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« The right wing's "illogical anger" : what's the real cause? | Main | Who's buried in Jesus' tomb? »

March 31, 2010


It does feel like the end of an era. I did read the Carnival in and out. And my own blogging has fallen back as well. Posting a link on FB with a brief comment at times gets more attention than a post. Not that I was looking for the attention, but it is easier to do that than to open your blogging software and write something. Plus, in my case, my work has severely cut on my blogging. I am sad to see some liberal bloggers giving up since there is still much to write about overall, but I can understand some of the reasons.

Best, and keep on blogging.

A couple responses here. First, it's more than incidental when Lincourt mentions that "over 70% of the submissions to each edition now are spam." I suspect he isn't saying simply that the decline of the number of submissions accounts for that figure, but that the increase in spam helps to highlight the problem. Nobody on the Web, nobody using new digital technologies, has been sufficiently critical of these technologies. So much of the success of the Web and its virtual public sphere has been a function of misguided hype and our willingness to swallow it. The level of peer pressure and groupthink that pervades these media astonishes me daily. We are all supposed to jump on board, to bolster the network effect of mutual linkages via Facebook, for instance, to make our online lives more convenient for each other. Yet the real inconveniences about which we willingly remain in denial eventually loom large. Computers, networks, and software are material objects, not evanescent clouds. They break, fail, and propagate errors. I think the complexity of the 'net and the incommensurate level of refinement of the tools we use across it account for some of the decline in blogging. We're recognizing that our mistaken expectations have not been met. (On the other hand, if blogs are now perceived as requiring a modicum of formality,! that regard our expectations have sorely declined.)

Secondly, and more to Ruchira's point, it isn't a substantial change in the political scene that has effected leftward apathy. At best, it's a symbolic one. Liberals ought to be very angry. We've been duped, again.


I think except for some very young and very naive optimists, not many people on the left really believe that the 2008 elections have brought about a liberal revolution. Most of us are operating on the mere consolation that "things will at least not go as horribly from bad to worse" both on the domestic and foreign policy fronts as they did in the eight preceding years. There is plenty of grumbling on the left regarding Obama's inclination toward accommodating the status quo. But there is also the recognition that he will make incremental changes wherever possible and actually has.

The left, like most other categories of human thoughts and ideas, spans a broad spectrum - from Chomsky to Krugman to "moderate" Democrats in the conservative states - it is a matter of scale and what one is being compared to. While many of us would like a Chomsky-Howard Zinn style honest and consistent liberal examination of the American way of life, we know that it won't sell in Peoria and no elected politician from America's heartland and beyond, is going to articulate those philosophies, let alone act on them.

Based on those pragmatic considerations, most of us, like Krugman, would settle for substantive insurance reform even when what we really wish to see is a decent public health care system. We want the US government to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan and stop wasting lives and resources. When that has not happened, we grudgingly express relief that we are at least not starting new wars and are dealing with our "enemies" now through diplomacy and not aggression. The reason why not many liberals are screaming from the roof tops at what they see as "not enough" being done from their elected leaders is that they are afraid that too much criticism will hand enough ammunition to the opposition and we will revert to a far worse alternative - a Bush-Cheney look alike administration. Meanwhile we will let Glenn Greenwald, Rachel Maddow, Krugman et al on the mild side and Chomsky on the purity end, be the voices of conscience.

As for the initial part of your comment, frankly, I don't understand your point. I don't know what you mean by "not sufficient" criticism of the new technologies. I think most users, bloggers as well as professionals, realize the limits and annoyances of the Internet. But the majority also thinks that the Internet has made communication far more simple and convenient. There is no doubt that without it, most of us, couldn't have made our opinions known in the public sphere. Whether those opinions are worth expressing or not, is another issue. We cannot blame the technology for the quality of the discourse.

No matter what pit falls and booby traps lie in the World Wide Web, how many of us, bloggers, businesses, academics, librarians, professionals and plain old users for leisure, would like to go back to the world without the Web? Writing letters in long hand that take days and weeks to reach the recipient, type a thesis or academic paper on a typewriter, wait in travel agent's office to buy plane tickets, lift heavy encyclopedias and dictionaries for minor information and references, subscribe to Consumer Reports to find out product information. Seriously, do we want to go back to those days? Unlike you, I believe that the web technology is a plus on balance.

