The Commonwealth Iconoclast

A site dedicated to covering issues relevant to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and nation at large, plus other interesting things too, as I see fit...

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Blogosphere: In the News... Again?


Frankly, I am a little perplexed. First it was the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg (April 29th) and now the Richmond Times Dispatch. Stories about, of all things…blogging!

Yesterday’s feature by Ray McAllister in the Richmond Times Dispatch entitled “Truth, lies and ax-grinding mix on blogs with little repercussion” provides useful insight into the what we have come to know as the “blogosphere."

McAllister even mentions in passing The Commonwealth Iconoclast as one example of the broad range of blog possibilities.

McAllister’s article is the result of the flap over a state employee, Will Vehres, a business services manager for the Virginia Department of Business Services, for his apparent misuse of his work time while posting comments on one of his favorite blog spots. Adding insult to injury, Vehres'comments, apparently a lame attempt at humor, were viewed as offensive and insulting the entire Martinsville community. Vehres has since apologized and suffered a range of repercussions.

No doubt, Vehres is neither the first nor will he be the last public official whose attempt at humor fell like a lead balloon. But enough on the Vehres saga. Now back to the blogosphere.

Normally, this idea of blogging is not something I give much thought to. For me blogging is just part of the world we live in… another way to communicate.

But I am curious. How does this modern day past-time for countless millions of people all of a sudden become news?

I’m just guessing, but a hundred years ago, people probably hung out in front of the pot belly stove at the general store, or at the barber shop, or even under a favorite shade tree in the town square just to shoot the bull. I suppose there were always boorish people who seemed to have a knack of saying the dumbest things and just at the most inopportune moment. No doubt there were venues where people of scruples knew to stay away or risk having their ears burnt by the indelicate language.

On the other hand, I’ll bet there were also some real nice folks, smart people who got together at some favorite place and had something to say of importance. There are always people who, more than most, are on top of the latest happenings. Those gabfests were no doubt a lot of fun and indeed useful in keeping people up to speed on what was happening in their community.

That was then and this is now.

The blogosphere is just another gabfest… a very big gabfest…with potentially hundreds of millions of people all over the world listening in.

In the blogosphere, it is a whole lot easier to get lots and lots of people together, albeit virtually, to shoot the bull, just like they did a hundred years ago under the old shade tree. I am not sure that there is really much difference other than we are disembodied and connected only by fiber optics.

Just like in days of old, you wanted to hang out with people you had something in common with and listen to what they have to say. If you don’t care to listen to people yapping about sports or American Idol or politics, you stay away from them. As always, people are wise to chose carefully the words they speak and write and should critically weigh what they hear or read. Always be discriminating in what you say and believe.

But this sudden flurry of mainstream news coverage prompts me to reflect a bit on this phenomenon we know as the blogosphere. Maybe the blogosphere has become more than I thought it was.

Basically, the blogosphere is just a product of the Internet which has only been around since the late 1960s, or so. For regular folks, the Internet probably wasn’t really all that commonly available until the perhaps the late 1980s or early 1990’s. But by 2000, the legions of Internet users numbered in the hundreds of millions world wide with their ranks increasing daily at an almost explosive rate.

Bruce Sterling, in his “A Short History of the Internet” described the Internet as “spreading like bread-mold.”

For those of us in the 30 something and under cohorts, the blogosphere seems like it has been here forever. But the term blogosphere itself is not that old, actually dating only to 1999 when it was first coined by Brad L. Grahm, supposedly as a joke!

Well, it is not a joke any more. It is a world-wide "social phenomenon." Anybody can easily participate in the blogosphere either by doing their own blog or by following along and/or contributing to someone else’s blog.

Little kids use blogs to talk about their friends, sports, music, clothes, or whatever. Some of the blogging is very serious… Unfortunately, blogs can be used to advance the anti-social interests of terrorists or hate groups (I hope somebody is watching them). Some blogs are very scholarly and address issues of profound public importance and human interest.

And surprise, surpirse... some blogs are highly commercial operations with big budgets and staff organizations. Make no mistake... there is always money to be made.

Ray McAllister points out that even the Richmond Times Dispatch, mainstream “legitimate” journalism, now sponsors several blogs covering a myriad of subjects ranging from the fun to the serious. No matter what your interest, chances are you can find it out there in the blogosphere. .

Most blogs, like the Iconoclast for example, have very limited financial and staff resources, and rely heavily upon interaction with other blogs, day-to-day current events and reader suggestions for new posts. We try to keep it interesting within our limited resources. We also try to contribute to the discussion of issues of public interest at any level... the world, nationally, state-wide and locally. There is always something to talk about.

Upon reflection, and especially in light of the recent media coverage, I am led to the conclusion that the blogosphere is indeed changing the world. The blogosphere levels the playing field for anyone with an idea to speak to potentially very large audiences. The mainstream "legitimate" media no longer has a monopoly on delivering the news. Indeed the blogosphere is becoming known for keeping the mainstream media on its toes and a little more honest than it might ordinarily be.

The big challenge in the blogosphere is to say something that will make a difference and make the world a better place. But to do so, one must find a way to somehow rise above the roar that inevitably results when millions of voices speak all at once.

Maybe somewhere in the blogosphere, there is a place for words of wisdom, truth and justice.

But hey, everyone has a right to speak! In the words of Bruce Sterling: "The Internet belongs to everyone and no one."

5 Comments:

  • At 5/15/2006 8:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Amen to that!

     
  • At 5/15/2006 10:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Technology is a double edged sword. We are probably better off with modern medical science and all kinds of other advancements.

    But, you gotta wonder. Technology is making the world a very small place. Anybody can travel anywhere in just a few hours. Communications are instantaneous. Weapons are cheap, incredibly distructive and practically available to anyone.

    The internet can be used and abused by anybody. The iternet and blogosphere is just a part of our shrinking world.

    Progress? Maybe.

     
  • At 5/15/2006 10:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Technology is a double edged sword. We are probably better off with modern medical science and all kinds of other advancements.

    But, you gotta wonder. Technology is making the world a very small place. Anybody can travel anywhere in just a few hours. Communications are instantaneous. Weapons are cheap, incredibly distructive and practically available to anyone.

    The internet can be used and abused by anybody. The iternet and blogosphere is just a part of our shrinking world.

    Progress? Maybe.

     
  • At 5/15/2006 2:37 PM, Blogger zen said…

    This is an insightful post. I like your analogy to what basically amounts to a public, truly democratic, forum. Equality of every voice, for the most part. An "anonymous" comment can be as significant as an elected official, a business person or whomever. Blogs can elevate the debate or fuel division.

    Yet what I find particularly intriguing about the phenomenon is that the traditional media watches blogs to find what are potentially big stories. Blogs serve as watchdogs on what the pundits in the traditional media report. But there have been a few stories that would have been buried or ignored until the nline buzz was too big to dismiss.
    This is what is shattering the conformities of the traditional, broadcast politics. It is a bottom up approach to change and an undeniable movement.

    I suggest Joe Trippi's book, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

     
  • At 5/18/2006 8:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Yes, blogs, because of their vast networks of informal sources, low overhead, real time advantage, and edgy predisposition to push the envelope have the potential of being able to define new issues and what is relevant in our fast changing society.

    Traditional media is often just too slow, too cautious, too in bed with special interests, and too commercial to keep up with the blogosphere.

    In the past just a few media organizations told us what is "newsworthy". Now we have thousands of sources telling us things we never imagined.

    The internet and the blogosphere is the most powerful communications technology ever to be seen. And it gets more efficient every day.

     

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