Thursday, December 28, 2006

The blank slate, and what is wrong with it.

A_blank_slate_2Seeping into blog posts everywhere is reaction to George Will, with the latest attack on blogging by the "mainstream media".  (I already hate this post.  Mainstream media?  Which is what?  Calgon, take me away.  I shouldn't be allowed online between Christmas and New Year's.  Plus, I've only seen one reaction to it, and I'm only reacting for lack of anything better to gripe about.  Even worse, the more I type, the more Will would seem to be vindicated, each sentence another nail in my coffin, another bowtie on his headboard.  Nevertheless.)

There are, however, essentially no reins on the Web -- few means of control and direction. That is good, but it vitiates the idea that the Web's chaos of entertainment, solipsism and occasional intellectual seriousness and civic engagement is anything like a polity (a "digital democracy"). Time's bow to the amateurs who are, it strangely suggests, no longer obscure, and in the same game that Time is in, is refuted by a glance -- which is all an adult will want -- at YouTube's most popular videos.

Time's issue includes an unenthralled essay by NBC's Brian Williams, who believes that raptures over the Web's egalitarianism arise from the same impulse that causes today's youth soccer programs to award trophies -- "entire bedrooms full" -- to any child who shows up: "The danger just might be that we miss the next great book or the next great idea, or that we will fail to meet the next great challenge . . . because we are too busy celebrating ourselves and listening to the same tune we already know by heart."

The fact that Stengel included Williams's essay proves that Stengel's Time has what 99.9 percent of the Web's content lacks: seriousness.

OK, well, when you get into hyperbole like that last lazy statement, you're way off track.  Let's not nitpick over statistics that are unprovable, though - we could argue the "seriousness" of personal journals at length, but my debate club days are over. 

That Brian Williams quote, though, raises some interesting questions.  Given the fracturing of our culture's focus so many times over, there's little in the way of a common shared experience, except when it comes through the shared experience of focusing on ourselves - i.e., the personal blog.  Which isn't really a shared cultural experience, since the personal bloggers are writing about themselves.  I can see that, a bit.  Who is the trusted news source of today?  Does anyone think it's possible to have another Edward Murrow?  (Olbermann?)  And do we need him/her?  I think it's sort of a problem with picking out particular voices in a din of millions - so much information, so many sources, and so many people more interested in being entertained than anything else.  Over anything else.  And Williams' pondering of our inability to meet "the next great challenge" because we're too busy adding links to our blogs is made even more interesting by the idea that there's already plenty of challenges facing humanity, and America (right within our own borders) that apparently aren't "great" enough for Williams, or an active majority, to consider.  Our eyes aren't on the ball; they're on the football, the YouTube, the Dancing with the Stars.  Am I wrong?

Which certainly doesn't excuse Will's lazy defense of the old guard.  But he does touch on something with that Williams quote, I think. 

I also think I've nearly managed to get my panties unknotted, so more of the smiling book goodness will appear here next week, and I'll go back to ignoring Will.

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