Saturday, January 22, 2005

Ricky? Dude, you're a junior in college
A fellow Yalie has taken it upon himself to tear into blogs. In doing so, he pretty much shows himself to have almost no experience with blogs whatsoever.

He starts out with an innocuous background of what blogs actually are, mentioning the fact that Yalies now use them to fill extra time. No complaint there. However, the reasonable part ends quickly:

"Conventional wisdom would suggest that the appearance of blogs—especially those of the political variety—signals a resurgence of young people's interest in the world around them. So impassioned are they with new ideas that they immediately log on and post them for all to enjoy."
That's an awfully big conclusion, based on pretty much nothing. Sure, it signals that some young people are interested enough in politics to comment on everything political—but that in no way implies a correlation to the overall political interest level of the youth. Next:
"It would be wonderful if blogs did encourage intelligent political debate in a new forum. Just imagine the possibilities: students from all over the world circumventing the much-maligned mainstream media and talking directly to each other about real issues. If, as Jon Stewart lamented, shows like the recently cancelled Crossfire were hurting America, blogs could serve as the antidote, proving to the networks and cable-news channels that we are smarter than they expect us to be.

"Sadly, however, blogs have fallen short of their potential thus far. Many blogs are counterproductive to promoting any sort of legitimate dialogue. To be sure, bloggers do debate: They debate the idiosyncrasies of each other's posts. Shouting about semantics has been substituted for honest dialogue."
I think it's inane columns like this that prove people who go by "Ricky" are no smarter than we expect them to be. But seriously, folks. If Richard had actually read a reasonably broad range of blogs, he would have encountered a vast range of opinion. Ultimately, news shows provide what people take the time to watch, and blogs provide what they're willing to look for. I agree that many, many blogs provide nothing but partisan b*llsh*ting—but that doesn't mean that they all do. Moving on:
"The medium of the blog itself contributes to the problem. Cyber-writing—especially the style used in many, but not all, blogs and AIM conversations—is not conducive to subtlety. How many times have you misinterpreted a joke online as an insult?"
He's got a point—until he acknowledges the fact that "cyber-writing" is not used on all blogs. In fact, it is used with extreme infrequency on political blogs.

Now, here comes my absolute favorite part. Remember, we've just decided that blogs fail because of their authors' inability to write with sublety. From this, he concludes:
"Bloggers thus feel the need to bludgeon us to death with their opinions. Rather than speaking to each other's contentions, they merely restate their points with more sarcasm, insulting anyone who may disagree."
Sorry, Ricky, but it's entirely possible to use sarcasm and still be precise, and even subtle. If some writers cannot express themselves, then the blog medium isn't conducive to their communication of opinion. That in no way removes from the fact that blogging can be useful in an overall debate. The only real difference is that traditional opinion writing has many restrictions on general participation, while almost everyone has access to the internet.

He goes on:
"It is true that debates over a cup of java, as opposed to those written in Java, may be prone to the same sort of degeneration; but in person one may be more inclined to nuance and less to malign. In a country as polarized as this one, blogs push us farther apart when they should be bringing us together. It is sad that we cannot have an honest political discussion without devolving into ad hominem attacks. Desperately in need of an interchange of ideas, we find only a barrage of insults."
Again, I think it's inaccurate to portray all blogging debate as malignant. Sure, debates over fundamental issues (like abortion, for example) will result in anger and hurt feelings on the internet, just like they will in person. Other, less ideological topics, however, result in reasonable discussion quite often. It's the topic, not the medium that matters.

Get ready for another great leap in logic:
"Traditional campus outlets for dialogue—the newspapers—also suffer at the hands of these digital diaries. We no longer respond to each other in the press. Why go through the trouble of having to submit a column that may be edited when you can write whatever comes to mind and post it online immediately? Editors, keep an eye on your jobs: You may soon be a dying breed."
We no longer contribute to college opinion pages? Really? Then why does the Herald still have plenty of submissions? Why did the YDN have three times as many people apply for regular columns than it has to offer? I, for example, never wrote an opinion column until after I started blogging. I've found them to compliment one another—I write a blog post, and decide to expand it into a column quite regularly, even if they are rarely published. Most of the best known bloggers are either regular columnists, or regular guest contributors to opinion pages. So, Ricky's basically just making things up.

And, finally:
"College campuses should be forums for the most candid political exchanges. If America is going to heal, we are going to be the ones to do it. However, bridges cannot be built from our dorm rooms. Yale's burgeoning political minds need to step out from behind the keyboard and talk to each other face to face, confronting the real issues rather than the irrelevant squabbles of the blogosphere. But while we're waiting, at least espn.com will be there to tide us over."
(Author's note: the espn comment is a reference to his introduction, where he proposes blogs as an alternative to the traditional college time-drains.) First off, I'm not part of that crowd that thinks coming together is a positive step—I think that honest disagreement leads to progress. More than that, Yalies have a traditional debate format available in the Yale Political Union, and have not historically bridged the gap in any other forum. The internet has opened up another path, not replaced coffee houses, or wherever else Ricky thinks we should be discussing politics.

So, there you have it: my fisking of young Ricky. I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to comment.

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