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In Response to Sullivan…

January 20, 2009
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I am writing my reactions to this article by Andrew Sullivan (who I believe is an excellent writer and thinker) as I read it. Just as bloggers blog in real-time, mostly without the standard reviewing process, I want to do the same.

Sullivan says, “And with that level of timeliness, the provisionality of every word is even more pressing—and the risk of error or the thrill of prescience that much greater.” In the past when I’ve tried to blog I found myself too worried about my writing: was it good enough, would people like it, are my jokes funny? I would hesitate before posting, reading and re-re-re-reading what I wrote, caught up in petty grammar issues and editorial decisions. Even now I am constantly going back and reading what I’m writing, making changes here and there. And I’m sure when I am done writing this, I will go through my standard editing process. Which is great for term papers, but not ideal for blogging. But that is something I want to work at. I want to be able to write freely and expressively without being scared that what I’m writing isn’t ready to be shown to people. “For bloggers, the deadline is always now.” And thats what makes it exciting (to write, at least. There’s a lot of boring stuff out there…).

I guess what I just wrote was the whole point of the first page of the article. I really agree with this, so far, and knowing that I can relate to Sullivan and other bloggers is always nice.

Despite all the literary good that comes from the new and exciting art that is blogging, Sullivan laments that the average blog reader is more vicious than the copy editors and publishers. While the Internet is the most powerful technology we have at our disposal and while it has allowed for our society to really progress in virtually (pun?) all fields, the open doors it has created for the world and anyone who wants to read and write anything are not necessarily the kind of doors you want to leave open all the time. Allowing the world population to expose itself is a great, novel idea, and the concept is the basis for the success of the social computing phenomenon, the awesomeness that encompasses the idea is not free from the less-than-awesome. Call me Negative Nancy or whatever you like, but sometimes its better if any old Joe the Plumber doesn’t get on his blog and spew his thoughts to all humanity. People, generally, are stupid. I am all in favor of free speech, but really the Internet just highlights how much is wrong with our species. Certainly, a bunch of it is entertaining -even the stupid stuff. I suppose I digress, though…

The advice Matt Drudge gives Sullivan is so true: A blog is “a broadcast, not a publication. If it stops moving, it dies. If it stops paddling, it sinks.” The quick nature of blogging (and micro blogging) and the instantaneous back-and-fourth conversations that arise depend on constant interaction. Hopefully, that interaction is intelligible, and, except where appropriate, does not contain words like “GURLLZ” and punctuation like “!!!!1111!!one!!1z”.

By the end of the second page, it is like Sullivan is giving blogs more credibility than newspapers, despite blogs’ ad hoc nature and the newspapers diligent source-checking and fact-finding. Because of technology, Sullivan posits, blogs’ ability to link to the depths of the Internet subject them to more intense criticism and force them to be durable and of quality information. I had never entertained the idea before that blogs might be a more credible source of news than my newspaper or CNN.com, but now I see that maybe blogs are more worthy of my trust than I thought. Still, it is a bit of a stretch for me to get my mind around a website being on par with or perhaps more credible than an institution such as the New York Times. But I guess that’s the future.

“To blog is therefore to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at arm’s length, open it to scrutiny, allow it to float in the ether for a while, and to let others […] pivot you toward relative truth.” Sullivan’s discussion on the philosophy of blogging, a phrase which I am sure will be shortened to philog, is interesting. Authors create environments which foster discussion and the sharing of information. I agree with Sullivan’s ideas here, yet I think sometimes it would be good for a blog not to just be a vehicle for “adding context and nuance and complexity to an idea” but maybe a way to get things done. An educational vehicle, but one that will have visible results. People read books, history, stories, what have you, and it motivates them and moves them and those items have the power to change the world because they can change people. Blogs can change the world, and they can change people, but in different ways. I would like to see if blogs can provoke people the same way that reading an influential novel might do so. When (I think its safe to exclude “if”) that day will come is soon, if not already.

The philog depends on writer’s writing only in the moment. The beauty in blogging, and what sets it apart from other literary and journalistic endeavors is that, as Sullivan correctly tells, blogs have personality. I always, as I assume most people do, consider the tone of an author when reading. I try and hear their voice in my head, or at least, make up how I’d like their voice to sound. I normally create voices that sound nothing like the author’s actual voice, but the point is you need to give the words a sound so that you are not just looking at weird symbols on a page or on a screen, but you are comprehending what those symbols mean in their context. I think this realization, that blogging is personal, is unknown by those that don’t blog. That may seem obvious or at least just sensical, but even for someone like me who is very technologically advanced, getting into this blogging business has been more difficult that I would have liked. Maybe that says something about my personality, but I think that when Sullivan (or Andrew, to the readers of his blog) talks about this out it is one of the most important points he makes in the article.
He goes on to talk about the “frienship” between reader and author. Because I’m not a steady blogger yet, I can’t relate to this feeling. Instinctivly I question it, but I know that if I were more of a blogger I would probably agree with how Sullivan describes this relationship.

