Friday, February 17, 2006

How the blogosphere ate my brain, an essay

As usual, Glenn Greenwald is on fire, here.

he puts the NSA scandal, and its potential arc, in the context of the Watergate scandal. he's not the first to do, though he is the most articulate. that glenn guy is a really good writer and thinker. there's a big future ahead for him i suspect in policy. i hope spitzer is aware of him.

that said, i think he's a bit off base here in his Watergate analogy. what has changed since then? what is the key change in how the public consciousness is provoked and shifted? why, it's the internet! the internet changes everything. and it's not clear, in this case, that it changes things for the better.

let me explain: i was talking to friends last night, facetiously to an extent, about "scandal fatigue". I mean, every time Peter Daou makes a scandal list it is increasingly depressing. so why doesn't any of it stick? why, for instance, could whitewater go on and on, despite early and frequent exonerations of the clintons? well, it might be that those were the old days, when newspapers could focus on such things with real resources. the days before the 24 hour news cycle.

at first, it seemed with the advent of the cable channels that focus was what they did best. if they got their teeth on something prurient, slimy, or trashy, they just wouldn't let go.

and then came drudge. some won't remember, but before it turned out he was a shill for the republican party (and i'd love to know if they sought him out or if he...offered his services. natas si drol and all that. hope his soul is toasty currently) he was a paradigm-shifter. you could sit at your desk at work and Bam! news! hot and fresh. and though the cable news nets wanted to blow him off, and the networks even more so, how could they once he started putting up real numbers, breaking real stories? Of course, we found out later those stories were bullshit plants by Lucianne Goldberg and her hellspawn, but that wasn't the point--for all their haughtiness, the newspapers and networks, the opinion shapers, had to take note.

and they did.

then, to speed this travelougue up a bit, instapundit gets going, and then comes mediawhoresonline (lamented, missed, asskicking rip-roaring monsters they were) and bob somersby at the daily howler. then atrios and kos. and here's where it gets interesting. Markos decided to build something different--a real community. and dailykos is (re)born. then an interesting thing starts to happen. diaries and posts come so fast and furious it is impossible to keep up. and they rush by--ever pushed out by the one that was posted two minutes later.

but it gets even more complicated. as it happens, every post has the possibility to reference some other expert's take on something: "jane's got something new on plame, read here" or "glenn really nailed the NSA thing, read here" or "look what CNN just posted here" and so on. it's relentless, and it leaves us no time to focus on any of it as we try to focus on all of it. it's a new paradigm of how to process information, and it's never been tried on a mass scale before. all source material on everything is ubiquitous and omnipresent, and expert commentary is available often about 5 minutes after a new piece of info surfaces.

and it is amazing! it's amazing how many brilliant thinkers and writers and polemicists are out there--all at my fingertips. 24 hours a day! such a profusion of public thinking and writing is unprecedented in scope in the history of the world.

Gutenberg was a piker compared to bennett cerf. sorry, but it's true.

but with such a massive shift in how information interfaces with all of us, one must ask--what effect has all this had on our ability to make change happen in the off-line world? and i believe the answer is: it has lessened it. because information is now flowing faster than our ability to incorporate it, deal with it, and use it. by the time we've really pondered on anything, something new happens.
[as a side note here--some might say "well, these particular people who are running the country are so corrupt, so venal, and so incompetent that it is THAT fact that makes it hard to focus. it's the old "do stony things happen more often when people are stoned, or is it just that it seems that way're stoned." i'm saying the paradigm shift just coincidentally happened at the same time as the vogons taking over our country.]

anyhoo--net of all this is, cheney shoots some old guy in the face, and it knocks the new diary off the front page, and out of mind.

so, what to do? well, we are going to have to figure out how to manage this process in such a way that we break through the noise (and by we i mean "the left" or "the left blogosphere" or "rational scientific people" or "secular humanists" or "brights" or whomever.) anyone but fucking rick warren or james dobson or al-zarqawi or the republican party and its apologists. we haven't got it right yet.

one possibility: imagine a world in which the democrats in concert with the blogosphere (hey, if there is a blogosphere can their be a blogosopher? just askin.) just don't comment on whatever new shit flows down the intersewer. "cheney shot someone in the face? hope he's ok. anyway Bush broke the law with the NSA thing." repeat eternally until you've made your point.

i guess i'll cross post this at my kos diary you know, for the irony of it all.

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