Wednesday, May 16, 2007

(Most) Bloggers are Braindead

South African Blogosphere exposed as dumb

In a local newspaper we’ve had an endless debate on ‘Is being homosexual evil?’ If you think that’s sub par, it’s amazing how base the material is that sometimes circulates on citizen websites. Would-be journalists sometimes write as though they have cornered the market on rational thinking. One particularly uninformed writer even made supposedly witty sideswiping comments about Einstein ('male chauvinist pig or relatively crazy?') that are so moronic, I felt like getting off my chair at work and writhing on the floor in pain. I’d quote you paragraphs from the article, but that would mean I’d have to read it again. Yuck! No thanks.

I don’t know about you, but the forums I’ve found on the internet tend to very quickly lose structure and deteriorate into what David Bullard calls ‘playground name calling’. Bullard cleverly wrote two recent Sunday Times columns on the blogging topic and as a result he ‘single-handedly caused the largest amount of daily traffic ever on the South African blogosphere’. The notorious Bullard gloats about this feat: ‘A 50-something freelance columnist in the print media can attract far more attention from one article than much younger bloggers have ever achieved. That’s game set and match to the print media in my book.’ And indeed it is.

The question has to be posed at this point: What are bloggers doing in this crazy world?

Are they lost in endless cycles of self-examination and introspection? Now is possibly the best time for all bloggers to take at least one day off (particularly bloggers who simply must post content every single day). On this day off they need to do one simple thing: ask themselves if they are adding value. Be honest: are you adding a little value, or a lot? Are you adding any value to the collective? Because however you argue your way around it, probably, nobody cares much either way. The point is, are the efforts of bloggers, hypothetically, worth caring about? Right now, on average, the answer is definitely ‘No.’ Sure, bloggers might care about what they do, and they might - as a sort of attention-credit-facility - provide each other with attention in exchange for mutual acceptance and feedback, but why should people who aren’t bloggers care? The most vital question of all is this: is blogging healthy? Do normal people with decent social lives, and sound minds, want to engage in this mirror-mirror-on-the-wall’ talk? No.

Previously I’ve mentioned blogs that I personally despise ( I’ve also mentioned blogs that make a lot of sense, and provide wonderful contributions to our everyday knowledge of the world (Low Impact Man). But there is the fringe blog, like that is harder to pin down. This is because the content is so sophisticated and opinionated, it’s difficult to know whether Mr Kunstler’s rants (against Joe Average) are deserved, or somewhat paranoid. Personally, I believe he is a brilliant spokesman, I believe he is spot on with his prognosis for our collective futures, and Jim Kunstler is gaining converts. Another blog that’s a wonderful resource - well, except that it isn’t updated regularly - is

Perhaps as a blogger myself, I can provide some insight into where some bloggers come from. I’ve been writing since High School, I was the best essayist at school, and have published a few pieces in various magazines. I’ve tried to publish several manuscripts, and spent at least a decade working on several ‘works-in-progress’. So I’m a serious under-the-line, online writer. I haven’t published a single book so far. I’ve published literally hundreds of paid-for articles online. I’ve also, from time to time, posted the opening chapters of my latest novel, hoping that maybe, just maybe, someone will discover me. So blogs really do function as a vehicle for writers, both established and soon-(possibly)-to-be-established.

Blogging is a useful tool in the sense that it can allow writers to practice their writing, and to immediately place these attempts in a public domain where they might do some good. This happens, but in exceptional cases. Blogging is both useful and vital for well known writers and their readers to stay in touch with each other. After I read Jim Kunstler’s book for example, it remains incredibly inspiring, and I think, valuable, that I can visit his blog as a resource on its own ? a fountain of wisdom. This provides ongoing insight, and the reader gets to interact at last with the writer. Wow. That can be a dizzying experience.

I don’t imagine that my blog offers the kind of mainstream entertainment that mainstream media does, but that’s not the goal. I do think that people who don’t blog in one way vitally underestimate the value of the blogosphere as a resource. What you have are individuals who are leaving constant messages behind, that are readable anywhere and everywhere. That means, using google, someone from a different country, someone at school, someone who is simply curious, can begin to interact with an intelligent blogger and really find out about the world. You can have a vivid window of what it is like ? on the ground ? to live somewhere else, in a way that TV, and movies, and books just cannot convey. How many people use this resource (in this way)? Few.

It seems that because people have this resource at their disposal, it’s almost too much of a luxury to actually use. I remember as a child, writing 50 letters a week to friends all around the world. When these people replied, you saw all the different sets of handwriting, and the stamps conveyed (in colors, tones and pictures) just how different these countries actually must be: Ireland to Canada, or Mexico or Slovenia. Because the internet is so easy, we seem to forget our manners. We no longer make an effort. Those emails that are 1 or 2 sentences long, and have no introductions or goodbyes ? are they real conversations, or is it kicking a soft ball against the wall, and once it bounces beyond our reach we leave it for some other amusement. That’s a convenience-based-laziness orientation which is highly schizophrenic, and incredibly stupid.

Perhaps a Code of Conduct needs to be set up. Code 5 implies a certain casual set of discipline that people voluntarily adhere to. Other users can vote to confirm that certain minimum standards are set and met. Code 4 to 1 involves a higher and higher set of standards. And so you can choose to associate yourself with the internet sector that suits you best.

Bullard describes bloggers as ‘clearly platinum members of life’s loser’s lounge. If they swam with dolphins’, he writes, ‘they would probably get savaged.’
I think in forums and on our own websites, we should know we are judged by the things we say, and bloggers tend to say a lot, too much. Freedom of speech is one thing, but a measure of discipline and common sense is always good, even in a theoretically anonymous space. Hit and run comments, swearing etc may feel good, but it leaves a particularly nasty grafitti behind. Passers by glance or scroll at responses, then sniff, and go back to where they were.

There should be a litmus test for blogs. I’d suggest these 5 guidelines:

1) Your blog must attract more than 5 hits a day (excluding your own) otherwise, why bother (who are you fooling?)

2) Your blog must occasionally or often be about something (or someone) other than yourself.

3) Your blog should be an extension of yourself, but not an end in itself (well, for now at least)

4) Your blog should be good for others (in other words, it should add value to the internet)

5) Your blog should be good for you

Bloggers should externalize. Dedicate one day a month (and then progressively more time) to exposing some issue in your community. It may be poor roads, or prostitution, weather effects, a local economy, beggars, whatever. Take some pictures and tell the world what is happening outside your front door. What’s going on inside your front door is less relevant. Realize that, and the blogosphere might become self aware one day, and eventually a resource for all.


No comments: