Monday, March 20, 2006
Scribbling is as scribbling does
Kent Newsome reports on a "CyberSalon" held in Berkeley, California this Sunday. The invitation to this salon read thus: "Bloggers and podcasters are suspicious of 'elitist' big media and view the 'democratizing' force of digital technology positively. In contrast, many traditional journalists regard most blogs, wikis and podcasts as amateurish and narcissistic. We wonder if expertise is, by definition, elitist. And we ask if expertise and elitism might indeed be necessary features of a high-quality media." One of the gems that was tossed out at this gathering were these words from a guy named Andrew Keen, a "a veteran Silicon Valley entrepreneur and digital media critic": "What is the value of sharing your experiences? I grow weary of your scribblings." What arrogance. At the very heart of the argument lies the question: "what is the purpose of a blog?" Most bloggers out there aren't interested in making a career out of their blogs. This would be a Good Thing, as The Blog Herald claimed last May that the number of blogs had exceeded 50 million. There's no way on God's Green Earth that that many people can make a living blogging. I would wager that, for most, a blog is simply an efficient way to journal, to chronicle your life. I have happened upon bloggers who sparked my interest; when I began commenting on their blogs, they seemed absolutely flabbergasted that someone out there was actually reading what they wrote. The blog is a 21st-century equivalent of the diary kept by almost every literate person in the Victorian era, a place to capture fleeting thoughts, work out what's eating at them, gnaw at political or ethical questions. It's the technological version of the highschool slambook. It's the Christmas newsletter on speed, or the replacement for the packet of family letters that got collected and sent on from parent to child. In the 80s and early 90s, the same niche was populated by people who purchased cheap desktop publishing software and equipment and published local broadsides to be distributed at the convenience store down the street; the difference is that the monetary investment is much less and the convenience factor is much more. Out of that stew of 50 million people spewing out their thoughts on the internet come small communities, circles of people who find other people with similar interests or outlooks. (Think of it as a conglomeration of living Venn Diagrams.) To the people in those small communities, the "value of sharing your experiences" is...well...invaluable. Nobody is claiming that all those blogs out there are, de facto, gems of literature that will gleam forever. What is claimed is that the froth will generate some value, that some people whose eloquent or expert or funny voices would never have been heard before will gain some well-earned followings. Even people who start out with the attitude that "blogs are stupid" can discover, to their amazement, that there are folks out there with voices that appeal to them, and experiences that resonate with them. It fascinates me that there are such widely divergent blogs as those that focus on superficial stuff a la People Magazine, heartrending sharing, delving into the question of the USA's math education problems, and Geoffrey Chaucer reborn. (In other measures of "value", just think of the amazing lode of social science research blogging provides; at the very least, years from now archive-diving researchers will relish the sheer mundaneness of millions of people chronicling their daily lives.) Some people do make a living blogging. More power to them, say I. My scribblings, though, are not done to make a living; lemming-like, I started blogging because all my friends were doing it, and it has become a hobby, an exercise in discipline, and a method of social outreach all in one handy package.
posted by Kate @ 3/20/2006 11:50:00 PM