No, I’m not recanting my earlier lambasting of Meg for that article folks are talking so much about. Although in true wonderchickonian fashion, I tacked rather heavily into the tradewinds of hyperbole – hard ‘a port, Mr Qeeqeg! – and it’s entirely possible that my surprise and disappointment at reading a piece quite devoid of blood and juice, in tandem with what may fairly be described as my impatience for this efflorescence of creativity to mature…well it’s possible that my rain dance was a little, shall we say, intemperate.
Starting at the unforeseen concluding exclamation of the so suddenly scornful old man, Stubb was speechless a moment; then said excitedly, “I am not used to be spoken to that way, sir; I do but less than half like it, sir.”
“Avast!” gritted Ahab between his set teeth, and violently moving away, as if to avoid some passionate temptation.
“No, sir; not yet,” said Stubb, emboldened, “I will not tamely be called a dog, sir.”
“Then be called ten times a donkey, and a mule, and an ass, and begone, or I’ll clear the world of thee!”
As he said this, Ahab advanced upon him with such overbearing terrors in his aspect, that Stubb involuntarily retreated.
“I was never served so before without giving a hard blow for it,” muttered Stubb, as he found himself descending the cabin-scuttle.
Over at Jonathon’s, where Meg responded to his excellent translation and elaboration of my rant into calm and well-crafted English prose (thanks, mate!), one of Jonathon’s other guests has weighed in on my bare-breasted, blood-streaked ululation :
The arrogance and hyperbole astounds me. The weblogging “community” would do well to learn some humility as they go forward into this bright Utopian future he describes.
I responded :
f–k humility, let’s dance.
For a split second after I pressed the submit button, I regretted that a bit, but now, as I sit back with my cup of green tea, it’s growing on me. So much so, I think I’ll make it the new tagline of the week.
Why on earth should I be humble? How is that going to help anyone? It’s a dance, my friends, and if you don’t care to join in, you can help call the tune. If you don’t care to do that, well, pour the drinks or something, while the rest of us whoop and holler and kick up our heels for the sheer joy of it, for the pleasure of creation, of comradeship, of life. Humility just doesn’t enter into it.
Not for nothing do I have this quote on my little website :
“I believe that today more than ever a book should be sought after even if it has only one great page in it: we must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and soul. It may be that we are doomed, that there is no hope for us, any of us, but if that is so then let us set up a last agonizing, bloodcurdling howl, a screech of defiance, a war whoop! Away with lamentation! Away with elegies and dirges! Away with biographies and histories, and libraries and museums! Let the dead eat the dead. Let us living ones dance about the rim of the crater, a last expiring dance. But a dance!”
Although that paragraph was written almost 70 years ago, if you replace the word ‘book’ with the noun of your choice , you can perhaps see where I’m coming from, or where I’m going, or something.
But I’m getting off track again, as I so often do.
I do not begrudge Meg her mild fame or her position of influence, or any of the other people who make up the oft-derided, oft-denied, semi-imaginary ‘a-list’. And nor, when it comes down to it, do I disagree with much of what Meg had to say, because, at the end of the day, it was pretty mild stuff.
Where I do part ways is at pretty much the same spot as Shelley and Jonathon : the tools, the technology of it all, the minutiae of the format, these are not the common ground from which the communities and friendships and creative ferment that blogspace is fostering spring. This, to my mind, is a dangerous misconception that will ensure that what we are doing remains on the sidelines of the new mediaspace, a diversion of the geek and the technofetishist.
The fertile common ground is the common ground we share as humans : our creative urge, our need to find like-minded people, our need to challenge ourselves and others, our need for play and conversation, our fascination with the New.
Now I sound like a freakin’ hippy here, so I’ll add in to that list ‘our need to argue, to engage in combat, to breed divisiveness and segregate ourselves into tribes over infinitesimal differences of opinion or lifestyle’.
