For me, blogs represent a lot of valuable niche publishing for material that doesn't fit the requirements of the mainstream media. Ten years ago, a group like the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group would have been followed by a couple of dogged campaigners and/or journalists. But the notes they took in meetings would, if we were lucky, be summarized once every few months in an anorexic newsletter sent out at great expense to a few hundred people. Today, we can follow the whole thing. The thousands of us scattered across the world who are interested can watch the machinations if ICANN in two places. Journalists these days ignore blogs at their peril.

More personally, we can even enjoy the comments of people who would never send the same things by email. Your blog may be read only by your tribe, as Howard Rheingold says, but they *are* your tribe, and increasingly they are rarely in one location.

There is, of course, an additional layer of blog snobbery within the digerati. To them, my blog is beneath consideration not so much because of its content but because it's at the Wrong Kind of Address and created by the Wrong Kind of Software.

The one thing I wish is that it were more frequently easy to reply to comments within blogs, so that they really become more like two-way niche publishing and you could read the whole discussion easily. The workaround, where everyone writes in their own blogs comments about what they're read elsewhere, is effective, but not always easy to follow. Perhaps we need a "discussion trail" blog that indexes current topics of discussion chronologically with numbered signposts to all the other blogs.

In general, you, the reader, get to choose whether your blogging experience is cyberpunk, legal, tech news, or news tech, mobile, multivariate, or more like those annual Christmas letters Americans send their scattered families. As Salon's Scott Rosenberg says, a lot of blogging energy come from anger at the failings of traditional media. So what it all boils down to is, I think if you're going to be a blog snob, you might want to be a little bit specific. µ

Wendy M. Grossman's Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series. She has an intermittent blog. Readers are welcome to post there or to send email, but please turn off HTML.

 

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