Sunday, October 19, 2008

Blogs, Non-Blogs & Superficiality

In the current issue of The Atlantic (but also available online), Andrew Sullivan has issued a "dead tree" overview of what blogging means to him. The essay is well worth reading for anyone interested in the current state of what used to be called letters, and of particular expository value to the people who don't already read blogs and wonder what the fuss is all about, but I was disappointed to see this bit of boilerplate:

The blog remained a superficial medium, of course. By superficial, I mean simply that blogging rewards brevity and immediacy. No one wants to read a 9,000-word treatise online. On the Web, one-sentence links are as legitimate as thousand-word diatribes—in fact, they are often valued more. And, as Matt Drudge told me when I sought advice from the master in 2001, the key to understanding a blog is to realize that it’s a broadcast, not a publication. If it stops moving, it dies. If it stops paddling, it sinks.
I'm put off by "no one wants to read ..."; I would simply say that the proper length of a blog post is as settled as the proper length of any other piece of writing: it's entirely a question of how deeply the writer wishes to go (or dares to, or knows how to, or what have you), and in blogs no less than lyrical poems, novellas, autobiographies, or philosophical treatises, the reader may or may not choose to follow.

But the more troubling word is "superficial," an idea that Sullivan expands on his blog in the course of promoting his "dead-tree" piece and the magazine in which it appears:
The essay is a defense and celebration of blogging - but not as a replacement for long-form writing or in-depth journalism. In fact, I think blogging makes the long, deep take more important in our ADD culture.
To the extent that we exist in an "ADD culture" beset with "superficiality" -- it would be foolish and false to deny that we do -- it is the quality of thought, not any particular medium of expression or word-count threshold, that stands at risk.

The most immediate evidence for this claim is the essay under discussion and the blogger whose blog it treats, because the "dead-tree" essay stood out (in this reader's mind) for saying nothing that Sullivan didn't already say in his blog over the course of the last two years. Surely the essay sews all those briefer insights and threads together and presents them in a single whole, but those of us who have been reading Daily Dish for any length of time -- and actually paying attention, as befits reading -- found nothing new.

Reading or writing a blog often means jumping hither and yon and back again in tone, subject matter, emphasis, level of detail, etc. This is because blogs flow along in real time in the manner of actual events, not in the manner of a polished literary whole. It does not follow that either the writer or its readers are rendered incapable of abstracting coherences, consistencies, themes, and lessons.

Avoiding superficiality requires paying attention, and there is no substitute for paying attention regardless of the medium of expression.

(H/T Cranium Creek)


Free Music said...

really cool stuff

Dale said...

Uh ... Thanks.

I suspect I may be thanking a bot.