Those of you who know me well will be surprised to find me embracing the world of blogging, as I have been something of an outspoken critic of it. I have perfectly reasonable practical reasons for setting up a blog at this point, but I thought it would be good for me to reflect on whether I was wrong in the past, or whether I’m just being inconsistent.
First, the practical reasons: I need somewhere to write stuff that I want to announce to nobody in particular, but is too big to fit in a tweet. In the past I guess these kind of things might have been posted to Usenet, but those days are gone. I used to use Drupal for this, but I finally came to the conclusion that this was just a blog by any other name.
Secondly, there has been a technological change (albeit one where I am late to the party): RSS, twitter, delicious and various other link-sharing media have more or less obviated the difficulty of ploughing through posts that don’t interest you or blogs that haven’t been updated. It seems that whatever pretence had existed of blogs being a coherent series of time-based updates has been replaced with an à la carte approach where people can pick and choose what they want to listen to.
So why did I have so much hate for blogs in the past? I think one of the reasons also forms the root cause of my change of heart. Back in the good old days, there was a certain amount of optimism that the internet would be used for stimulating dialogue and exchange of ideas. At the time I was a keen student of Neil Postman, and saw an answer to many of the mysteries of modern society in his idea that changing the medium of exchange alters the sorts of social interchange that can be had, and potentially alters the whole course of society. To me, blogging seemed an obvious case of a medium with insidious weaknesses: encouraging input from uninformed amateurs, and drawing focus to the frivolous daily events over longer-term issues.
In recent years the position of blogging seem to have swung the other way: social media increasingly allows us to take part with almost no effort barrier to entry (Twitter being the obvious example). In this world blogs stand head and shoulders above the landscape by being written in complete sentences and expressing coherent thoughts with appropriate context.
So maybe I was wrong about blogging in particular, though I believe I was largely right about the shift in communication style and content. It’s worth noting that some of the problems thrown up by technology (wasting time reading blogs) have been solved by further technology (RSS). I remain an optimist about the possibilities of technological progress, provided we don’t accept change uncritically.