Thu, Feb
1
2007

Where Are All the Lonely People? Not in the Blogosphere!

Thu, Feb 1, 2007

I heard about this story from two fronts yesterday. First, Jim Elve pointed me in the direction of the rebuttal he posted on his group blog (which I have been most remiss in visiting; sorry, Jim), and then Andrew after being contacted by the Canadian Press, asking for a blogger’s point of view. He wasn’t interested in appearing on television and asked if I would be interested. I said that I would, but CP hasn’t called me, yet.

What’s gotten the blogosphere all acquiver is a book and accompanying media release published by the University of Calgary Professor Dr. Michael Keren which basically says a few fighting words. I’ll post a few selections from the press release below, but you can see the full release and Jim’s analysis here:

Was Eleanor Rigby a blogger?

(snip!)

“Bloggers think of themselves as rebels against mainstream society but that rebellion is mostly confined to cyberspace, which makes blogging as melancholic and illusionary as Don Quixote tilting at windmills,” he says.

In Blogosphere: The New Political Arena, the first book to examine weblogs, Keren asks: Is the blogosphere a new political arena in which serious concerns about real suffering of real people in a real world are communicated and acted upon or is it merely a gathering place for the powerless citizens of the early 21st century?

(snip!)

“Weblogs promise liberation and a freedom of expression not found in any other medium,” says Keren. “But, bloggers do not take advantage of this liberation. Bloggers have compared their writing and ideas to the great conquests in history, yet despite their excessive use of words, they conquer nothing. In the blogosphere, the death of an aging cat is on the same emotional level as an earthquake in Pakistan.”

(snip!)

Comparing bloggers to terrorists, Keren writes: “While the methods advocated by the two groups are obviously very different, they both represent a similar trend in the present world, one of diversion of respected but disenchanted citizens from the norms of civil society to a fantasy world in which the excessive use of words - or bombs - would make everybody listen.”

Okay, first off, Keren seems to have based his thesis on a series of false premises, chief among them being that the only purpose of blogging is to talk about politics. He also sets out a number of straw-man arguments, attempting to define what bloggers are, the better to skewer them. Consider these quotes: “Bloggers think of themselves as rebels against mainstream society”, “Bloggers have compared their writing and ideas to the great conquests in history” and “They appeared to spark a new wave of freedom of speech where public political dialogue was no longer reserved for politicians, journalists and celebrities.”

Hey, Dan: do you think of yourself as a rebel against mainstream society? Hey, Erin, do you compare your writing to the great conquests in history (well, I admit, I do, but then you have the awards to prove it)? What about you, Rebecca? And, may I just say: what new wave of freedom of speech? What exactly am I saying here on this blog that Canadians haven’t been saying over coffee and Timbits at donut establishments across the land?

Yes, there are bloggers out there with an overly-inflated ego who believe that they are the mainstream media’s worst nightmare. But most bloggers do not see themselves as being at the forefront of a new social revolution; they’re too busy blogging to do that. Most bloggers aren’t doing anything that non-bloggers are doing everyday at water coolers, in pubs or on the subway. We’re talking. The difference is, we’re doing it over the Internet.

Blogs have had a growing part to play in the political process these past few years. After all, without a blog, Howard Dean would have had to find another way to elevate himself from a former governor of Vermont and minor figure in the Democratic party to the chairman of the DNC. Closer to home, the new TTC Chairman Adam Giambrone has explicitly turned to bloggers in canvassing for suggestions on how to improve the TTC’s website. I suppose he could have paid more money and organized town hall meetings, but his initiative was cheaper and, as a result his openness to ideas, designers, bloggers, visual artists and transit geeks are doing some of the heavy lifting for him this Sunday as they meet for a day-long brainstorming session on how to improve the transit commission.

The blogosphere isn’t anything more magical than a telephone. It is simply a tool that individuals have used to communicate, and the lustre that surrounds it is largely due to the fact that it’s new. And like any new piece of technology, it will likely fail to live up to its hype, but it will still prove to be an invaluable resource facilitating new and different forms of social interaction.

It is also true that some political bloggers see themselves as the be-all and end-all of the blogosphere, and it appears from Michael Keren’s press release that he shares the same conceit. But the reality is that the number of bloggers who blog about anything other than politics dwarfs political bloggers to a minority. As I write this, Technorati is tracking 66.6 million blogs; these include teenagers who blog to communicate with their friends, writers who use their blog as an online writing journal, people who review books, knitters who blog to communicate with other knitters, fans of various television shows, average individuals writing family newsletters, young mothers journalling their experiences raising their children, professors venting about academia, musicians and music fans blogging their music, and many, many more.

Keren seems to believe that blogging has had a negative effect on political activism, but I know that if I weren’t blogging, I wouldn’t be out on the street protesting or being politically active. I’m not here to start a revolution. I’m here because I’m a writer, and this blog is my opportunity to keep my fingers nimble and my mind alert. It has also helped to promote my novels, and has landed me a few assignments as a freelance journalist. Everybody blogs for their own personal reasons, and for many, political revolution isn’t it.

Indeed, you would think that Keren would know this, rather than calling the blogosphere only a political device that has failed objectives it never set out for itself in the first place. Keren writes, “In the blogosphere, the death of an aging cat is on the same emotional level as an earthquake in Pakistan”; well, I know of no political blog on my blogroll that has talked about the death of their cat. I know a few bloggers that blog about their cats, but they don’t usually talk politics.

And I could certainly do without the condescending attitude that pervades Keren’s press release. I’m hardly one of the lonely people, and the Internet has had a lot to do with that. After all, Erin and I met and fell in love online. I’ve met a number of very good people online, and I know that all of these people have jobs, have families, have social lives. Andrew at Bound by Gravity has a wonderful fiancée and plays ultimate Frisbee. Rebecca Anderson is a wife, a mother of three, and a brilliant writer. Rannie Turingan is a mini-celebrity, a hardworking organizer of the Toronto blogosphere and a brilliant photographer. I’d hazard a guess that he has had more fun and met more people these past three days than Keren has in a month.

In short, the people who are online are as diverse as the people who are offline. Indeed, most people who blog have lives away from their computers, and these people have been indirectly insulted by Keren’s poorly researched paper. It surprises me that somebody supposedly intelligent enough to be a professor, would make such broad assumptions about bloggers’ attitudes, intents and lifestyles that simply aren’t bourne out by reality. I have to wonder if he read any more than just a handful of blogs. I doubt it. If he had taken the time to properly research his study, he wouldn’t have been able to manufacture the controversy required to help sell his book.


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