Phoenix, Arizona. Because of my involvement with this darn site I have been attending to the blogosphere much more than heretofore, and lately have been trying to get a handle on its peculiar nature. One thing that stands out is that the range of topics that “work” — those which get commented on by readers and other bloggers — is extraordinarily narrow. The Internet-enabled democratization of talking may have widened the range of available perspectives (then again, it may not have), but as far as I can tell it has not widened the range of what we talk about.

For one thing, it is uncommon for someone to write a piece about something that is not immediately pertinent to the contemporary “conversation” — as defined by the blogosphere. For someone to write a piece, as our Bill Kauffman has, about, say, a fascinating amateur astronomer in Ohio, is unintelligible to blogospheric logic. You can almost hear the questions emerging from the ether: “Why would someone talk about this guy? What does he have to do with anything that anyone else is talking about?” “Is he on Wikipedia?”

Indeed, in the blogosphere it is exceedingly rare for anyone to write anything “original” at all — that is, for someone to contribute some information or analysis that does not take off from something published recently in a relatively prominent linkable location. One suspects that the decline of original reporting with the death of newspapers will only exacerbate this trend, which is made necessary by the volume and frequency of writing that blogging requires. Riffing and linking is much easier than ginning up something new.

Linkability is another exceedingly important piece of the puzzle. If it isn’t linkable, it doesn’t exist to the blogosphere. Preference is given to that which can be linked to — as opposed to a text that must, say, be typed in from a book, or to a quotation reconstructed from memory, not to mention a subject that has little or no Net presence. (Which means, ironically, that the real, metaphysical existences of some things without digital lives become rather more tenuous themselves — like books, for example.) This is so for understandable practical reasons: interlinking will for various reasons tend to increase the traffic drawn to one’s blog or site.

This observation leads to another: the kind of blog post that the Net strongly favors consists of relatively short, pithy opinion on a matter that someone else has recently written about. Have a take and don’t suck — the Jim Rome maxim captures perfectly the good blogger’s motto.

Now this sort of thing can be done quite well. I have learned to appreciate that to write a good online post takes a special kind of skill. Those who blog well ought to be admired for that. But lord, how narrowing all of this is! Write nothing original. Write nothing about anything that no one else is already writing about. Write nothing about the concrete or particular unless it is a publicly or generally available concrete or particular (like a celebrity or a major event or an idea-such as the one I’m discussing here; yes, I’m aware of the irony!). Keep it short. There’s even an acronym by which folks damn you if you go on too stinking long: TLDR, pronounced “teal dear,” for “Too Long Didn’t Read.”

Furthermore, because the Web is as genuinely placeless as anything can be, there is a strong tendency for the blogger to write only about subjects that have at least national and preferably international significance. That doesn’t mean that the subject can’t be recondite, it can: but interest in the subject must not be confined to a particular region or locale. I mean, it can be, of course, but to use the blogosphere in that way is to work against and resist its logic. It’s akin to how EWTN uses television — it isn’t getting the most out of the medium, which is probably a good thing.

Finally, many times the blogosphere is as person-less as it is placeless. Go to a blog, find some of the posts interesting, and then try to find out who it is that is writing the material. Often impossible. Bloggers (and commenters — to Kauffman’s great irritation) often use nicknames. They’re like early-’80s truckers and their CB handles. Who and were you are, apparently, matters not at all. The text is everything. It’s the New Criticism gone mad! Damn you John Crowe Ransom!

No, there is no escaping “technology,” as we are always so smugly reminded by the critics of those who dare to subject to criticism the consequences and implications of this or that innovation. But if we can bring to consciousness the logic of a particular technology, its tendencies and shortcomings, even as we make use of it we can at least open the door to spiritual resistance. In most cases, that is the best we non-heroes dare aim for.

UPDATE: I wrote and posted this without having heard of this little controversy. I note that many folks, in its wake, are jumping up to defend the importance of anonymity for bloggers. I’d be more inclined myself to emphasize the uncharitable outing of them as the real problem here. And shouldn’t someone be pointing out the irony of a “free” society being characterized, apparently, by a citizenry afraid to voice their real opinions?


  1. Your last line, especially, calls to mind the title of Glenn Reynolds’ book “An Army of Davids” which seems to be where any logic of the blogosphere breaks apart: the assumption that “the democratizing power of technology” has, by itself, the anointing power – or the power to sing the hero. Yet, both Reynolds and Clay Shirky (author of “Here Comes Everybody”) have made the point that the current role of technology has as its parallel in the philosophy of history the link between the creation of the printing press and the Reformation – and there it is hard to disagree.

