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A Blog Post Suspicious of Blog Posts (Matthew Shedd)

October 17, 2009

I read an article in The Huffington Post in which Bill McKibben urges us (yes, us: the bloggers!) to keep up the good work. Despite more and more disturbing reports from the science world about our precarious state, McKibben is optimistic because of the global impact that blogging has had on awareness and participation in the ecological crisis. There is a level of involvement that he believes would have been unthinkable two years ago. With continued online organization, he believes that we can give our representatives the nudge necessary to get meaningful reform in Copenhagen.

I thought this article provides interesting opportunity for us to think about the role of the internet in helping us in our current ecological state. McKibben’s point is well made. Undoubtedly, blogs have informed many people about human negligence regarding the environment and spurred on activism in very important ways. However, I cannot help but feel slightly uneasy when I hear unqualified praise for technological advances like blogging and the use of the internet. Although I agree with McKibben that blogs have indeed been helpful in organizing political action, I believe that there needs to be careful consideration of the deficiencies of blogging and the internet in information dispersal and how they are symptomatic of the way of thinking that have caused our current crisis. My concerns about blogging may seem obvious enough, and for this reason, I will try to be as brief as possible. We all know, in many cases, that blog posts are less thoughtful and not edited as carefully as a magazine or newspaper article would be. There are also not the same standards of factual accountability as there are in the classic standards of print news media. Also, for all the blogs that have provided responsible and reflective writings on the environment, I am certain that there are many who have caused damage and speciously misrepresented information.

More substantively, I believe that receiving information from the internet has lead us further away from slow and careful thinking and decision making as well as other qualities necessary for reconciling human beings with the environment. If we are going to negotiate our way around further species extinction (of animals and of humans), we will need the capacity for careful thinking that blogs and the internet do not usually encourage. Also, by heightening our dependence on instant information and entertainment, I think that the internet has further helped to create a very impatient modern culture. If we are to find a way to live with earth again, I believe it will require us to break with our obsession with “newness” the internet has further helped to create. This obsession is detrimental because it is so often dependent on mechanical reproduction and energy expensive activities. In light of the immeasurable harm caused by air travel, land travel, a globalized economy, and all other symptoms of our cult of newness, we need a rebirth in our appreciation for the ordinary, the local, which the internet always seems to be combating.

All this being said, I am not completely against blogging and the use of the internet for information dispersal and activist purposes. Given our current state, I think the internet is necessary in order to make things happen, so to speak. I agree with McKibben that it has been helpful beyond measure in organizational capacities. However, it is not recognizing the internet’s coexistent dangers that calls for concern. I think it is also important to remember the dangers of blogging and internet use that are potentially incompatible with lasting reform in order to rethink our relationship to them.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. jnoyce permalink
    October 18, 2009 5:36 pm

    So you and I seem to be equally distrustful of certain modern technologies. This is my first time ever blogging! I think you’re right that the internet may be less able to inspire and facilitate the kind of lasting changes that you are advocating in your post. For me, the removal of the human dimension–seeing someone’s face, utilizing the patience it takes to have a meaningful conversation with two or more participants, the emotional charge that comes with speaking with someone else–is what we lose when we rely on technologies for our communication. But!…this blogging thing is really productive; I’ve learned a lot from my cohort already. It occurs to me, too…is my slightly self-righteous stance that communication should be about PEOPLE slightly off? Is the cause of environmental preservation, let’s say, better achieved WITH the internet than without it? Or does the kind of careful thinking that you’re advocating occur strictly in “human-to-human” grassroots situations?

  2. kmckimps permalink
    October 18, 2009 7:29 pm

    On the other hand, I feel we also need to consider the rampant emotional landscape along with the mediated world. While blogging concersn are very well-founded, emotions play a large part in both our decision-making and our comfort level/approval of every issue, so I see blogging as, while not the only way, an effecive treatment. Along with a search engine like google, personal blogs are an effective way to gather information on prevailing tenors and spark our own ideas in reacting to prevailing issues.

    As I said earlier, however, I agree with your concerns, so it is of utmost importance that we educate others to see the difference between mediated and rampant discussion.

  3. October 19, 2009 7:03 pm

    This (highly fruitful) conversation recalls a recent question that critic Sianne Ngai raised on the new Humanities blog Arcade (http://arcade.stanford.edu/huddling-together-nervously-loquacious).

    Ngai asks whether blogging and kindred forms are our latest form of nervous chatter, a kind of discourse rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke saw as foundational to the modern age. The suspicion that blogs (and other mediated, collaborative, social networks) tend toward the frenetic, anxious, and sometimes ill-informed perhaps dovetails with this question.

    We might then ask ourselves not only what makes a blog–environmental or otherwise–a text that endures and that informs and that perhaps shapes change, but also whether online chatter itself is inherently “bad” or inherently different from earlier, kindred forms of writing and speaking?

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