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The way we live now

[ 9 ] October 31, 2008 |

I imagine my own experience with blogging isn’t unusual for someone of my age and background. I think I first heard the word “blog” around 2001 or 2002. I don’t think I started reading any blogs until a year or so after that — Josh Marshall, Billmon, and Sullivan are the first I remember looking at.

But I didn’t start reading them regularly until the fall of 2004 and the presidential campaign. Then I got hooked and the blog world became part of my regular routine.

One thing I don’t have a good sense of is what percentage of politically engaged people are now regular blog readers? Anecdotally it seems very high, but that’s just based on people I know. I suppose there’s lots of data on this, which I’m too lazy to look for before a second cup of coffee.

Anyway the point of this rambling, to the extent it has any, is to wonder what effect the blogosphere has had on the way people think about politics. Surely it has made them (us) better informed in certain ways — I barely looked at the internet for about the past 36 hours because of various commitments, and this morning I was struck by how much sheer information is reported, digested, critiqued, meta-analyzed etc. in that space of time — and maybe its biggest strength is that it has made people much more sophisticated consumers of media as media.

On the other hand Rob’s post below about Thucydides reminds me that one thing this little world of ours seems not to produce much of is the kind of analysis that isn’t driven by the political demands of the moment. This isn’t a Broderesque lament for faux-centerist “non-partisanship.” It’s just a bit of complaining about how too many things in the blog world are instantly transformed into the kind of argument that always seems to be happening between zealots on issues like abortion or Israel/Palestine, where one’s opponents are always a bunch of evil idiots, as opposed to people very much like oneself who just happen to be working from different (non-refutable needless to say) first principles.

Maybe this will change as the medium matures. Didn’t newspapers start out as mostly more or less scandal sheets and tools of libelous invective? (I don’t actually know, but I have a vague impression along those lines). Now a couple of hundred years later we have both the New York Post and the New York Times. For awhile more anyway.

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  1. Martin says:

    It’s tricky because today “reads a lot of blogs” is one of the constituent elements of the definition of a politically aware person. You’d have to come up with a fair definition of being politically aware that didn’t tautologically incorporate blogging. Then again, part of being a baseball fan today means having a TV set, and to what extent are you really a lover of new music if you aren’t downloading mp3s? So avoidance of blogging might well put one out of the loop of people who are hearing the political news when they need to hear it. Like I said, tricky.

  2. Erik says:

    Well, I think there are a lot of blogs out there the provide the kind of analysis you are looking for. The problem is that you have to search for them. People read all the big blogs for their political news. These sites don’t provide that kind of analysis. But it is really hard for blogs that aren’t just reaction sites to current political issues to gain readership, precisely because they don’t provide the red meat people want. Thus, nobody knows about them.

  3. rea says:

    Berube, Crooked Timber, Making Light, DeLong . . .
    Probably a great many others could be named, and none of those are exclusively political sites, but they all contain some deep substantive stuff at times, not just transient political stuff.
    This site, too–some rather informative analysis of military and historical issues.
    Of course, in the last days of a presidential election is not the time to be looking for content that isn’t transient political stuff . . .

  4. rea says:

    some rather informative analysis of military and historical issues.
    I should have said, some rather informative analysis of military, historical and baseball issues. Left out the important part . . .

  5. Erik says:

    I hate to do this because I loathe self-promotion.
    But I’d like to think of my blog as a place where this kind of thing happens. And there are lots and lots of small blogs out there that do great things and get little attention. To give one example, how many people read Dave Noon’s blog before he came on here? Yet the Axis of Evel Knievel was one of the best blogs on the intertubes for a long time.
    It’s no one’s fault that what I’ve referred to before as the ossification of blogosphere has occurred. I guess these things are just natural. But yes, I am jealous not only for myself but for the many other great sites out there that deserve a much larger readership.

  6. Ginger Yellow says:

    “Didn’t newspapers start out as mostly more or less scandal sheets and tools of libelous invective?”
    They still basically are in the UK.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Blogs are an ad hoc reply to a loss of faith in media journalism which is populated basically by a bunch of personalities that couldn’t pull off a pizza delivery job if their life depended upon it. And they fulfill Andy Warhol’s vision of the ever unfolding cult of personality on the media horizon.
    I think as blogs integrate deeper into the ‘reality’ sphere (blogs collapse the wave function), media journalism’s reply is actually to become more brittle, reactionary, repetitive, etc. I read people in the blog world with Mencken like chops, but lacking the resources. I don’t see any bobble head with Mencken like chops out there in media journalism. I’m old school though, but not archaic, so … meh …
    BTW, I was politically engaged, but I called it off because politics wanted me to visit sex clubs with some toe sucking rituals thrown into the connubial blender and I felt deeply, deeply scandalized.

  8. tatere says:

    “… people very much like oneself who just happen to be working from different (non-refutable needless to say) first principles.”
    well, yes, in theory, but in practice at the moment, *finding* those people is a bit tricky. there is a difference between first principles and observable reality. and of course you have to *have* principles for them to come first.
    i do think that it doesn’t help that there is way too much attention paid to the wingnuttiest of the wingnuts out there. it’s funny, maybe, sometimes, for a while, but eventually it’s just tiresome.
    with luck, though, we’ll be heading in to a Democrat VS Democrat world soon, so that will have some interesting effects.

  9. Indy says:

    Oh hell yes.
    There is an awesome short story by Mark Twain called “Journalism in Tennessee” that would give you an idea of the style.
    or look up the origins of the word “miscegenation”.
    By the end of his life, Thomas Jefferson was still very supportive of the freedom of the press, but had a very deep antipathy to the tales and extrapolations about Sally Hemmings.

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