Thoughts on the Blogosphere
Now that I’ve talked extensively about the state of the Republican Party, I want to turn the magnifying glass back on myself a little and talk about this very medium I am using right now. When Addison, Harry, and I started this blog 16 months ago or so, it was because we thought we had something to add to the debate that was going on in preparation for the 2005 statewide elections. We wanted to have a debate about the issues affecting Virginia and why we thought Jerry Kilgore was the right person to lead Virginia for the next four years (And I still do). We chose the name Sic Semper Tyrannis because we wanted this blog to be about Virginia, not about us. That’s also why we choose to remain anonymous. We want the focus to be on the issues we were talking about, not who is doing the talking. Unfortunately, I am beginning to feel that we are in the minority in that regard. It is wonderful to see a great many Virginians taking an interest in blogging, but at the same time it seems as if many of them are more concerned with putting the spotlight on themselves than with solving problems or answering questions about Virginia’s future. In addition, it seems as though, as the Virginia blogosphere has grown, the majority of new blogs have directed their focus at driving traffic to their sites through gimmicks and web-generated scandals than through the quality of their writing. Mind you, I am by no means saying that I myself have never done the things I am criticizing. I certainly have, but I have also tried to keep my posts faithful to my particular areas of knowledge and interest, and I would hope that the thoughtful posts outweighed the trite ones. You are free to disagree.
These criticisms certainly go for Conservative and Liberal bloggers alike. I think it would do some good for bloggers to start thinking not just about how many people might read something they write, or what kind of reaction it might get, but rather what does it add to the online discussion. Certainly every blogger has his own agenda, and that is what makes the community interesting. However, the way that agenda is presented makes a big difference. I enjoy reading guys like Shaun Kenny, Waldo Jaquith and The Jaded JD because their posts usually go deeper than the surface. Even if we don’t always agree, I usually appreciate what they bring to the table. Other bloggers I find to be “all hat, no cattle” as it were. I often cringe at bloggers like Not Larry Sabato, Too Conservative, and Republitarian simply because they exhibit more concern with fluffery and self-aggrandizement than anything else. As a result, even when these “gossip-column” bloggers post things that are worthwhile, I am less likely to read them and much less likely to give them weight. For example, having a poll to determine who the “most influential” bloggers are is a bit like taking a poll to see who the coolest guy at the Star Trek Convention is. It might make that guy feel like somebody special, but most people could give a damn.
This brings me to my second point, which is that the blogosphere is not nearly as important as it seems to think it is. For now, those who pay attention to the blogosphere, particularly at the statewide political level, are in a very small club. By and large, the blogosphere is not yet shaping public opinion in any meaningful or measurable way. Now, this is not to say that blogs couldn’t evolve into such a role. The increasing technological savvy of our society in fact indicates that they very well may. This is also not to say that blogs aren't at all useful, because they certainly can be. The fact that so many elected officials are now paying attention to the blogosphere indicates that it may well play an important role in our state politics in the near future. Still, the average voter in Virginia has no idea what a blog is, and a large percentage of what we say will have absolutely no impact on how people vote this November. All of this is not to discourage anyone from blogging. In fact I look forward to the continued growth and evolution of the Virginia blogosphere. This is merely a reality check for some of us who may suddenly believe ourselves kingmakers simply because a few hundred people click through our little corner of the Internet each day.
I applaud the work that has already been done by folks like Chad Dotson to foster a more involved, more respectful community of bloggers and I hope that those efforts will continue. I believe that, although individual bloggers may come and go, blogging itself is here to say. I also believe that blogging can be an extremely productive and helpful resource and outlet for people. I doubt that DeTocqueville would be surprised by our pursuit of new and varied forms of interaction in what can be an increasingly remote digital world. Humans in general and Americans in particular long for social and political interaction. Basically, we like having friends, and we like having debate. The Internet is providing astounding new ways of interacting with people who share our passions, and the blogosphere is one shining example.
I encourage all of the bloggers out there to think, as we have here at SST, about what it is that you want to accomplish through this meager platform. I encourage you to stick to those goals and to seek the counsel of others in achieving them. Mostly, I encourage you to make your blog your own. Each perspective is unique, and all are welcome.