wit & riposte: blogworld, the EFF, and the Chicago School

[A train of thought]

In the blogworld, the emphasis is on wit, speed, and clarity. There are poetic blogs, and blogs that are primarily links and fragments, in which the form of the hyperlink assigns the content, in a displacement that promises more than what is said, a transportation (metaphor) that immediately cites its source, proof or evidence of existence in the digital web. But primarily the blogger is a witty writer, and travels with the baggage of immediacy: of writing as succinctly and clearly as possible in the hopes of a link or comment.

Through one link, the blogworld bears some relation to an aristocratic dinner party featuring Oscar Wilde: there is an importance to being earnest in all its entendre. Follow another link, and the blogworld sacrifices delay, pause, detour, and perhaps thought for the explosion of delight found in the pursuit of satisfaction that follows the immediacy of reply. Or the fantasy of such. Or, delay is already in the aristocrat's wit--her citations to the unknowns of those abused. Perhaps "garbage" as citation. There is an "ecstasy of communication" that is also the groan of "information overload."

The index of popularity carves a niche between wit and overload. Wit is contextually delimited through espousing certain common denominator values of the networked, or virtual, class (np. Arthur Kroker). These values include "social software," "wireless/digital commons," "mobile technologies," "intelligent/clean design," "fashion," "trends in design and advertising," "the digital city," and so on. The politics of this sphere, while in the US predominantly Democrat if not independent, are often liberal in practice while cloaked in Deleuze and Guattarian clothing. This often amounts to seeking a "middle way"--perhaps a "Third Way"--that embraces a desire for change while not wishing to give up the pleasures, comfort and design of what technology has to offer. The representation of such politics is often presented as far more radical than its effects (here we detour from the frequently analyzed libertarian "ideologies," such as the "California ideology" and so on, that "built" the web, to consider a different, 21C and post-dotcom current). On the other hand, politics are often resolutely recognized, to the point of dogma, as a fully manipulated operation of propaganda; thus politics are both accepted yet subject to scorn in the same (breath?) link.

Blogs tend to not express or reflect on political action, taken or organised by the blogger; rather, the act of writing the blog is considered to be political and active in itself. Blogs are not reports (worth debating here is the hype of Dean's bloggers and yet their effective--by all quantifiable standards of political success--failure). This is not a new position--it is the turf of the political writer (Voltaire, Rousseau, etc.). Yet, what has changed, since the publication of political pamphlets and treatises, and on the one channel, is the speed of the writing. Or, if not the actual speed of the writing process, or its output, which has always been prolific for fast writers, or even its publication, which since the printing press has afforded quick distribution, then at least the speed at which one desires a response. A return link or comment. Get back to me--prove to me that you care. And the speed at which one must be succinct, and get to the point. The less you say, the more comments inscribed. Or, the more you say--with wit. On the other channel, what hasn't changed is exactly this dilemma: of writing and its effects and affects and the inscriptions of desire. Writing, according to Jacques Derrida, is always toward death, in the absence of the receiver. And with the blog, we pine faster than ever for the distant receiver to respond; a response that is never fulfilling enough, and often, full of hate. Loathing from beyond the grave. Can it be said that the globalized distribution of a blog has more, or less, effects than the slower, and smaller print distribution of a text in a delimited geographical area? Can a difference in affect be demarcated?

For these question to be posed, the measure of difference presumes the marker of being-read. Hence the desire for the link, the comment; it proves response, it validates the blogger. Blogworld authenticity. Paper, without return link or comment, nonetheless encourages reading, not through its essence, but through the social construction of its material affect, and its "history" (of effects), as in the writing of its own history as affective and thus, effective. The measure of difference as measured by reader response, by audience response, is in the field of communication theory an approach of mass communications known as The Chicago School. The theories of the Chicago School led to commercially developed communications study utilised for advertising, government, news media and design enterprises. Propaganda. A halt, then, a pause, in considering the linking of the Chicago School's interest in theorising audiences as masses and a certain aspect of the blogworld's interest in the same schemas of thought, in the same desire for response, for immediate return, without delay, for "rational-critical debate." Alinta Thornton:

"Basing their view on Herbert Spencer's organic conception of society, they posited the idea that communication and transportation were like the nerves and arteries of society.[...] They viewed communication as more than information circulation and they developed a concept of communication as the process in which people create a culture and maintain it. Significantly, the idea of the public sphere as a concept which allows rational-critical debate and action was a central notion in their thought."


"The Chicago school theorists saw communications as a new frontier. They saw particular significance in the way that frontier people who were previously strangers created community life afresh in the new towns of the West."

Thornton links the frontier (and all it implies) to Howard Rheingold, John Perry Barlow and the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation). At stake is an analysis of the colonial and neo-colonial as it passes from the violence of property appropriation, conquest and genocidal warfare to the staking of claims that the digital is territory, and thus, available as a frontier for a round of virtual violence:

"It is clear that Rheingold's work and that of many other Internet enthusiasts is informed both by the Chicago school, libertarianism and by romantic notions of the American Wild West. This has significance for the development of the Internet, as these notions have great resonance for many Americans."

And the reclaiming of "significance" for "Americans" (Why not for the world? For the Internet in all its modes and peoples and identities, masks?) inscribes the "resonance" of the "notions" in a delimited area: "America" (always the frontier). A single territory is mapped to the Net. This territory is also a set of codes that inscribe writing in a certain fashion--in the desire for immediate response, without delay, in the manner of analysis of mass communications; and the desire for the frontier, the unexplored, in the manner of (neo)colonialism. For Thornton, the two share something, mutual properties. In fact, are these not the reinscriptions of "notions" of "property," in the digital? Is not the issue the desire for staking a claim, a blog, as property, to which the visitor, as trespasser or guest, must respond? And not only in the digital, but through a writing and a desire mediated through an elaborate web of technics--writing to Net. To elaborate (with all cautions, scare quotes): "conquest," "nation-state," "citizenship," of "nationalism" in general, of the "frontier" and the "colony," the "undiscovered country," the "wild" and the "tame," the "clash of civilizations." A possible translation, through a delay, for the list above. These notions inscribed in the writing of the blogworld, upon the structures of the Internet, the multiple ways in which the blogworld constructs its values, links, history, popularity, effects--affects.

See The Book Quiz and these results.

posted. Mon - March 8, 2004 @ 12:46 PM           |