Gotta do this quick. I have twice tried to post a comment, the first a hefty three paragraphs, and both times Typepad timed out. Respecting technology, I rest my case.

As for politics, I disagree that Obama is merely accommodating the status quo. He is ambitiously embracing it.

Liberal blogging on the wane? Maybe. Trash blogging heading toward a bull market? You bet.

Frankly speaking, Dean, I don't understand what you are getting so het up about. Here is the main question I asked.

Could the win of Democrats in 2008 be a cause for the lack of interest in political blogging by liberals?

I said it definitely is a factor. At least in my case, I find less enthusiasm in criticizing Obama than I did Bush-Cheney, even when I do not like many of the means, methods and ends of the administration. Politics is mostly a choice between the acceptable and the horrible, unless one has a bloody revolution in mind. And I don't.

This does not automatically assume that the Dems are pursuing a great liberal agenda that should satisfy everyone on their side. Far from it. It is more an attitude of "wait and see" and not give the out of control GOP ammunition to attack every minor change that is being attempted and which most of us think is better than nothing. Yes, it may indeed be a "symbolic" and even misguided loyalty. But it is a factor. You may demand that liberals shouldn't be duped by Obama. But that is another matter altogether from what is actually happening.

I have said nothing about technology because in my opinion, it is not a much of an impediment to blogging even when Typepad acts up. I doubt that Leo shut down the Carnival because there were 70% spam submissions. I am sure if the other 30% were really sparkling examples of meaningful liberal ideas worth propagating, he would have been willing to plow through the debris to get to them. So, I don't understand why you want me to bring up the short comings of 'net technology having an effect on blogger burn out.

However cloying, intrusive and annoying the social sites may be, they have definitely distracted many bloggers for reasons that we cannot fully point to. Greater comfort at a site that is not "owned" by another person may be a factor.

In any case, I don't see that I have said anything so controversial here (I haven't even praised Obama) that should make you so hostile to the mere observation that blogging on the liberal side is somewhat down. What has that got anything to do with gossip sites or any other burgeoning sleazy web phenomenon? Just because you bring up a provocative point, doesn't make it relevant to the actual topic at hand.

The win of the Democrats and the constant drumbeat of the media about how ineffectual they are in Congress and in the administration notwithstanding, the lack on interest in political blogging by liberals to me seems a case of no more dead horses to flog.
While B-C and the Republicans were in the driver's seat, liberal blogs had something to be hugely indignant about, with a large core of dissatisfied readers and an increasing 'faint' corona of centrists and independents.
After 2008, I suspect the outer fringes have either vanished away into happy complacency or been drawn away to other 'more interesting' and entertaining babbling on the conserva-blogs, which have been granted a new lease on life. Can the liberal blogs be guaranteed the readership that they have come to take for granted over the election cycle? No. It's human nature to wish for spectacle, so they drift away to the ones that have a spectacle over the ones that have lapsed into contented lotus-eating. So the remaining 'ultra-left' blogs try to rev up some drama by screaming about the Obama administration's choices as not being left or pure enough.
Fair criticism, but Obama, being a politician as well as a fairly decent human, has to triangulate his way through a still largely right-of-center country and a very right-of-center media. We may hope for some actions from him, Something gets done, as with the Health care (insurance?) example. It may not be perfect, but in the long term, at least a principle of health care for all as a right rather than privilege has been enshrined. Even attempts at repeal will not succeed, as the Republicans are likely going to find out to their detriment in November.
With the oil drilling that's now going to be 'expanded', it becomes very evident that the centrist in Obama wins over the leftist, despite the screaming of the right to the contrary. I'm not sure how much environmentalists dislike the proposal because it will genuinely destroy habitats, or whether it takes away some edge of their argument when the administration states it will take environmental issues into consideration when permitting drilling in new areas. Or the oil companies like it because it expands the areas they could exploit, or dislike it because they can no longer say they have to import and keep prices high.

