Do you want to buy a chicken?

Monday, 22 March 2004 — 5:57am | Literature

If you follow this blog regularly, you may have noticed that one individual has received a lot of attention lately; that individual being Steve Smith, one of the University of Alberta’s highest-profile student politicians by virtue of the fact that he actually does stuff. On the other hand, if you follow this blog regularly, you are probably Steve Smith himself, and I invite you to point out the fallacy in my assertion that there is in any way a linear correlation between “lack of uselessness” and media coverage. Regardless, while I taking a much-needed weekend off from the Internet, the Students’ Union’s most influential advocate of Simon & Garfunkel took it upon himself to start his own weblog.

In his first entry – which, like every inaugural post, fumbles for a sense of direction and waits for Godot – he mentions this page, calling me “a brilliant writer, who posts beautifully crafted (though all together too infrequent) treatises on movies, language, student journalism and, of course, hack.” Why thank you, Steve. The parenthetical remark is duly noted and will be addressed to the best of my abilities.

That promise is one to regret on a somewhat immediate basis, due to a little thing called “academics”. I would typically use a sentence like this to go into detail with respect to what homework it is I am missing, but lo and behold – a barometer of irresponsibility has emerged for me without my even bothering to ask. Hot on Steve’s heels comes Video Games and Building Blocks, another weblog that sprung up over the weekend. This one belongs to Josh Bazin, who is enrolled in half my classes. Think of him as a proxy for expressing my Software Engineering woes.

But when one talks about online diarism as a medium for expressing woes – and let’s face it, the vast majority of blog material nowadays consists of exactly that – we are led to an interesting question. Why write blogs?

The easy way out is to cry “exhibitionism” and leave it at that, but in no way is it that simple. For one, the vast majority of blogs start with no audience, aside from a number of personal friends and possibly second-degree acquaintances. It is extraordinarily rare that someone will read the public diary of a complete stranger in whose life he or she has no vested interest. Not every journal is as politically relevant as Salam Pax, as comprehensive as The Volokh Conspiracy or as laden with technical expertise as Grant Hutchinson’s Splorp. Normal blogs – actual personal diaries about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens – are of very little appeal to a voyeur removed from the context. Often, they are read by those within two degrees of separation from the author; rarely are they ever intended to be more.

These diaries are, in a way, a natural evolution from e-mail as a medium of correspondence. As some people will have no doubt discovered, maintaining all the promises to “keep in touch” scribbled in the inside cover of your high school yearbook requires a tremendous amount of repetition. Why not write one letter to everybody? Because CC’s are first and foremost impersonal, and a static roster of recipients carries its own sack of problems. The average recipient of a mass e-mail regards it as spam and junks it immediately, if not through an automatic filter. Furthermore, there are inevitably hard feelings from interested parties excluded from the list. The solution is to leave the reception of this information at the discretion of the reader; hence, the rise of the blog.

Class dismissed.


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