Monday, March 28, 2005

blogs obsolete?

Reading Matthew Kirschenbaum on technologies of writing brought Slices of life , from Spiked IT which has a great many links to this vexed subject of putting you life online.

Fine as a vehicle for tweeking the software. Software ought ideally be produced in response to a need, not created with a general idea of what it might do, then handed out. If Gates had worked his software strategy that way, Windows and Office would be constantly criticised by the men on the ground for being less good than they could be.

In no matter what form of public access website, or in real life {IRL, as the acronymologists would write} every man and woman should know what to say and what not to say, whether it be in the bedroom, kitchen, street, or office. If they are not sure then just look and listen to what others do. To tell all then wonder why you lose you job or are being stalked by some weirdo, is ridiculous. But there is a deep desire to divulge which has been better expressed in the article .

Three points from it:

These new technologies look like a mixed blessing. They can be useful tools to help individuals to organise their lives. But they also have the potential to be used for solipsistic and narcissistic ends, with people turning inwards to obsess over their everyday experiences.

What you ate, who you spoke to, what you saw - this has already become the staple diet of the millions of blogs that populate the internet. 'On Sunday we basically did nothing. I phoned my aunt Jenny in Scotland, I read about 200 pages of Harry Potter, Mel slept till 3pm whereas I woke up at 10am', one young blogger reports. Sociologists such as Anthony Giddens describe this self-monitoring as 'reflexivity', with individuals dwelling on the tiniest aspects of their lives. 'At each moment, or at least at regular intervals, the individual is asked to conduct a self-interrogation in terms of what is happening', writes Giddens. This includes questions such as 'What am I doing? What am I feeling? How am I breathing?'. This was taken to extremes recently by a man who wrote down every thought that he was thinking. 'You will be immobilised for the duration of your commitment', he warned other would-be recorders.

Yet inflated expectations are being invested in these technologies. There is an idea that they can provide people with a firmer sense of identity, at a time when people often find it difficult to see a coherent narrative to their lives, and experiences often seem insubstantial - not quite 'real'. According to Lindholm, this could be one of the attractions of the Lifeblog: 'You can see very clearly a narrative of your life; some sort of chronological sequence gives meaning to people. It really allows the user to go back and reflect on what a person's life looks like.' The idea is that this birthday or that holiday is photographed and ordered, month by month, and you can see it all before you.

The litblogs are a refinement of this process, where the blogger might do book reviews as a way of expressing herself in writing, while presumably hoping that the writing was good enough to merit notice and even praise content and style: expression and ideas.

Some litbloggers, or blitts as I like to call them, after blog litteraire, are straight up attempts to demonstrate writing skills. Most are pretty discreet about personal lives, as all webloggers should be because there are some nasty people out there.

Putting stuff up for public viewing for the writery type is only another version of having to read out your essay in class, after all. It is a good way of testing whether you have the nerve for criticism. It can help to make you write better.

There will be many who think they can write anyway, wanting to get paid for it as well, seeing the weblog as the best and simplest way of advertising their abilities. A few have been successful.

The idea of the personal narrative is o.k. if it more like Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress than a soap opera: evidence of a process of moral improvement through what one had done, though, read, coming off the page. It works less well as public therapy: who wants to read someone moaning about their existence who hasn't got the funny bone of a Woody Allen?


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