Sunday, January 20, 2008

I am wondering about the real importance of blogging to democracy.

Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture agrees with many other advocates of the blog. He argues that blogs allow for asynchronous public discourse. That is, discourse in which people talk about public issues, but they don't all have to be in the same place at the same time. For decades, local democratic traditions of town halls and the like have been atrophying. Lessig and others believe that blogs create a kind of virtual town hall. They also argue that blogs take control of public discourse out of the hands of the corporations that own the news media.

On the other hand, other internet experts have pointed out, correctly, I think, that the internet tends to make people focus on their own increasingly small areas of interest and expertise. I could read blogs all day and only ever read ones that I agree with.

So are blogs a tool of democracy or of narcissism? I guess it depends on how a blogger uses them. But are there rules or cultural norms that bloggers should be expected to follow to make blogs a more effective space for public debate?


Dinosaur Mom said...

This question presupposes that the point of blogs is to be a space for public debate. I think blogs are just like any other written product, with the same range of purposes and situational ethics and impacts on social discourse and systems.

The problem I have with blogs in the public discourse is the extent to which people can be lulled into believing that participating in exchanges of opinion on blogs can have the same impact as actual physical participation in political life. At their worst, they're like talk radio.

The Speeker said...

Dinosaur Mom,
I think we can agree that blogs have a potential to isolate people. So do we also agree that there is room for particular norms or architectures that could respond to that potential?

For example, perhaps bloggers should encourage each other to reach out to other bloggers who share very different opinions.

I'm afraid I don't quite see what you mean about presupposing the point of blogs. Could you elaborate?

Dinosaur Mom said...

My blog is place for self-gratification, for example. My contributions to "public discourse" are directly related back to my main topic (ME!). The only debate I encourage is on topics like whether I should direct address a colleague's comb-over or leave it alone.

I am being frivolous. The truth is that lots of people do seem to be using the blog as a outreach tool along the lines you're talking about. That's the point of something like RedBlueChristian. I'm trying to get some of that started on dialogue about sex ed at Stork! Stork!, only I haven't exactly reached critical mass with the blog traffic.

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