    I have been told that, for Hegel, the Spirit (in relevant part) moves from its mythical and poetic beginning toward its prosaic “end.” I imagine it is easier to grasp what Hegel means by an “end” when we ask about the kind of writing or self-articulation that is done in the aftermath of the prosaic?

  2. Thank you, Jeremy Beer. I had assumed I was the only person who had noticed the alarming resemblances between blogging and CB radio. The old bumper sticker from circa 1979 – “What did idiots do before CB was invented?” – could now be effectively updated to read “What did idiots do before blogging was invented?”. And more especially, idiots too cowardly to use their names, or even to use plausible-sounding pseudonyms.

  3. It is a very strange thing, this blogging and you have nailed the negatives!
    I do find that ‘blogging’ is an excellent medium in which to upset, fire up, or aggravate (in my case) young leftists! It is the medium of the hit and run, the snarky, the dangling innuendo.
    It is the ultimate democratization of the language and, in many ways, the ultimate means of expression…you may very clearly illustrate to millions around the globe just how smart or stupid you are, and you don’t need an editor’s permission!
    What is amazing to me, is just how many folks really are quite clever and well read and the high opinion college students and recent grads have of themselves!
    Being old school, I consider those bloggers or commentors who don’t use their Christian name to be sissies and, possibly devious. The “articles” at FPR and the insightful comments of the Right Rev. D.W. Sabin and his coevals are required, daily, reading for me!

  4. Jeremy,

    I agree, much of what is out there is pure garbage. Which is why 95% of all blogs are abandoned (according to this NY times piece)

    If you think blogging is useless chatter, try twitter. It’s a further step in the direction of pure vanity.

    You summarize the worst sort of blogging very well. The link and rant type, or the pointless “what I had for lunch today”

    However, despite the piles of garbage out there, I have found some wonderful blogs that aren’t exercises in vanity, or pointless chatter about media events of the day. The one that springs to mind as being local, personal, and not anonymous is James Lileks’.

    He is the gold standard for the personal blog in my opinion. The other type of blog that works is the topical blog like FPR. Pick a topic, and explore it in depth. I think these types of blogs are the ones that generate dedicated readership, and a valuable exchange of ideas.

    PS – My own anonymity arises from my desire to keep my dark corporate overlords from finding out my true thoughts, or easily discovering how much of their time and money I am wasting here 😉

  5. Yeah, I’ve definitely noticed that fact… Just glancing at how quickly the comments rack up on posts about gay marriage or abortion, versus comparatively insightful posts on broader topics… People love controversy, and the more international the better. (Though in the defense of long and contenty, I loved the piece on the amateur astronomer, and bought the book. So there.)

    I especially like your point about how even localist leaning blogs tend to have a relatively small focus on local matters… Its inevitable, since the audience for that stuff is so diffuse, but still. Paradoxes generated by the generals contact with the particular. Seifert is right: Hegel would eat this up.

  6. One wonders what some wag with a tag like “Hans the Younger” might have snidely remarked about Gutenberg’s new-fangled device for displacing the literate clergy from their gate-keeping. Then , at least, it took time to carve and set type, thus putting a higher cost…and emotion taming lapse on sarcastic ripostes.

    The cloaked quality almost promotes a surly level of petulant discourse but , even that is mildly humorous….sometimes.

    We are in the top of the second inning regarding this new technology and social discourse and hopefully, the game will get even better…..until the wheels fall off whereupon a little knowledge of Gutenberg technology might come in handy.

  7. Some of us are perfectly happy to own our opinions, but don’t like the idea of being google-able by any creepy person who takes a notion to do so.

  8. To clarify, I realize that there are some very good reasons for blogging and commenting anonymously or pseudonymously. My point is that this inevitably affects the character of the ensuing communication. Some really important contextualizing information is thereby left out.

  9. I think the trick might be – as in so many things – striking a balance. A good blog should switch effortlessly between long, in-depth, not “news of the day” type pieces and shorter, more time-sensitive, lighter pieces. I think of blogging like I think of narrative. It’s all in the timing. Or the pacing. Or something like that.

  10. […] ‘So who decides the shape of the blog “conversation”? Linkability is a major factor. Things that can be linked to get coverage, and things that can’t be—like text from books and topics without much web presence—do not. This means that “the real, metaphysical existences of some things without digital lives become rather more tenuous,” Beer writes.’ Source: Front Porch Republic […]

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