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news and thoughts on and around the development of the iCite net
by Jay Fienberg

Why blogging matters (more than blogs)

posted: Jul 14, 2003 3:59:48 PM

This is the conclusion to my two-part series on blogs, that started with Would a blog by any other name still smell like a blog by any other name? and actually ended up having a extra part in the middle called Not for busy-ness first software.

So, welcome to part three of my two-part series on the nature and importance of blogs and blogging.

I want to first try to head-off any debate over semantics by explaining that what I mean by this post is that the form of current blog software and the things that define a blog today will continue to evolve, synthesize with other formats online, and change—and therefore, the software and format of blogs don't matter much compared with the phenomenon of blogging, which I feel does matter and is important.

What I have suggested in my previous posts is that blogs are not, by nature, personal communication sites. Blogs can be made by machines and by corporations. Technically then, blogging is done by people, corporations and machines.

But the phenomenon of blogging, the one that I think really matters (more than blogs), is personal blogging. And, in particular, I think this matters because the world is filled with impersonal (b)logs about those same people—aka, all of us.

We have been being logged (and now blogged) by machines and by corporations and by governments for decades, if not centuries. And, in recent decades, we each have become more widely perceived through those impersonal logs than by any personal or human-scale interface.

From the day we are born, we are logged. And, what is logged about us is very rarely reflective of our sense of individuality. We are logged as social security numbers, race, gender, blood type and ethnicity. We are logged as incidents of childhood diseases, school test scores, as dependencies on tax forms.

Our daily sphere in the world is more and more tuned to these logs too. We walk into the shopping mall not as individuals, but as demographics. The stores are designed for middle-class men aged 18-34 or adolescent girls and young women aged 14-21.

In some sense, the majority of our contact with others humans is through these logs, or through interactions intermediated by these logs. Your favorite TV host is not talking to you, she is talking to suburban career women aged 35-45 who suffer discomfort associated with irregular bowel movements.

With the web, all of these logs are, one way or another, turning into blogs. They are being compiled by people and machines into journal-style reports with the latest info on you, and being avidly read by other people and machines who subscribe to aggregations of feeds about you. There are lots of websites about you, but you can't see them, because, even though they are about you, they aren't for you.

Even with email and many websites, which used to be fun and somewhat personal, a lot of what you get via email and websites is just the result of you being logged in an impersonal way. Spam is the ultimate subscription feed of impersonal blogs about you!

So, we have this opportunity now to be blogging ourselves—to blog both about ourselves and for ourselves, and to be open about it.

Given all the blogs about us already, it is hard to suggest that we have some kind of control over our individual needs for privacy. In some ways, in the sphere of the common world society, our personhood is owned and defined by others. While we can work to create laws to change or temper the invasion of privacy, we can also, personally, "open source" ourselves.

When we, as individuals, are blogging about and for ourselves, we are giving away for free what others are trying to own, control and sell about us. We are reclaiming our own dynamic imperfect vulnerable in-relationship-to-others individuality as central to the interface with us. We disintermediate the impersonal interfaces, and we undermine their value and relevance.

Personal blogging is like a kind of public exhibitionism. It undermines the valuation of spying / prying behind closed doors and even of holding information about you. How much value is there in a naked picture of someone you see naked in the flesh all the time, or who gives out naked pictures to everyone for free all the time?

The "personal voice" of blogging matters because the person of blogging matters. Your voice is one thing you have that is you—and sharing your voice and harmonizing and playing counterpoint off other voices in relationship is one thing we have together that is we.

Whatever forms blogs take, people, corporations, governments and machines will find ways to try to repackage them and strip out the human-scale intimacy of the individual in relationship to other individuals. What I think really matters in this context is each of us, as individuals, persisting and growing the sphere of within-voice-range relationships—blogging ourselves using whatever means we have to stay beyond the constraints of the impersonal and dehumanizing interfaces.

I really think that doing this matters. I think it is, at least in its potential, something on the level of having a world with some art rather than a world where everything is just a business.

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trackback from: the iCite net development blog
posted: Jul 15, 2003 10:52:22 PM
title: Joi on entity and identity, and Jay on profile too

I also am interested in exploring what I described as online exhibitionism. By this I mean, what happens if lots of people openly and constantly expose lots of their profiles in a totally public manner?

trackback from: the iCite net development blog
posted: Aug 5, 2003 6:16:48 PM
title: More or less than total information

I don't have a clear conclusion about these issues personally, though I think our own blogging and expressing ourselves publicly can be positive—as I wrote about in Why blogging matters (more than blogs).

trackback from: the iCite net development blog
posted: Jan 19, 2004 3:35:13 PM
title: Categorizing verbs (to blog) rather than nouns (blogs)

Ultimately, blogs aren't the phenomenon: blogging is.

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