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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Blogging Off the Top of My Head

My first experience with blogging came when I encountered Phil Austin's Blog of the Unknown late in 2002, I think, certainly no later than early 2003. Blogging was still a new thing then, and Phil had taken a small squad of Firesign Theatre addicts down a rabbit hole called "Experiments in Writing." It was in many ways a fortunate accident that brought me to The Blog of the Unknown, and I learned a great deal from the writings of my cohorts there. It was, however, like The Journey to the East, doomed from the start. We Wayfarers eventually found our gorge of Morbio Inferiore, and The Blog was no longer what it was. It is doubtful that it ever will be again.

What I did not know at the time was that The Blog of the Unknown was an atypical blog. Most blogs were either political or confessional, with the most outrageous or sauciest ones being the most popular. When I stumbled into creating this blog in September of 2004, I had no idea that blogging was something of a fad and was a fad that had just about peeked. I saw it as a way of promoting my then budding radio show; it was a major component of my marketing plan, a plan that crashed on takeoff, or perhaps just as it was leaving the gate. But that's life.

In these last four or so years in the blogosphere, I have given thought on occasion to the phenomenon itself, to the acts of blogging and commenting, to how blogs work and how we approach them and how they affect us. I have thought about what the meaning might be in a literary activity that comprises mostly blather.

Has there ever been another means of communication that was open to so many and said so little? It is a medium that rewards brevity and courseness. Long posts (such as this one) written with subtlety and wit (it could happen) are anathema to the great mass of blog readers. They are in search of people with similar prejudices or similar problems or a peek into a fantasy version of someone else's sex life. The best posts do not make you scroll down or think a new thought or open yourself to another in compassion. Those things take time, and blogging tends to reward speed rather than depth.

As posts pile up in reverse chronological order, the New takes precedence over the Past, which becomes an artifact safely stored in an archive. Blogging has its roots in journalism, especially in news writing. The latest post is a slender newspaper that gets its day at the top of the pile before being banished to the shadows below.

Does blogging have a great effect on society? I doubt it. It's more of a symptom than a disease, more a reflection of society than its shaper. We live in a society that is devoted to shallowness and emotion and that mistakes chasing the New for living in the Now. Why should we expect any more than that from a blog?

Blogs are now, of course, on the wane. What happened to the Hoola-Hoop can happen here, although I doubt that blogs are in any danger of disappearing altogether, at least not soon. As newspapers move increasingly away from print, official blogs will replace traditional columns and the professional blogger will replace the amateur. And never again will there be a Blog of the Unknown.