This afternoon, I did an interview for 680 News about blogging. Reporter Scott Simpson, a Transit Toronto reader, had interviewed me before about the Sheppard subway, and I guess I was the closest person he knew who had a blog and could explain this phenomenon. I stumbled a bit during the interview. Even though I'm a part of this big blogging phenomenon, I'm not sure I understand it myself. I did get across that blogging was just the web made faster.
The rest of the world is just cluing into the existence of blogs in the same way it started to clue into the existence of the internet back in 1994. And the question the incredulous media has to ask is always: why bother? And the best answer I can give is: just 'cause. The Internet is nothing more than a place for business and pleasure, and blogs are nothing more than an accelerated form of the Internet. People who blog do so for reasons as individual as themselves.
I wish I'd said this when I was on the phone, but hopefully the editors can pull together a few useful soundbites out of my hems and haws.
Blogs as Humanizers
You know, until Stockwell Day became leader of the Canadian Alliance, I actually came close to voting for the Reform Party. Well, close as measured in astronomical distance, but closer than back in 1993 when I dismissed Preston Manning and his followers as a bunch of fringe lunatics. Five years later, I was seeing them in a new light. And the ones responsible for this transformation were none other than the television shows This Hour has 22 Minutes and the Royal Canadian Air Farce.
Preston Manning appeared on both shows, offering himself up as the butt of several jokes, and accepting everything with grace and humour. Deborah Grey and Chuck Strahl were among other Reformers who appeared on The Hour Has 22 Minutes, showing parts of themselves not seen on CPAC. These parts of themselves were actually quite attractive, and very human. So, while I would probably never vote for these people, I wouldn't refuse an invitation to their barbecue. On the other hand, Stockwell Day was never able to convey that same human side, even in comedy.
Blogs, in my opinion, have the opportunity to humanize politics in a similar way. Take Warren Kinsella: my first impression of the man came from a soundbite on CBC Radio, during the height of the Chretien/Martin power struggle that would force Paul Martin from cabinet. Kinsella, very much on Chretien's team, spoke in support of the prome minister in such a way that, for me, exemplified Liberal arrogance. I even called him an arrogant S.O.B. to my friend in the car. Further soundbites solidified his reputation as a fierce Liberal attack-dog.
But then I discovered his blog. I learned about his history as a rocker, the love he has for his family, and his courageous fight against neo-nazis and other elements of racist hatred in Canadian society. In short, once freed from the confines of the five-second sound bite, and able to address his readers on more than just the topic of party politics, he came across as a human being -- and a pretty decent human being at that. More than that; his political discourses became fascinating insights into the way things worked behind the scenes. I still disagreed with him on a number of issues, but I couldn't help but respect him. His blog did that.
I think this shows that blogging is intimate, just like television. Unlike television, blogging grants the blogger (be he celebrity or not) greater control his or her image. Readers willing to invest the time will get the whole story, as the blogger tells it, and good bloggers are able to pour themselves into their blogs, so that a well-rounded picture results. Just as This Hour has 22 Minutes and The Royal Canadian Air Farce showed a human side of politicians that voters rarely saw, blogs can do the same thing, but this time at the blogger's behest.
Not that blogs are a free ticket to controlling one's message, you understand. Consider the immitators of Howard Dean, the Democratic presidential candidate who put candidate blogs on the map. His campaign writers' ability to tell his story and condense his essense into his blog is the major reason why his campaign has caught on. Since then, other politicians have put out blogs, from Democratic candidates to George W. Bush himself; many are seen as pale copies of what Dean achieved. Dean succeeds because his blog gives a clearer picture of the person people want to vote for. His supporters see him as a person, and not as a political soundbite.
I do believe this is a good thing. I've always been concerned about the polarization of our society, and it's harder to see the other side as "the enemy" when you realize that "the enemy" is just as human as you are. There is nothing magical about blogging -- blogging software only makes it easier for you to post material to the Internet -- but a blog is a tool that allows people to connect with each other personally. Readership will always tilt towards talent, but unlike television, we've eliminated the gatekeepers and the middlemen, and we've started to talk directly to each other.
With a little luck, maybe we'll come to see that not much separates the big from the small, the left from the right, and the powerful from the average.