Some of the nerds among us may have noticed that a prominent pioneer of blogging is hanging up is blogshoes. (Picture cartoon snowshoes that break when you are the further possible distance from home.) Inevitably this triggers commentary and soul-searching from what remains of the blogshoesosphere.
The blogosphere lives. But Sullivan's decision to hang up his keyboard is nevertheless a marker. Sullivan was the closest we had to someone trying to run a blog with real scale. He was trying to make his blog — and its sizable audience — into a business. But blogging, for better or worse, is proving resistant to scale. And I think there are two reasons why.
The first is that, at this moment in the media, scale means social traffic. Links from other bloggers — the original currency of the blogosphere, and the one that drove its collaborative, conversational nature — just don't deliver the numbers that Facebook does. But blogging is a conversation, and conversations don't go viral. People share things their friends will understand, not things that you need to have read six other posts to understand.
Blogging encourages interjections into conversations, and it thrives off of familiarity. Social media encourages content that can travel all on its own. Alyssa Rosenberg put it well at the Washington Post. "I no longer write with the expectation that you all are going to read every post and pick up on every twist and turn in my thinking. Instead, each piece feels like it has to stand alone, with a thesis, supporting paragraphs and a clear conclusion."
I like this analysis. It simultaneously replaces and augments my "it's because everyone is getting dumber" position. You have to have the very low opinion of Facebook that I do for these analyses to be simultaneous. Although, I don't know why you wouldn't. DARPA uses it to run mass psychological experiments, it is proven to cause depression, and their refusal to take down images of people murdered by terrorists proves the previous two statements: It's up there precisely so it gets shared with all your angrily misspelled comments about it. That's what the British army is arriving on Facebook to ensure happens. If you think that isn't magic, that this isn't a Mind War, then you are a massively shit magician. I'll sing no songs about you.
But then, I'm not sure how many people left on the internet can distinguish between truth and fiction. Usually I mean that in a good way. But when an actor who played a White House Deputy Chief of Staff lectures to enraptured politics students (my darling Americans: this is one of those 'only in America' moments we foreigners have), I wonder whether the unwashed masses aren't better off on Facebook... at least for my own mental health:
Many readers here, weary of grand national plans, might welcome a visionless president — one devoted to devolving power away from the whims of their own national vision and towards the American people broadly. But The West Wing did not provide this alternative either, rather offering up the worst of both worlds: visionless centralizers. The idea of engaging with the American people beyond the Beltway was so foreign to the politics of The West Wing that the writers were able to shake up Season 4 simply by forcing the main characters to spend a single, maudlin 20-hour period with native Iowans. Of course, when election time came on the show, you might glimpse normal people again – being asked to vote – but as soon as it was over, the characters on The West Wing went back to mostly ignoring the protesters, innovators, mayors, local businesses, social reformers, neighborhood curmudgeons, pastors, volunteers, and grandmothers the make America work.
When asked why they love The West Wing, most people point to the show’s idealism. But, if my fellow young politicos and I had to be honest with ourselves, I think we would say we mostly loved the show because it displayed characters similar to ourselves winning: winning elections, winning arguments, winning the job hunt, winning duels of wits, and winning debates. Most of we West Wingnuts – myself included – were nerds back in our school days, incapable or uninterested in the type of winning that playing (or even watching) sports brings. The West Wing showed us a game that we could play and win at: I can memorize facts, I can make snarky comments, I can win debates… and all the while I can feel good about myself because I am performing a ‘public service.’ While most of today’s nerd-empowering media wisely challenges us to stop caring about winning in the first place, The West Wing shined a path towards a more enjoyable option: who needs the high road when you have what it takes to be a winner in Washington?
The act of “engaging” with national politics has come to resemble more and more the act of watching The West Wing, as political media – from MSNBC to POLITICO – focuses in on the internal dramas of the Beltway kings’ courts. After you have watched all the episodes where Josh Lyman wheels and deals his way to another win, you can turn on the real news and watch talking heads discuss how Mitch McConnell’s or Valerie Jarrett’s next move might give their team a win, too. It’s no surprise that political statistician Nate Silver joined ESPN last year: his meteoric rise over the past elections was the final keystone in the complete ESPNification – with its wins and losses, points and scorecards – of American political journalism.
As the first article above mentions, Sully's presumably-permanent departure from blogging has triggered, instead of a 'death of blogging' response, a faintly hipster vintage one. Vox's editorial director:
I am bringing back this blog. My goal is to write one item a day, every weekday, more or less, starting today. Some of the posts will be about Vox Media, in the spirit of increasing the transparency into the editorial side of the company in my role as Editorial Director. But this is not primarily a promotional undertaking, because that would suck. I’ll also blog about restaurants, travel, the South Street Seaport, the great city of Charleston, the great state of Maine, ephemera, nonsense, whatever. My hope is to relearn the practice of daily blogging, which used to be the most effortless thing in the world for me but now feels terrifying.
One of the reasons of migrating this blog to a responsive format was to (successfully) capitalise on the growth of non-desktop traffic. (Despite some chattering in the peanut gallery. Like I give the slightest fuck.) The other was I envisioned writing brief posts about my life, or quick sharing a video, or what have you. I have tried this exactly three times and each time it was fucking tumbleweeds. So I don't.
In a way, this pleases me because -as the subheading suggests- I go to tremendous pains to write about the ontology of magic, power and High Strangeness. But in another way this displeases me because my life is amazing, even when it's shit. Because all life is amazing, even when it's shit. (Can you tell I tried to bump up the positive vibes after the challenging content of the previous post? Is that why I'm swearing so much? Is it working?) Enjoy this very familiar speech with fun typography.
Previously, I've waved the flag for blogging above the wasteland of what the internet has become. But I'm not sure I care anymore. Podcasting's inexorable rise -almost a decade late- is pleasing to me. Why? Because it takes work. Podcasting doesn't have a reblog button. (Here's me on a recent one. Subscribe for a better show. I'm a subscriber.) I hope I don't make running this blog look too easy because it isn't. It is podcasting hard. And so I see blogging reposition itself in the new marketplace of voices in a similar category: above the cacophonic white noise of the NSA's platforms of fun, a weird little habit for weirdos... as unfashionable as a ham radio.
At least ten times a day I catch myself marvelling at my life, at all life. It helps to live in the best city on earth and have a commute that is really more of a processional pageant past ancient seats of power and optimistic imperial follies, to say nothing of the great throng of London's denizens and visitors. I need a place to store these moments and I immediately think of the blog. What stops me is the concern that it would get repetitive: you would be certain that Gordon is definitively not tired of life, but not much beyond that.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that the ongoing explorations of power and how the shadow state impacts our lives are toward a purpose, even if that is sometimes non-transparent. The purpose is not to incite glorious revolution. That's just handing the tyrant's hat to the next guy. The purpose is to provide maximum possible visibility to power's reach... and how flimsy it actually is. There is something self-defeating about trying to get that message across on social media, given its interrelationship with the control system. The reach is finite and flimsy because you can -and should- be caught up in the wonder of the universe, of the ride, multiple times a day. That is the dropping of gnosticism's other shoe. There are a lot more holes in the net than are immediately obvious.
So I want to share with you some of those moments as they impact me via a William Wordsworth poem and the voices and landscapes of contemporary London.
Basically, I wanted to share this video with you because I love this place, both the city and the universe, and it makes a tired school poem come to life. 1600 words later and we are still here. Guess I'm not cut out for this Vox-style blogging, eh?
Still... Dull would he be of soul who could pass by.