Monday, July 21, 2008

Blogs <> Internet: Blog Hate Watch

A guest blogger to Andrew Sullivan's blog makes a revealing slip:

Blogs are a problem, not a solution, an anonymous Army IT professional tells Danger Room. The source paints an unsettling portrait of lax military intelligence ...
He said blogs, right? I read that correctly, yes? He quotes the piece from Danger Room, but I can't seem to find the part about blogs:
Give a senior service official a BlackBerry and I can guarantee he will transmit sensitive and sometimes classified information on it without thinking. He will use the Bluetooth headset and the built-in phone to talk about sensitive topics without a care in the world as to who is listening. I have lost count of how many times we have had to collect all of the BlackBerries we issue and purge them due to sensitive or classified information being sent on them. The BlackBerry is one of the greatest weapons system in the terrorists' inventory, and we supply the bullets!
I see mention of military people speaking loosely of "sensitive topics" into Blackberry devices, and of transmitting data using Blackberries. And while it is possible to blog from a Blackberry, nothing here points to blogging -- if we're talking about blogging, purging a Blackberry that was used as an input device for blogging wouldn't achieve anything. At most, purging a Blackberry used for blogging would expunge unpublished drafts of blog posts (assuming a client-side tool that allows this); but to speak of something already blogged is definitionally to speak of something that has already left the surly bonds of its input device. To blog is to push something into a wider world of readers -- mind you, not necessarily the entire world wide web.

I dwell on this and geek out a little becuase I see it as a small instance of a larger pattern in which the word blog stands in for whatever the speaker doesn't like about the internet, and specifically about the internet's open, participatory, unfiltered nature. In tee-vee-based political discourse, it is becoming more common to hear talking heads speak of "what the blogs are saying" or "the blogosphere" in lieu of older, more candid formulations such as "what the rubes are saying" or "the unlettered masses." This is lazy at best.

The larger piece cited does claim, albeit vaguely, that blogs per se have become a source of military intelligence blunders and near-blunders. Still, I think it's worthwhile to speak as precisely as possible about these matters as part of the larger cultural effort to understand the many ramifications of internet technology, because the problems and risks cited in the present case are real ones, and they are hardly the only ones.

And please repeat after me: the internet is not going away. We're going to have to sort all of this out.

A blogger has certain responsibilities, and among these is to defend the honor of blogging by noting that while, yes indeed, blogging is an extremely wide-open sort of exchange -- one that sometimes involves naughty words and viewpoints that have not been vetted by paid opinion-makers -- not everything in telecommunications or the internet is properly called a blog. And above all, we should direct our ire where it belongs -- at those fracking Blackberries, which are going to be the ruin of us all.

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