Bloggers are turning the hunting and gathering, sampling and critiquing the rest of us do online into an extreme sport. We surf the Web; these guys snowboard it. Bloggers are the minutemen of the digital revolution.
Most often, bloggers recount everyday experiences, flag interesting stories from online publications and exchange advice on familiar problems. Their sites go by colorful names like Objectionable Content, the Adventures of the [sic] AccordionGuy in the 21st Century, or Eurotrash, which might leave you thinking that these are simply a bunch of obsessed adolescents with too much time and bandwidth.
It may look like a backhanded compliment, and coming from most journalists, it would be. However, Jenkins is the director of the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, a place famous for seemingly-frivolous pursuits such as the development of the first video game, SpaceWar, to their legendary model railroad club. Silly and pointless as these endeavours may seem, they “sharpened the saws” of those who are shaped and influenced high tech. It’s this background which allows him to see the potential:
Yet something more important may be afoot. At a time when many dot coms have failed, blogging is on the rise. We’re in a lull between waves of commercialization in digital media, and bloggers are seizing the moment, potentially increasing cultural diversity and lowering barriers to cultural participation.
Jenkins notes that there’s a polarization going on in media. At one pole, there’s what Ben Bagdikian’s been warning us about for years: control is held by a small handful of very powerful corporations with great reach. You’ll get your 500 channels, but they’ll all have the same thing. At the other end is the Web, noisier than a thousand Istanbul flea markets, with a billion choices and no simple way to separate the gems from the junk. “Bloggers respond to both extremes,” writes Jenkins, “expanding the range of perspectives and, if they’re clever, creating order from the informational chaos.” In an infomation economy, context is the real currency.
Bloggers are lenses through which the information of the Web is focused. Some, like Jim from Objectionable Content and George from Blogaritaville, are powerful microscopes focusing on current events; others, such as this one, are closer in spirit to those novelty spyglasses that came in Cracker Jack boxes that distorted your perspective or made the world look funny. Both have perspectives that you won’t find easily (or maybe at all) in mainstream media and both often aggregate news from broadcasters, print and the Web and interpret it in their own way.
Jenkins suggests that the future of media:
…could depend on the kind of uneasy truce that gets brokered between commercial media and these grass-roots intermediaries. Imagine a world where there are two kinds of media power: one comes through media concentration, where any message gains authority simply by being broadcast on network television; the other comes through grass-roots intermediaries, where a message gains visibility only if it is deemed relevant to a loose network of diverse publics. Broadcasting will place issues on the national agenda and define core values; bloggers will reframe those issues for different publics and ensure that everyone has a chance to be heard.
I find this interesting, not only in and of itself, but also because it’s along the lines of the kind of work I’ve been doing for the past two years at the company for which I used to work. We were developing software whose purpose was to find things that were of interest to you, based on the the principle that people for whom you have a high affinity will likely point you to things you find interesting. Blogging acheives roughly the same result; the blogs I like often point me to things I love, whether it be some other Web page or simply something of the blogger’s own creation.
I’ll leave it to Jenkins to close this entry:
As the digital revolution enters a new phase, one based on diminished expectations and dwindling corporate investment, grass-roots intermediaries may have a moment to redefine the public perception of new media and to expand their influence.
So blog this, please.
The Media Monopoly by Ben Bagdikian. Yes, I’ve already linked to it in the posting above, but it bears repeating. The latest revision covers the reach of traditional media corporations into the Internet.
There’s been a recent spate of writeups on blogging. Check out various articles from:
And while I’m on the topic of writing blogs, here’s a great essay called How To Write a Better Weblog.