On the nihilism of blogging (part 1)…

I’m not at all sure that I buy some of the basic premises of this piece, but it does genuinely hit on a few gems, mostly because the writer has an acute eye for detail. But be warned, this article is massive. Here’s the first part of a two part blogNot least in his argument that with nearly 100 million blogs we are heading for the banalisation of news and, possibly more importantly, knowledge:

Whereas dot-com suits dreamt of mobbing customers flooding their e-commerce portals, blogs were the actual catalysts that realized worldwide democratization of the Net. As much as “democratization” means “engaged citizens”, it also implies normalization (as in setting of norms) and banalization. We can’t separate these elements and only enjoy the interesting bits. According to Jean Baudrillard, we’re living in the “Universe of Integral Reality”. “If there was in the past an upward transcendence, there is today a downward one. This is, in a sense, the second Fall of Man Heidegger speaks of: the fall into banality, but this time without any possible redemption.” If you can’t cope with high degrees of irrelevance, blogs won’t be your cup of tea.

Here he is on an old chestnut of ours:

There is a presumption that blogs have a symbiotic relationship with the news industry. This thesis is not uncontested. Hypertext scholars track blogs back to the hypercards of the 1980s and the online literature wave of the 1990s, in which clicking from one document to the next was the central activity of the reader. For some reason, the hypertext subcurrent lost out and what remains is an almost self-evident equation between blogs and the news industry.

It is not easy to answer the question of whether blogs operate inside or outside the media industry. To position the blog medium inside could be seen as opportunistic, whereas others see this as a clever move. There is also a “tactical” aspect. The blogger-equals-journalist might get protection from such a label in case of censorship and repression. Despite countless attempts to feature blogs as alternatives to mainstream media, they are often, more precisely described as “feedback channels”.

The act of “gatewatching” (Axel Bruns) the mainstream media outlets does not necessarily result in reasonable comments that will be taken into account. In the category “insensitive” we have a wide range, from hilarious to mad, sad, and sick. What CNN, newspapers, and radio stations the world over have failed to do – namely to integrate open, interactive messages from their constituencies – blogs do for them.

To “blog” a news report doesn’t mean that the blogger sits down and thoroughly analyzes the discourse and circumstances, let alone checks the facts on the ground. To blog merely means to quickly point to news fact through a link and a few sentences that explain why the blogger found this or that factoid interesting or remarkable, or is disagrees with it.

In this last point however, he may be betraying some limitations in his understanding of the raw scope of the technology. Blogs are as blogs do. Some hit short and fast, some are longer. All are interlinked.

Blog entries are often hastily written personal musings, sculptured around a link or event. In most cases, bloggers simply do not have the time, skills, or financial means for proper research. There are collective research blogs working on specific topics, but these are rare. What ordinary blogs create is a dense cloud of “impressions” around a topic. Blogs will tell you if your audience is still awake and receptive. Blogs test. They allow you to see whether your audience is still awake and receptive. In that sense we could also say that blogs are the outsourced, privatized test beds, or rather unit tests[9] of the big media.

The boundaries between the mediasphere and the blogsphere are fluid. A detailed social analysis would, most likely, uncover a grey area of freelance media makers moving back and forth. From early on, journalists working for “old media” ran blogs. So how do blogs relate to independent investigative journalism? At first glance, they look like oppositional, or potentially supplementary practices. Whereas the investigative journalist works months, if not years, to uncover a story, bloggers look more like an army of ants contributing to the great hive called “public opinion”. Bloggers rarely add new facts to a news story. They find bugs in products and news reports but rarely “unmask” spin, let alone come up with well-researched reports.

This deliberative role for blogs is laid out by Jay Rosen, in his consideration of the first big scalp of the big US political bloggers.

More later…