Sujatha demonstrates why my reference to gossip sites is at least mildly relevant. They are instances of the spectacle that distracts readers and contributors who experienced a catharsis after 2008. This was pretty much my point.

I agree that there is nothing controversial about your post, and that the phenomenon of shifting blogging demographics is interesting and worth pondering. Nor am I particularly hot and bothered by it. But I truly believe that we too often overlook the material technical aspects of the phenomenon, including the rising tide of spam. It hinders thought and quells enthusiasm.

Fascination with sleaze and titillation, is a human phenomenon. Technology has not created this proclivity. It has only made access and availability easy. It is up to consumers to do what they want with the material available on the web. It is naive to pretend that we were all deep thinkers before the Internet made us light headed. People have been creating pornography, sensational news, gossip and slander since time immemorial. What used to be transmitted through the village grapevine, court intrigue, surreptitious leaf letting, tabloids, dimestore publications, yellow journalism and gossip magazines, has now proliferated on the web. So what? Are we going to condemn the entire mostly useful technology for that?

You may indeed not be hot and bothered by my observation which is not of any earthshaking proportions any way. But you certainly came across as angry and irritated that I was not addressing what you see as a causal factor (and I don't), by bringing up completely unrelated issues about Web technology. The slack in liberal blogging has very little to do with internet hiccups or spam. Ask any blogger.

I was not relating the two themes, sleaze and technology. I was only pointing out, respecting the first, that a force contributing to a decline in robust political discourse is the longstanding propensity for distraction. You remarked on another force, a tenuous satisfaction with the results of the 2008 election.

I am irritated by our blind acceptance of technology, no question, but not per se with your disinclination to address the issue. In fact, you do address it with Lincourt's hypothesis. If it's easier to post a link to Facebook than to craft a blog post, that is due in part to interaction with the technology. Otherwise, you'd consider posting the link to AB. "Better and faster," claims Lincourt.

I typed a comment and lost it, but the gist of it was: One thing I think is that a lot of liberal blogging came from anger, or righteous indignation or irritation or whatever you want to call it. It's not in the human condition to maintain that permanently. (E.g., people who suffer accidents and become handicapped -- their long-term happiness levels off to what it was before.) Even 8 years of GWB was exhausting and difficult to keep blogging through.

This isn't to dispute that social network sites and other media factor in, or that we also have short attention spans, or that it's harder to complain when you basically got your guy winning the presidency. And for me, no longer being a student may be a factor.

That's right Joe, it is something as simple as that. Glitches in internet technology have little to do with blogger exhaustion.

I don't know why comments are being lost. I have seen the same complaint at some other Typepad blogs recently. I have taken to copying my comments after I write them before hitting "post." That way if I lose them, rather than compose again, I paste the copy in a fresh box.

Is conservative blogging on the rise for that matter? It should be if this is about the political cycle, but I don't see it.

I think TV news just figured out how to close the rage gap with the web, and its intrinsic advantages as a sputter medium are considerable. It's not my sense the teabaggers are big on blogging, for example, and they're certainly plenty angry. Glenn Beck is the drug of choice...makes sense to me.

Prasad, I asked the same question in my post. And my speculation about the right is along the same line as yours.

Ah, right you are. Serves me right for reading "holistically", as they say :)

Also, Dean, re: If it's easier to post a link to Facebook than to craft a blog post, that is due in part to interaction with the technology. Otherwise, you'd consider posting the link to AB. "Better and faster," claims Lincourt.

No, that has little to do with "interaction with technology." It is just as easy to post on Typepad as it is on Facebook, as far as technology is concerned. The reason many bloggers, including myself, find it easier to communicate on FB is because most of us designed our blogs as a place where our commentary is expected to take some considered thought and expanded ideas, not just a repository of links from other sources. FB on the other hand does well on that front - the "soundbite" version of blogs. That is why with enthusiasm for lengthy conversations flagging, we find it "easier" to post on FB. A.B. and other blogs, as has become our habit, deserve a little more mental labor for posting. The difference again is in blogger attitude, not because one technology is more daunting than the other.

