It turns out that in the course of my usual public service, I have been seconded to the Sydney Writers’ Festival to speak with certain so-called "writers" about their so-called "work".
I do not do this out of choice, you understand, but because the festival organisers, with their powerful political connections and promises of enormous amounts of prostitutes and cocaine, proved impossible to turn down. I did, however, have second thoughts when I discovered that my assignment was to discuss that bastard child of journalism and the school newsletter: blogs.
They’re everywhere these days. Since the invention in late 2007 of the "internet", it seems we have experienced a quantum shift in the mass consciousness. Whereas previously in human history, people were content to have opinions, these days this is apparently not enough; they also feel the need to share them with others. We could discuss for hours just how and why this complete breakdown of decorum and common decency occurred, and who should be blamed for it, but this would be as futile as it would be satisfying.
The fact is, blogs are here to stay, and it’s up to us to come to grips with this new world, where every crackpot with a keyboard is able to tell the world his or her views about politics, economics, the media, Iraq, Israel, vampires, Dr Who, Saved By The Bell or cats that enjoy cheeseburgers.
How do we deal with such a dizzying onslaught of information? How do we process the constant barrage of opinion that the internet continues to hurl at us in the manner of an angry god hurling poorly punctuated thunderbolts? How can we negotiate the "blogosphere" in a way that allows us to completely ignore it, while also coming up with amusing quips about how stupid it is? This is the challenge of the 21st century technocrat.
In a way, of course, blogging is merely the latest manifestation of an age-old human urge. In the Middle Ages, bloggers were called "Town Criers", and they would march about the village, proclaiming the news of the day. "OMG!" they would cry, "Robert Pattinson is the sex!" following which the townspeople would file out and, one by one, argue vehemently for or against the proposition, until late into the night, by which time the conversation had somehow turned to whether abortion should be legalised and passions were running so high that people began putting envelopes full of plague fleas into their neighbours’ mailboxes. A simpler time yes, but in many ways just as irritating and violent as our own.
Really, the only thing holding people back from blogging in the past was technology. Imagine if people in the 1940s had been able to log on to annefrank.com! What a spectacularly bad idea that would have been!
Of course, blogs do have their good side. I mean, I myself have a blog. In fact, I have two — one for writing avant-garde poetry, and one for linking to YouTube clips of major surgery. If it weren’t for blogs, I’d have to do these things the old-fashioned way — by actually performing major surgery, and forcing my family to read my poetry. More importantly, my blogs allow my many fans and well-wishers to keep track of my every movement. Through the magic of modern technology, I can inform the masses of where I’m going to be on a particular date, and just like that, the day after I receive a multitude of apologetic emails from those who couldn’t come. It’s just that simple.
But the blogosphere is not all about me — though the most interesting parts are. There is also the question of the "new media". It was not so long ago that news and commentary was restricted exclusively to the tyrannical mainstream media, the all-powerful newspaper, television and radio tycoons who restricted our access to the political and social discourse, the gatekeepers that shut us out of the halls of power by keeping us on a meagre drip feed of information, allowing us to know only what they wanted us to know, to discuss only what they thought worthy of discussion.
The media, such a crucial part of a functioning democracy, was in fact itself conspiring to deny functioning democracy to us all. These were terrible days, when the media was full of blatant bias, senseless sensationalism, and brainless celebrity pap. We can only thank God the internet came along and changed all that.
Thanks to the blogosphere, rather than having no option but to get our news from corporate-backed partisan hacks in the major papers, we can instead log on to the websites of major papers and read the blogs of corporate-backed partisan hacks. Andrew Bolt’s blog, for example, boasts over a million hits and allows him to post climate change-debunking graphs at a rate of over 80 per hour, something that would never have been possible in the bad old days.
What’s more, the blogosphere has rectified one of the major flaws of traditional media — the almost total absence of demented ranting. The old media was very good at, say, reporting on a house fire, or doing a double-page spread on Delta Goodrem, but if you were to scour the capital city dailies for news on how Mossad planned September 11, or how the moon landing was faked by communist Freemasons, you would find yourself sadly disappointed.
Moreover, if you restricted your news habits to listening to the radio or watching the nightly TV bulletins, you would be pathetically uninformed as to what was going to happen on Lost next year, or what would have happened in Indiana Jones 4 if they hadn’t changed the script. In short, without the blogosphere, the world was merely a pale imitation of a truly civilised planet, and the human race a feeble shadow of a sentient species.
And yet, even having catalogued all these undoubted virtues of blogs and bloggers, I can’t help feeling that there is a dark side. A dark, pasty, sexually unappealing side. As much as we might enjoy the ability to access the proclivities of white people or the inner thoughts of Gwyneth Paltrow at the click of a mouse, the question remains: should we be encouraging these people? Shouldn’t we consider the very real possibility that in aiding and abetting the rise to power and celebrity of the blogger, we are retarding, and possibly reversing, the forward progress of evolution?
Where once our society revered the strong, the robust, the muscular bronzed Adonis who went out there in the world and got things done, are we finding ourselves suddenly worshipping at the altar of the fat and the pale, the ginger-bearded and the Vulcan-eared? Just where is our community headed, when every day the ranks of those who build bridges, conquer frontiers and beat up foreigners grow thinner, to be replaced by those whose marketable skills are restricted to bitching about Rupert Murdoch and adding speech bubbles to wildlife photos?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I know that after this weekend, I will have a far greater insight into bloggers, their mindsets, their methods, why they decided not to get a proper job, and most importantly, whether they’ll link to me.
Because I’ve got to be honest — if I don’t boost my hit count soon I’ll just die.
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