Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic has composed a remarkable hymn to the art of blogging, which, if it hasn’t officially become a literary genre, certainly should be. Unlike previous generations of wordsmiths, “[w]e bloggers have scant opportunity to collect our thoughts, to wait until events have settled and a clear pattern emerges. We blog now — as news reaches us, as facts emerge,” he says. “For bloggers, the deadline is always now. Blogging is therefore to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive. It is, in many ways, writing out loud.”
It is indeed unprecedented, I think, this ability to publish right now, without waiting for editors or presses or distribution chains, and it is therefore fraught with its own sort of peril. Who has time to check facts when your peers or competitors are posting and while that “Publish” link is staring you in the face? Not to worry, says Sullivan, who came to realize that the blogosphere had reasons to be even more honest than traditional journalism:
To the charges of inaccuracy and unprofessionalism, bloggers could point to the fierce, immediate scrutiny of their readers. Unlike newspapers, which would eventually publish corrections in a box of printed spinach far from the original error, bloggers had to walk the walk of self-correction in the same space and in the same format as the original screwup. The form was more accountable, not less, because there is nothing more conducive to professionalism than being publicly humiliated for sloppiness.
He has a lot more to say, in fact, too much for a blogpost, since he admits that one of the fundamental characteristics of a blog is its superficiality:
By superficial, I mean simply that blogging rewards brevity and immediacy. No one wants to read a 9,000-word treatise online. On the Web, one-sentence links are as legitimate as thousand-word diatribes—in fact, they are often valued more… But the superficiality masked considerable depth — greater depth, from one perspective, than the traditional media could offer. The reason was a single technological innovation: the hyperlink.
Imagine! Immediate access to the primary source, embedded right there in the document! Any Freshman English teacher would be thrilled. (And so I’ll leave you to the hyperlink to pick up the rest of his ruminations.)
I do like the immediacy of blogging, both in my own blogging and particularly in the other bloggers I read regularly. I like to know what you are doing and thinking now, what the real-time pulse of your life is. I’ve always enjoyed reading memoirs and journals, but I was frustrated by knowing that what I was reading occurred months and even years ago, and that the writer had likely long since moved on.
Sullivan writes about being able to share his reaction to 9/11 with his readers immediately, hour by hour, right as the tragedy occurred, and he made me wish I had been blogging back then. I have had perhaps a similar but smaller experience blogging and reading blogs as the current financial meltdown has unfolded, and I have been educated, scared and comforted by what I experienced. And there were no moderators, no editors, no media, no pundits to come between me and my publics. It was ragged and real and very moving.
It was, well, art. Maybe a new populist form of art, a little primitive, straight from the streets, more Garrison Keillor than cowboy poetry, more Grandma Moses than graffiti, I think, although there are all sorts of voices and styles. Whatever your definition or description, blogging at its best feels like art to me. That it is so immediate and ephemeral is I think a reflection of our technological times, and makes it a perfect form of expression for our age.
I’m glad I finally climbed aboard this train, and I’ll be interested in seeing where it goes from here.