My buddy Stefan McDaniel has an On the Square article today with the intentionally provocative title Reverence for Words: A Case Against Blogging .
My initial reaction before reading itbecause Im the type of person who makes snap judgments based on titleswas What a young fogey! But then I actually read the piecebecause Im the type who likes to confirm his snap judgmentsand found he raises some valid concerns. He marshals two of my intellectual heroesWendell Berry and Neil Postmanto make his case:
Reading Postman for the first time last month gave me clearer language to explain my rage against the rise of blogging. For what he says about media can be said about literary formsthey are biased toward certain kinds of content. The blogpost is biased toward speed, brevity, and cleverness. It thus hands the public square over to bullies, sophists, and clowns.
Some of my very astute pro-blog friends have argued that, whatever their drawbacks, blogs create a democratic public space whose occupants are minimally beholden to state and corporate interests. For the discerning reader, entering the blogosphere is just like listening in on a fascinating conversation among free, brilliant interlocutors. The incompleteness, electicism, and so on are characteristic of good conversation.
There is of course some truth in that. There are proportionately few but absolutely many good blogs, and theres nothing wrong with reading them. For all my young fogeyism I make a point of reading them myself.
But few of the good blogs my friends or I read are popular, and they are all constantly pushed towards superficiality by the ruling imperative of generating traffic.
I agree with every word and yet . . . I find the criticism is more applicable to writers and readers than to the medium.
The same criticism that can be made of blogs specifically that they are biased toward speed, brevity, and clevernesscould be made about magazines. Yet there is a world of difference between an Okay! Magazine and a First Things . The problem has more to do with the content producers and their audience than with the medium itself.
Admittedly, Im quite biased toward the medium of blogging. My career after leaving the military was launched because of my personal blog and I was able to transform what started as a series of blog posts into a book . Like hundreds of other people I know, blogging opened opportunities for writers (and readers) that were previously unavailable.
Im also skeptical about the claim that blogging prevents precise, complete, carefully ordered, rational arguments. While the online public square is indeed overrun with bullies, sophists, and clowns, blogging has opened new venues for thoughtful discourse that have allowed discussions of theology, politics, culture, and just about every other topic under the sun, to flourish. Most of these discussions simply did not occur before the advent of blogs.
After all, its not as if most people went from reading scholarly essays to reading blogs; the vast majority shifted from reading almost nothing to reading blogs. People who once relied primarily on audio and visual sources (e.g., talk radio, cable news) for news and information are now beginning to turn to the written word for sustained arguments and discussions.
This isnt to say that the medium of blogging isn’t fraught with danger or that it’s immune from the biases that are prevalent in such media as television. But I think that while Stephan raises legitimate concerns, his worry is ultimately misplaced. We still live in a culture that is dominated by visual mediums, visual messages, and visual metaphors. If the goal is the reclaiming of the Typographic Mind, then blogging is a positive step in the right direction.
What say you, blog reader?
Postscript: Stefan does have a valid point when he says, Writers who expect sustained public inspection tend to think long and hard before publishing. While he likely spent several hoursif not dayshoning his essay, I whipped off this rebuttal in ten minutes. That ability to respond to a published article (on the same website no less) within hours of it appearing is both a strength and weakness of the blogosphere.