Blogs (and what they’re not)

February 6, 2008

Great piece in the New York Review of Books about blogs. We, you and I, are not its intended audience—if we were, the author Sarah Boxer would not have to define “blog,” “LOL,” “WTF.” Yet this is interesting reading:

Bloggers assume that if you’re reading them, you’re one of their friends, or at least in on the gossip, the joke, or the names they drop. They often begin their posts mid-thought or mid-rant—in medias craze. They don’t care if they leave you in the dust. They’re not responsible for your education. Bloggers, as Mark Liberman, one of the founders of the blog called Language Log, once noted, are like Plato. :-) The unspoken message is: Hey, I’m here talking with my buddies. Keep up with me or don’t. It’s up to you. Here is the beginning of Plato’s Republic:

I went down yesterday to the Peiraeus with Glaucon, the son of Ariston, to pay my devotions to the Goddess, and also because I wished to see how they would conduct the festival since this was its inauguration.

Wait a second! Who is Ariston? What Goddess? What festival?

And here, for comparison’s sake, is a passage from Julia {Here Be Hippogriffs}, a blog about motherhood and infertility:

Having left Steve to his own devices for the past three days I am being heavily pressured to abandon the internet (you! he wants me to abandon you!) and come downstairs to watch SG-1 with him….

So this will have to be quick. Vite! Aprisa aprisa!

I went to Blogher. It was rather fun and rather ridiculous and I am quite glad I went although I do not know if I would ever go again. One thing of note for my infertile blogging friends: DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. Do not go. Do not ever ever go to Blogher.

Huh? Who’s Steve? What’s Blogher? A blog? (No.) A mothers’ club? (No.) A blogging conference? (Yes.)

You get the point. Bloggers breeze through places, people, texts, and blogs that you might or might not know without providing any helpful identification. They figure that even if they don’t provide you with links you can get all the background you need by Googling unfamiliar terms, clicking through Wikipedia (the collaborative on-line encyclopedia) or searching their blog’s archives.

Of course I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure that bloggers have fouler mouths, tougher hides, and cooler thesauruses than most of the people I’ve read in print…

Bloggers give new, Web-inflected meanings to old words. A “troll” on the Web is someone who posts provocative things just to cause an outcry. “Astroturfing” is creating a fake grassroots movement. Bloggers also sprinkle their blogs with expressions like WTF (translation: “What the fuck?”), lol (laugh out loud), and meh (a verbal shrug). They willfully misspell—like “teh” for “the.” They call the Internet “the internets,” cutely following George W. Bush’s slip. If people wrote like this for publication, they’d be fired. And, indeed, there is a term for getting canned because of your blog: “dooced,” named for the blogger Dooce, now a stay-at-home-mother (SAHM) or, as she puts it, a “Shit Ass Ho Motherfucker,” who got fired for blogging about her employer.

Writing like this might seem easy, but just try it. Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at Stanford who writes for newspapers and radio and sometimes contributes to the blog Language Log, admitted on NPR back in 2004, “I don’t quite have the hang of the form.” And, he added, many journalists who get called upon by their editors to keep blogs are similarly stumped: “They fashion engaging ledes, they develop their arguments methodically, they give context and background, and tack helpful IDs onto the names they introduce.” Guess what? They read like journalists, not bloggers.[Blogs]

So, as I interpret this, the challenge for bloggers who blog on their employer’s dime is not “how to build community” by fostering discussion and replying to commenters and all that we’ve been hearing for some time now, but how to stop thinking like a journalist. What do you think?

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