Saturday, February 02, 2008
Hmmm, here is a long article about blogging by Sarah Boxer in the New York Review of Books. It's curious piece which is both right and wrong in roughly equal proportions. There are two (related) things Boxer is right about - what used to be called hypertext and the in media res style of most blogs. The hypertext point is crucial. Nowadays, when writing anything other than my blog, I find myself itching to insert a link. Links save me the labour of lining 'my phrases with the costly stuff of explanation' (Ashbery) or they allow me to add an, as it were, fifth dimension to the prose. There's something, technically speaking, poetic about links. Of course, the lure of links tend to make posts rather elliptical and this leads to Boxer's in media res point. Blogs usually assume you understand their language and context, so posts fling you into the action without pausing to explain. (My 'Hmmm' at the beginning of this post is a good example.) As Boxer puts it, 'Bloggers breeze through places, people, texts and blogs that you might or might not know without providing any helpful identification.' This is largely correct but it misses the point. It's not just blogs that do that. When I interviewed Steven Spielberg about Minority Report, I pointed out that he expected his audiences to take in a hell of a lot of information in the first five minutes. He said that's the way people were these days, they had been, so to speak, tuned to respond very rapidly to visual and auditory cues. This affects everything. TV ads, novels and films are now expected to dump you, without explanation, in media res. Shawn Ryan is the master of this - see what I mean in his superb cop show The Shield. The unexplained dialogue, location, action or set-up are now just the way we do things. Blogs didn't invent this, they simply adopted it. Beyond that, Boxer's generalisations about blogs are dull and the article descends into nothing more than mildly interesting observations. The mistake, I suppose, is her attempt to see blogs as a distinct phenomenon rather than one further manifestation of the world as it now is. Technology does not solve problems, it invents needs. Speed is the need invented by hyper-connectivity, the speed of the link and the unexplained. Blog are, before they are anything else, fast.
PS As Hsien points out in comments, the NYRB link was broken. The irony. It works now.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 7:54 am