Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[FORUM] Is the Internet actually changing our minds for the worse?

The ever-opinionated Canadian journalist Christie Blatchford had an opinionated article in The Globe and Mail on Thursday, "I'm not blogging this, mark my words".

It is the modern way, but at the blogging Olympics - and these are the blogging Games, as Sydney marked the first all-out Web Games - with 20,000 journalists in the same approximate place, it is impossible to overlook the phenomenon and difficult not to participate. Let us now conjugate blog: I blog, I have blogged, I will blog.

Or rather, after a few desultory efforts in the early going here, let me say that I shall
not blog. It is not because I take a principled stand against blogging. It's not that I don't love the Web. It's not that I'm a Luddite, or at least not just that I'm a Luddite.

It's that, as Michael Farber, the great Montreal sportswriter and Hockey Hall of Famer who works for Sports Illustrated, said the other day on a bus, "I have only a finite number of words in me." He is guarding what's left, properly determined not to squander them.

[. . .]

Michael Phelps's last swim, as with all swim finals thanks to NBC, took place in the morning here, prime time back home. It meant that most Canadian papers could just barely squeak into the next day's editions the news of his record eighth gold. Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star was poolside; she had five whole minutes to write and file the story. It does not make for thoughtful copy.

Ms. DiManno's work ethic is legendary. When I remarked to her colleague Doug Smith that she had written five stories one day last week, he grinned and said, "Well, the paper has five sections." On one of those multistory days, Ms. DiManno got a snarky comment about one of them on the Star website, "comments" being the remarks Web readers are encouraged to post about the stories they read.

"This feels more like a blog post, Rosie. A good blog, but a lame article," wrote someone identified only as HEC30.

You see? Everyone's a writer now. Everyone's an editor. It's as if the College of Physicians and Surgeons not only encouraged patients to read all the medical websites, but also to do their own diagnoses.

This is the democratization wrought by the Web, and if it has actually helped open up closed societies such as China's, in the West its chief effect, at least upon journalism, is to diminish whatever craft, and there is some, is left in the business.

It is not true that anyone can write. It is not true that anyone can write on deadline. It is not true that anyone can do an interview. It is not true that anyone can edit themselves and sort wheat from chaff. It is not true that even great productive writers like The Globe's Jim Christie or Ms. DiManno or Mr. Farber can hit a home run every time they sit before the laptop. But the odds of them doing it are greatly increased if they haven't already filed 1,200 words to the Web, shot a video, done a podcast and blogged ferociously all day long.

People who have been reading A Bit More Detail for an extended period of time might remember that especially in 2005 but also in 2006, my volume of posts was--well, let's admit it--wildly excessive, occasionally hitting double-digit numbers.

I've cut back since then. I intend to cut back further. You will note that, Demography Matters posts aside, I'm now making only this one [FORUM] post this weekend, and the [PHOTO]-tagged category of posts likewise exists for a reason. Why? It was just too exhausting to blog so much, and I'm quite sure that the quality of my writing--style and content--suffered for it. Quite probably Blatchford is right to argue that for all but a few very talented writers, an excessive number of writing snippets can be enervating.

I'd be willing to fit this into a wider problem with modern electronic culture. In Nicholas Carr's article in The Atlantic, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?", the author argues not that Google is actually making people less intelligent but that it's altering people's reading habits, discouraging extended reading in favour of much quicker absoprtion of snippets. Mental architecture, as Carr writes, is plastic. This rapidity arguably contributes to a superficialization of relationships--imomus wrote quite amusingly this morning about how Facebook has allowed him to become friends with distant tribes ("Thanks to Facebook, I'm connected to the indigenous peoples of Northern Canada"). Where this trend will go, no one knows.

Or does this trend exist at all? Are Blatchford, and Carr, and imomus, and--I have to admit--me wrong in believing that the informatization of communications has negative consequences for substance as described above? Or are we all right in believing the change to exist or wrong in thinking the change negative?

Your thoughts, as always, are most welcome. Please play nicely.
Tags: blogging, forum, journalism, popular culture, writing
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