“Exploring that brave new world, the blogosphere.” –January 15, 2003

I wonder about the adjectives that are used to describe reading: light reading, summer reading, required reading, beach reading. I think the venerable Norman Mailer had it right when he was asked about his summer reading list. "I read all year around," he growled. Because I spend a fair amount of time in front of a computer monitor and there being no water cooler handy and my dog frequently ignoring my inept attempts at conversation ("Hey Rosie! How’s it going, good girl?") I find myself exploring that brave new world, the blogosphere. I know that I am reading. But I am not sure what kind of reading it is…

Variously referred to as a media bath or informational shit stream, modern life presents us with the high-quality problem of an over abundance of information. This may be viewed as an understatement considering the strained and exasperated exclamations one hears from people when they discuss the seemingly limitless Internet and even cable TV. I have already resigned myself to never being able to read all the books I would like to read (or seeing all of this planet that I would like to visit), though I still have great expectations. Thus, I have found reining in my appetites a useful way of making my way in the world. Magazines have always been a source of enjoyment, but sadly there has been an editorial decline in consumer publications (emphasis on ‘consumer’) that have become shopping and eating publications and thus they have, for the most part, been rendered useless to me. Although it’s not as if I am exactly sitting with time on my hands, a well-honed procrastinational talent has me dipping into the rushing info-stream.

"Blog," that inelegant (actually, downright ugly and off-putting) word for web log, and "blogging," the equally abrasive verb for the activity of journalizing on the web, are rapidly creeping into mainstream awareness. Sure evidence of this is stories appearing in the daily newspapers. Last spring Boston Globe gadfly Alex Beam focused his considerable wit on the rising tide of weblogs and recently Globe media columnist Marl Jurkowitz reported (December 26,2002) that the Trent Lott contretemps has done for weblogs what the Gulf War had done for cable TV:

In the New York Post, John Podhoretz wrote a column lauding the role of the ''blogosphere'' in the drama, noting that ''there's nothing more exciting than watching a new medium mature before your eyes.''

''Thank God for the Internet,'' echoed syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington, congratulating bloggers for being ''truly free of the dependence on access, and the need to play nice with the powers that be.'' …Whatever the bloggers' impact in the Lott case, the episode did serve to turn the spotlight on a hybrid form of journalism /commentary / conversation that is exploding onto the media landscape. According to an online Wired News story, there are now almost a million registered users of a popular blogger software, a jump of more than 50 percent from the previous year.

Now the burgeoning blogosphere, a subset of the Internet, which as with all new things, carries with its own baggage of the shock of the new, also presents users with quantitative burdens which end up with--for some interim period--the ascendancy of a new set of arbiters and blogocrats. This cyberian Oklahoma already suffers some infantile afflictions by way of its frenzied growth, without the additional malady of a choir of humorless critics. On the other hand, George Ouzounian, a twenty-four-year-old University of Utah mathematics student who created The Best Page in the Universe has been on the web since 1997 and is perfectly direct (and funny) in his appraisal of the current state of affairs:

Bloggers are ruining the internet. What are "bloggers"? They're fat--usually gothic--losers who keep web logs instead of hanging out with friends because they wet the bed and don't have any. A web log is a type of online diary where people who aren't important can pretend to be by writing to an imaginary audience. Girls are notorious for keeping these. On a typical site, you'll find a 17 year old girl with hundreds of webcam pictures of herself pasted everywhere, an Amazon wish list so they can exploit wankers that visit their site, and about 2 gigs worth of text documenting every time they took a shit, had an epiphany about taking a shit or ate something (all written in extremely stylish, yet IMPOSSIBLE TO READ micro-font).

Here is an actual quote from a web log I happened across in my referral logs today: "I took the best nap today.. so so great. And I ate a sandwich, but it wasn’t that great, and it kinda made me sick... but it's better than nothing."

So the question is: does anybody in the universe care about Ms. X who had "the best nap today" or that she ate a mediocre sandwich? I don't, which is why I promptly uninstalled my browser and punched some guy sitting next to me. The page goes on and on about how she's bored, tired, depressed, lonely, hungry, frustrated, etc, etc, etc. I can't remember the last time I wanted somebody's fingers to break so badly.

