Saturday, January 27, 2018

Blogging in the Age of Trump and Twitter

Once upon a time, everyone was doing it
Trump ruins everything. Blogging, for me, was a kind of an extended conversation where I could think about trends and events and try to derive meaning or even understanding from them. And we had a little informal group - our 'Bloggerhood' - that would read and comment, providing feedback and input and helping the process of turning knowledge into wisdom go forward. It was fun, often hilariously funny, thought provoking and endlessly fascinating. Blog posts went from a few sentences to a few thousand words - you could easily read, digest and comment on a number of them throughout the day.

Blogging, in general, is dying today. Nearly dead. Part of it is Trump - people are so appalled and gobsmacked at his corruption, ignorance, arrogance and vicious hatred that they can't look away, they can't let a day go by without 'reporting' on his hypocrisy or damage to democracy. So that's what many blogs in my beloved Bloggerhood have become - just another website that rehashes the latest Trump outrage. It's like everybody I know has lost the ability to think about the world, and can only focus on the news from yesterday.

But here's the thing. We ALL read the news yesterday. I don't need my friends to tell me a brief tl;dr version of the news reports I read. There's seldom any thoughtful analysis provided with these days old outrage reports - which is understandable because at this point there is very little left to be learned. We know what we've got, we know what the rules are, we know that our American small-d democratic experiment is very sick - perhaps terminally so.

Today, more than ever, thinking about the intersection of society, culture, economics, technology and public policy is desperately important. These are the sources of power for individuals and groups, and the way those groups form and relate creates communities - and wars. Now would be a great time to accept that we've ALL heard the outrageous stories, and we are - to the extent of our ability to sustain outrage at this point - outraged too. PLEASE think about, instead of telling me that Trump or Hannity or Nunes or Gowdy did something awful, which we already know, tell me what it MEANS. How it fits. What it might lead to. Please think about THINKING again - there is no value in reporting yesterday's news - that's why print newspapers are dying too.

Now, to be fair, Trump isn't the only suspect in the death of blogging as a broadly democratic publishing platform. In fact, Twitter is the MAIN suspect. There is apparently a belief among many that one can do the same thing on Twitter that one could do on blogs, but it would take only a fraction of the time and effort. Of course, that turns out to be a false assumption, but ease and convenience will trump time and effort every time. One of the things that amuses me no end is the proliferation of 20, 30, even 50 part Twitter 'threads'. These are blog posts, chopped up to fit within the 280 character limit, and often incoherent as a result. But just write a blog post and link to it from Twitter? I suspect that most of the people who will read the fifteen hundred word Twitter thread would never click on that link. Blogging is SO last decade, amirite?

Obviously, this has affected me too. I write a lot less - with so much Trump overload, it's hard to come up with other, interesting topics that might engage a readership. And while my readership numbers have stayed about the same, nobody comments anymore, so the whole interactive learning thing is no longer an option. But I mostly write to work out my own beliefs and understanding of events - I've always thought you can't really know even what YOU actually think until you set out to write it down. Then you'll very likely discover that even YOU don't believe precisely what you thought you believed. But I'll never just repeat the same news I read yesterday - that's just not interesting for me or anyone else. If there's a lesson to be learned (other than Republicans in America are craven hypocrites, which we already know well), I might START with a newsworthy event, but that would never be the point of the piece.

[Tomorrow we'll see lots of blogs talking about how the GOP demanded Democrats return the Weinstein donations, but say nothing about returning the Wynn donations. Seriously, do you really think that's an interesting topic?]

Blogging is magical because it removed the barrier between the writer and publication. You no longer needed an intermediary to make your work available to a global audience. That's the most democratic thing I can think of - if the fax machine brought down the Soviet Union, then blogging changed all the rules for information management forever and ever, amen.

I'm not ready to give it up for dead quite yet.