Monday, December 05, 2005
This review of Tim Worstall's Blogged appeared in the Observer, yesterday. It gives me a namecheck! Hooray! Etc!
Sunday December 4, 2005
2005 - Blogged: Dispatches from the Blogosphere
edited by Tim Worstall
The Friday Project £8.99, pp224
On paper it is a terrible idea: let every have-a-go writer on the planet publish whatever they fancy and give it all away free. No editors, no agents, no fees, no quality control.
But a new generation of diarists, satirists, polemicists and poets have made the idea work precisely because they dispensed with paper. They are bloggers, their medium is the internet and there are around 19 million of them worldwide; 300,000 or so in the UK.
If you do not regularly read blogs it is probably for one of three reasons. First, you do not have access to the internet. Second, you do not personally know anyone who keeps a blog so you have not experienced the voyeuristic pleasure that is the medium's best recruiting sergeant. Third, you have taken a curious look at a few blogs and found them to be facile and illiterate.
In service to the unequipped, the uninitiated and the sceptical there is now 2005: Blogged, a paperback anthology of new British writing online. Tim Worstall, the collection's editor, has sifted vast swaths of web and picked out the gobbets that best capture the spirit of the UK blogosphere. Yes, that is a horrible geek neologism. But the internet has a persistent habit of creating concepts too quickly for language to keep up. Those who seek immersion in the new technology have to arm themselves quickly with a parallel vocabulary. Those who do not then find themselves doubly excluded.
The blog extracts compiled by Worstall are pleasingly free from arcana. They are documentary snapshots from the year that saw, among other things, hunting banned, Prince Charles married, London bombed and Tony Blair's nose bloodied in an election. Of course, these events were also covered by the nation's newspapers and TV stations. But professional journalists are bound by protocol. They are expected, for example, at least to try not to season every word with the sauce of personal experience. Whereas for bloggers that is the point.
'A friend of mine visits a strip pub once a week,' blogged Sean Thomas, in the Toffeewomble, on 8 July, the day after the London bombings. 'Despite the bombs he went along this afternoon as usual and was the only guy with four strippers. But he told me he had to go "otherwise the terrorists would have won".' Short and darkly witty. Not many newspaper columnists managed that in their accounts of Londoners' reaction to an al-Qaeda intervention in their daily routine.
But on that July day, and every other day in 2005, there were millions of blog entries. Most were not so pithy. Most were overlong. Plenty were plain gaga. The internet may have made paper obsolete, but it has not banished the need for an editorial hand to corral what is worth reading into one place for the convenience of time-pressed readers. It is just such a service, the monthly Britblog round-up on Tim Worstall's site, that evolved into 2005: Blogged.
Worstall is an expat businessman based in Portugal. He is also a prolific blogger with a libertarian bent who is on a self-appointed mission to eviscerate every newspaper article that he judges guilty of economic illiteracy. He is not, however, exclusively hostile to old media, nor immune to the charms of ink on paper. He must be at least ambivalent about olde worlde recognition or he would not have published anything so Luddite as a book. But therein lies a contradiction in much political blogging: it rather depends on the very thing it likes ostentatiously to scorn.
So commonplace is the blogger's device of savaging something that has appeared in a newspaper that it has its own word, 'fisking', derived from the name of Robert Fisk, the Independent journalist on whose columns the art was first practised. Fisk was once asked whether he minded that his identity had been co-opted in this way. He replied: 'I don't waste my time with blogs, I don't use the internet, and I don't use email. I work.' His comments were promptly subjected to a brutal online fisking.
But journalists, when they do notice the existence of blogging, tend to give disproportionate attention to its political side. This is because they are first to feel the itch when the gadflies bite, and because anyone who is paid to do something gets anxious when they see a bunch of people doing the same thing for free.
In fact, the polemic brand of British blogging is a small segment of the whole. It is also a style that has been imported from the US, where there is much more animosity between new and old media (the former deride the latter as toothless lackeys of corporate greed); and between liberal and conservative bloggers (the latter excoriate the former as unpatriotic handmaidens of terror).
Vitriol on UK blogs is exchanged mostly in left-wing trench warfare over Iraq. More common and much more entertaining are the tens of thousands of journals in which ordinary folk document their lives with self-deprecating, deadpan irony. It is a tone that one day will be globally recognised as the house style of the British blogosphere. 'Dear My Colonoscopy,' starts an open letter on the blog, Chocolate Covered Bananas. 'Things you don't want to hear as you slip into sedation: "Is this the clean camera"?'
Ambulance drivers, traffic wardens, teachers, police officers - all have blogs. By some estimates a new one is created every few seconds, which means there should be a gradual erosion of the rump 70 per cent of the population that has still never even heard of blogging.
In the meantime, Worstall's book is a decent attempt to box the unruly new medium in the trusted packaging of an old one.
Posted by sean at 11:54 am