I connect a lot with what Sullivan is saying at the beginning of the last page. Blogs as a “human brand” and their “open source market of thinking” are postmodern ideas, as he says. And they are, with their inherent disconnect from the traditional hierarchical model of information usage. The Internet and social networking and communicating not necessarily digitally, but in an online, back-and-forth, multimedia, linkage swamp will always be “postmodern.” Right now “new media” in our current colloquial sense of understanding is still new. But it is becoming just “media”, even if our vernacular does not change to reflect this right away. And what is “postmodern” in nature is, literally, modern.

The conclusions that Sullivan comes to in this article are valuable and progressive. His favorable outlook and embrace of blogging and the new media as powerful, profitable, and “golden” is something that my generation understands but the baby boomers sometimes fail to completely grasp. His message here is incredibly important for anyone who is unsure, scared, or otherwise weary of what the Internet and New Media has to offer us. This is the future, and it is good.

So now I am going to post this. I’m not going to have “bloggers block.” I’ll give it a once-over for grammar, but other than that, I’m a blogger now.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Emmarie permalink
    January 22, 2009 4:06 AM

    Hi Brett,I enjoyed your thoughts on Andrew Sullivan’s post. I like that you chose to write this as a kind of stream-of-consciousness / off-the-cuff post. It seems much closer to the developing writing style of the blog, which actually occurred to me as I was editing my own post. Some of the most interesting points come out when we’re not censoring ourselves.I agree with your point about the credibility of blogs. While I had never considered that they would prove superior to traditional news sources with regards to credibility in any way, I’m still very skeptical — as I think Sullivan ultimately is, explaining the need for readers to serve as watchdogs, too.As much as it pains me, I disagree about whether everyone should be allowed to have a blog. I don’t necessarily want to read Joe the Plumber’s thoughts either (thank God John McCain lost and saved us from Joe the Plumber’s memoirs…), but there is some benefit to democracy when we have at least a slight chance of encountering completely different perspectives in the blogosphere.Lastly, I really like your hyperlinks — specifically, how non-specific they were until I clicked on them and got to put them into the context of what you were saying myself. What an interesting way to make your post interactive!P.S. Thanks for the tip on how to make hyperlinks open in another window!

  2. My name is Brett, permalink
    January 22, 2009 7:30 PM

    Hey Emmarie,Thanks for the kind words. you’re welcome for the link tip. I figure I might as well respond to comments, since i guess thats what blogging is all about…What, I guess, I really mean with that section is that having the blogosphere open to anyone is both a gift and a curse. I understand your post about democracy and I am totally in favor of free speech.I love reading others’ opinions, but the openness also provides an insight into part of America that hasn’t really been seen before. Now that that portion can blog, comment on youtube videos, etc., it makes me wonder (purely from an empirical standpoint) whether a large part of this country is in fact uneducated (i know i am harsh, but i mean it generally and slightly sarcastically) or just there that there is a lack of understanding on internet etiquette. Although the later idea could be used to support the former.

  3. Ian_Schwartz permalink
    January 25, 2009 9:15 PM

    This is a nice examination of Sullivan’s article and arguments. I was about to write it was “well thought out” but then I realized that as a blog post, it wasn’t as much “thought out” as “reacted to.” So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I like the way you think, I suppose.I think that considering new media in terms of postmodernism is a certainly an interesting area to explore. Web 2.0 is inherently postmodern – its like a confluence of so many postmodern ideas from the past few decades. That’s all about postmodernism, for now. I find that discussions about postmodernity quickly turn into absurd ramblings, where I often have no idea what I am talking about. This paragraph is no exception.Anyways…quick suggestion: Since this post is a direct response to Sullivan’s article, it might be helpful to have a link to him at the top of your post.So long for now.ian

  4. My name is Brett, permalink
    January 27, 2009 7:01 PM

    Ha, I’m glad you like the way I think. And I agree…as I was writing (or, reacting, i suppose is a better word choice) to the whole postmodern issue I found myself lost and confused. So lets not talk about it anymore. And, the title, “In Response to Sullivan” is a link to the article. Brett

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