Of course, this is not the blogosphere that newspaper media critics are talking about. Nope. They are referring to professional scolds like Andrew Sullivan and a host of well-credentialed professionals that have found the ultimate freedom (for writers, that’s a life without editors) of unmediated access and an unbridled opportunity to paint the world as they see it. There is a tempting digression here but I may take it up later in my memoir in progress, An Ace That Beats a Full House.

In my early days of Internet use I remember seeing the Web as the last refuge of scoundrels and the fountainhead of commercial world run amok:

Hi there! I got your email from Monica and I just wanted to tell you strait up, I really like 2 FUCK! She told me u're into fuckin' too. Lets hookup for a juicy weekend (maybe even this weekend) and cum together! I can't wait to fuck like rabbits, Monica

You can get emails like this one, and even more hardcore emails from each of the 100,000 active married women at SexAffair.org! They can either email you directly with their desires, or recommend you to their girlfriends in their exclusive Sex Forums! Since there are way more women then there are men in the site, you are guaranteed to get laid at SexAffair! So cum and fuck a horny housewife right now, they're all really thirsty for sex!

Tempting huh? Not only is it easy to see why many people seem to have an edge in their voices when talking about Internet matters and why their tone of voice when saying ‘dot com” is one previously reserved for words like “Jews” or “gays,” there is the additional matter of wondering who actually responds to this sludge. I assume that the spam keeps going out because someone is making money. Of course, it could be people touting anti spam software…nah.

The blogosphere is, of course, the content realm of the web and as such represents all manner of life forms, points of view, commercial interests and nervous systems. The site names, that are as wide-ranging and unorthodox as pop music bands, are a tip off to that, uh, diversity. And naturally, the price that is paid for the ease of access is that Net brings forth earmarks of towers of babble. Here’s young George again, from The Best Page in the Universe:

I'm keeping my web site shitty as a protest against all the slick-looking, content-less web sites out there. Nobody cares about your stupid rotating icons and fading links. Some webmasters have spent years tweaking their layout and designing their site, and very few get any traffic. This site, as shitty as it looks, gets over 1 million hits per month. I use large fonts also as a protest against all the stylish garbage you see out there. When I go to a web site, I WANT TO READ THE CONTENT. Trust me, that micro-font everyone uses isn't nearly as original as they think. I've chosen a black background for most of my text because it's easier on the eyes than staring at a white screen. Think about it: your monitor is not a piece of paper, no matter how hard you try to make it one. Staring at a white background while you read is like staring at a light bulb (don't believe me? Try turning off the lights next time you use a word processor). Would you stare at a light bulb for hours at a time? Not if you want to keep your vision.

Currently, I am, with some regularity, book-marking a few sites. This is hardly a signal of restraint on my part as nearly every website and blog has endless hyper-textual references (links) that can send one spinning further and further out into a dazzling and dizzying universe of discourses:

Arts & Letters Daily is an essential reference tool. A smart review of new articles, essays, reviews and blogs, its wide range is dangerously seductive.

Blog of a Book Slut. Booklovers and readers gathering and gleaning all matters of information about the literary world.

2 Blowhards. A true web log. Two brainy people correspond with each other and seemingly induce other brainy folk to chime in. As close to a literary dinner party as I have found on the web sans libations and other hors d oeuvres. Not that I have been looking.

Good Report. Alex Good lives in Canada. Many people know where that is and may even know that Canada is the home of Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje and Yann Martel, among others. Alex reports on Canadian literary goings on. Go Alex!

Everyone Who's Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing Gerard Jones has been trying to get his two novels published for thirty years. In the course of that noble pursuit he has assembled this invaluable guide to the pub biz. He has annotated with his own correspondence with various pub big shots. Hilarious. Let me say that again. Hilarious. And sobering, if you are a writer in waiting.

Ludwig Wittgenstein Online
My undergraduate life as a philosophy major still haunts me especially because of my exposure to this profoundly enigmatic personality and arrestingly original thinker and polymath.

MobyLives. Dennis Johnson also covers the literary waterfront. His own commentary and columns are quite funny and well-targeted. Watch out though, he seems to have a real hard on for Jonathan Franzen.

The Best Page in the Universe George is funny, original, thoughtful and is a great argument for even the best of us needing an editor.

By the way, this (a reader’s progress) is not a weblog...


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