Today’s a combination research/teaching prep day. I’m wrestling with some issues of language, history, and genre, so consider this entry an example of that wrestling. I hadn’t really intended my original entry on blogging awards to spark such conversation; it was really just an offhand observation. But now I think it might help me think through some other issues.
Questions to consider:
- What makes a form of communication truly new?
- What makes a form of communication truly unique?
My stock answer is that no form of communication is ever truly new or truly unique. New forms tend to be conceived at first in terms of the old, as I’ve written before. And old forms are reconceived in the face of the new. Still, for whatever reason, I find myself arguing that we should reserve for blogging some unique features. In response to my blogging awards entry, Matt writes that he doesn’t see my criterion of “the textual intervention of others” as key to the definition of blogging.
So what caused me to make that assertion? Well, when a bunch of us academic bloggers were asked about famous bloggers, like Wonkette, I responded, “Oh, that’s not really blogging.” And I still believe that. It’s just the same old content you might find in, say, “The Reliable Source” in the Washington Post, but it’s updated more frequently. If Wonkette is a blog, then when I pick up my phone and say “Breaker 1 9, I got a smokey on my tail” I’m using a CB Radio. If you channel old media content through a new media channel, is it new media? I say no. You might, however, think I’m wrong in characterizing Wonkette’s content as old media.
In his comment, Matt writes,
To me, blogging is much more about the creation of a persona; all bloggers do this to an extent, even when they blog under a true name (like I do). The persona is created in all kinds of mundane ways I suspect we’d agree on–style and tone, subject matter, decisions about what to include or not to include, etc.
Fair enough, but there are many forms of writing through which a persona is created by these techniques: diaries, newspaper columns, first person fiction. So creating a persona is not unique to blogging, but I’m willing to admit that doing so is key to a good blog.
Matt goes on to list other features that “[facilitate] the construction of a recognizable persona”:
- “its database back end (useful for sorting and searching entries)”
- “its date and time stamped organization”
- “peripherals such as blogrolls or bloglines (which situate the persona in a social network)”
- “Trackbacks and comments do this too of course, and they can be a powerful way of creating an identity for oneself online–but I don’t see them as essential to [the] process, nor would I rush to privilege them more than other means.”
First, why should we only note these features to the extent that they are involved in the creation of a persona? Second, I concede that the database backend that many (but not all) blogs have allows for multiple points of entry and rearrangement that are unique to this form of writing. Certainly there are other archives of text available via databases, but no other (that I can think of offhand) that features writing created specifically for that database–and in fact using the database as the word processor itself–by one or a small number of writers. Online news sources don’t provide the same ease of searching and sorting, for example, and many websites published by newspapers are basically the print information put into HTML.
Date and time stamps? Been there. Done that.
Situating an author in a social network? Printed books have footnotes, cover blurbs, acknowledgments pages, and works cited pages that fulfill the same function.
Take the case of Justin Hall, who I know you’ve followed for a long while–many would cite him as the “first” blogger, but he did it all without *any* formal software, and with no comments, etc.
I first came across Hall about a year after he started. I would argue that he’s in a class by himself, though, and not a representative blogger. Of course, he started using MovableType about two years ago.
They are seductive, though, those comments: the endorphin rush that comes from the contact can become an end in itself, I suspect, at least before one becomes jaded from the attention (that hasn’t happened to me yet ;-).
Yeah, see? That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Comments/trackbacks are a vulnerability, and they do provide that rush as much from fear as from excitement.
But blogging is about masks and windows, a flirtation with self and other sustained through the rhythms of update, update, update–which play into our insatiable appetite for the new, the novel . . . with a touch of the voyeur, to keep us honest.
Interesting. A while back I was pondering the genre of blogs. Were they a new genre, a variation on an old genre? I personally think blogs are unique, perhaps not as a genre or even a form of new media, but as a movement or phenomenon. How many times in the past have so many personal voices been heard, or at least have been available to be heard? Not many, I’d wager. The phenomenon of this cacophony is new I think. I can think of a couple of possible precedents–pamphlets in 17th c. England and in early America. But literacy levels were much lower then, so it mustn’t have had the same effect.