But the tools? The tools are just tools, for goodness sakes. Meg says, over at Jonathon’s :
I understand that she was talking about the format, dumbing it down for non-bloggers and the non-technical (I mean come on : is there a single person who has ever had a blog who needs the concepts of permalinks and posts explained to them?) But my argument is that we can, we must define this thing based on the ‘content we’re outputting’ (and that phrase reminds me that she was the director of development for Blogger, because the mechanical sound of it reminds me of all the coders and business types that I used to work with in Sydney at HyperGlobalMegaNet, who were good and kind people, but not precisely, uhh, lyrical), not on the tools, or on how it’s temporally arranged or permalinked.
A couple of things seem pretty clear to me : one, that the article was written for non-bloggers. It talks (in simple terms, yes, but nonetheless) about technical things, that dollars-to-donuts, your average web-user already knows and understands about blogs, and your average non-web-user doesn’t give a rat’s ass about, or even understand. Or want to, for that matter. So what audience is it intended for? I’m uncertain.
Two : the article is written by a technologist (who is certainly more than that, and is not a one-dimensional cartoon, and is from all accounts a really nice person, but) : someone who seems to apprehend what’s happening out there through the lens of technology, of Product Development.
I’ve worked with folks who do this. Some of my best friends do this. But this is not the kind of article that’s going to excite anyone. And it’s not likely to even interest people who don’t already know what a blog is and what it looks like, anyone who’s not a technophile already. “Permalinks? Datestamps? What the hell is this geeky crap supposed to mean?” would be Joe Sixpack’s response, I’d say. It strikes me as odd that the outpouring of praise for Meg’s piece comes from the very webloggers who already understand intimately and work daily with the very concepts she painstaking explains. Have so many people lost sight of the fact that the vast majority of humanity just doesn’t give a sh-t about blogging, and probably never will? But at the same time, that same majority loves poetry and music, stories and songs, all manner of art and craft. But they don’t care about the technology, even if we do. And we already know a blog is bite-sized, permalinked and temporally arranged.
Jonathon said :
Which is not to say there’s no place for an explanation of the mechanics of weblogging: tools, posts, links, time-stamps, permalinks… But wouldn’t it be better to leave those prosaic details for later? And to start by mapping out an imaginative vision of the medium’s potential?
To focus attention on the magic and mystery of blogging. To acknowledge (paraphrasing Burningbird) that the key to weblogging is people, not a format. To admit thatâfive years onâwe’re only just starting to realize what might be possible. To stress the communal nature of the activity. To celebrate the amplification of meaning that occurs when smart, creative people collaborate. To invite newcomers to join a grand adventure, a networked version of Hesse’s Journey to the East.
This is what I’m talking about. What I’m trying to figure out is who the piece was intended for, and why. It doesn’t really seem to serve anyone’s needs, and perhaps this is why I reacted so strongly. Meg says, again over at Jonathon’s, “I tried to look beneath the content to the tools and format that enable us to make connections.”
I understand where she’s coming from, and I respect that, but I think she has it ass-backwards. I’m a technologist too, or at least I used to be, and I am as certain as I’ve ever been about anything that you need to look beneath the tools and the format to what she calls the content, and what I think of as the people. A blog is not a container for content, or the product of some cleverly designed software tools : it’s a person. That’s the bedrock of this thing we’re building.
Meg also says “I wasn’t saying that’s all there is to blogging, I was just saying that’s one piece of it,” and of course she’s right, and it was my mistake to imply, if I did, that that’s what she was saying. It would seem that Meg and many others around the traps do feel that what she wrote about is the most important piece. I would call it the least.
I’ll also say, for what it’s worth, that my ranting of a couple of nights ago was meant to stir a little reflection, and not intended as an attack on anyone. I get carried away sometimes.
It was arrogant and hyperbolic indeed, in the same way it would have been if I hand-edited the HTML and uploaded it with a command-line FTP client.