This is a topic for its own post down the road, perhaps informed by the swell of hype over the iPad. Although I initially expressed dissatisfaction with a generally uncritical level of acceptance of technology, I really didn't think my observation would seem so far-fetched.

We want to take technology for granted, and not to have to peak under the hood too often. But we're also attracted to technology qua technology, hence much of the speculative hoopla about the iPad along the lines of "I can't wait to get mine, and I wonder what I'll use it for." (Some of this, of course, is prompted by blind devotion to Apple.) There's a tension here between the desire for seamlessness and transparency on the one hand, and a curiosity about what makes it tick on the other. I don't see how designing and maintaining one's blog to do such-and-such entails no more than a little interaction with the technology. Moreover, I'm betting that after more than a decade of test-driving blogs, folks are tiring of the technological limitations, regardless of their political enthusiasms. Those technological limitations include not just the expected learning curve and tweaking to make a blog service suit one's purpose, but also the outright defects of those services and one's own machine. If those defects and limitations were mitigated, the aggregate incremental relief to mental labor would add up, and bloggers would continue to engage in extended discussions. There is no lack of subject matter.

There is no lack of subject matter.

Indeed. And many types of blogs, including science blogs, are thriving. My post was only about "liberal" political blogging which seems to have taken a hit. A narrow subject, not to be conflated with any widespread trend.

What you say about the distractions and limitations technology is not new. We have heard the same grumblings about telephones (you have no experience of the Indian telephone system of about a decade ago), TV, cars, airplanes and many other daily technological conveniences. Most of us go about life using them when we can for what we can without necessarily believing that Bill Gates or Steve Jobs are anti-Christ (or the Messiah) or stopping to mount a Ted Kosinski style complaint about technology diminishing our humanity. And just because we don't, doesn't automatically mean that we are uncritical worshipers paying sheep like homage at the altar of technology.

You can keep on maintaining that liberals have stopped blogging because they found the technology unsatisfactory. It is difficult to let go of a point on which you have built your thesis even when as a blogger, I have repeatedly told you why my own political posts have suffered in frequency. That you don't want to believe it, means that you know more about my lack of motivation than I myself do.

Perhaps you are the one who is taking a very narrow view of how most people live their lives. It is the like the god question. Very few of us are losing our sleep over the either god or the evils of technology.

Very few of us are losing our sleep over the either god or the evils of technology.

Precisely my point, with one adjustment. I wouldn't frame it in such extreme terms. We have a propensity to characterize technology in terms of either revolution or apocalypse. This is how gadgets are peddled, for instance. I don't.

We can study why liberal blogs are flagging these days. (There are thriving liberal blogs out there, too, of course.) We can ask your counterparts to explain their declining blog activity. Some will share your experience, others might lean more toward the social media distraction thesis (it's not that they've grown weary of the political scene, but that they feel more engaged using the newer technologies), and some might say they're just bored with the medium. I can't believe that one factor contributing to any of these testimonies--not the exclusive factor as you seem to perceive my position to be, but one of them--isn't the burden imposed by exaggeratedly lauded tools that in fact don't perform as we're led to expect them to do.

(There are thriving liberal blogs out there, too, of course.)

Did I say that there are not? Sujatha mentions that ultra-left bloggers are actually posting a lot and are doing well. My entire point was that many of the smaller (and some bigger) liberal bloggers have slowed down. Brian Leiter who blogged a lot on politics between 2004 - 2008, mentioned the departure of Bush-Cheney as one of his main reasons for moving away from politics on his blog and concentrate for the most part on academic philosophy.

Some will share your experience, others might lean more toward the social media distraction thesis (it's not that they've grown weary of the political scene, but that they feel more engaged using the newer technologies), and some might say they're just bored with the medium.

In fact, both Leo and I have unambiguously cited those reasons. In my own case, it is all the above. I just happen to believe that the non-versatility of Web posting tools is the least of the contributing causes.

On the whole it seems that every argument that you have picked as a hole in the case I made, seems to have already been made by me and other bloggers. But you keep coming back as if we never said that and are missing the bigger picture. It is not very helpful if the purpose of a discourse is to just prove someone else wrong on "all" fronts when they are actually disagreeing with you on only one.

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