"Blogwars" at the Internet Advocacy Roundtable

August 18, 2008

Alan Rosenblatt (aka Dr. Digipol) is the founder of the Internet Advocacy Center and the Associate Director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s Associate Director of Online Advocacy. The Internet Advocacy Roundtable is usually held on the 3rd Thursday of the month, and that schedule resumes in September. (Videos of past roundtables are here).

Last week, David Perlmutter spoke about political blogs, bloggers and blogging based on the findings he wrote about in his book, Blogwars.

Here’s Professor Perlmutter on the daily Show on May 8th, if you’d like the capsule version of the book:

Perlmutter readily admits that writing a book about Internet activity is a risk proposition because of the speed of change, the whims of readers, and the evolving circumstances that can lead to an application flourishing or dying in what seems like the blink of an eye.

My primary complaint with Blogwars is that it lacks depth of analysis in most of it’s examples. But, as a textbook, that could also be one of it’s strengths. If I were teaching Cyberculture this semester, I wouldn’t hesitate to adopt this book. I’d probably assign it along with Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Showbusiness, because I think the pairing could promote interesting classroom discussion. I think I’d identify 3-5 of Perlmutter’s case studies, such as Memogate, and put a group of students in charge of leading a discussion.

Yes, I would assign two books in one week. If you’ve been one of the fortunate, enlightened souls who’ve taken a class from me, you know I assign at least 10 – 15 books a semester, plus related articles, depending on whether you’re registered as an undergrad or grad student in the seminar. Neither of these are lengthy tomes, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to assign them either back to back or together.

The echo chamber of ideologically-homogenous blogs is the thing that I find most troubling about political blogs. Perlmutter seems optimistic that people will seek out opinions and perspectives outside their own biases or their own social or cultural comfort zones. I’m not so sure. Next time you’re in a gathering of conservatives, say loudly, “I read a thought-provoking piece on Daily Kos…” or, in a gathering of progressives, say, “This morning I was catching up at Little Green Footballs…” Everyone will stare at you as they wait for the punchline, growing increasingly uncomfortable as they realize you aren’t kidding. I don’t understand how anyone can believe that intelligent discourse can take place in the public sphere if each individual’s knowledge is so fragmented and people stubbornly remain ignorant of the reasoning behind other points of view.

If I wasn’t so tired, I’d save a little space here for a tantrum about the idea that blogs are better than higher education – particularly training in writing or reading skills, research, journalism, and the social sciences. Oh, if you insist – how about a mini-tantrum?

Running your mouth isn’t journalism. Sure, some bloggers do use the tools and skills of journalism. More of them don’t. At the same time, the same can be said of a growing number of journalists and media outlets. [insert hackneyed “fair and balanced” joke here] I’m not advocating barriers for entry to blogging. The more sources and voices and perspectives there are in the public sphere, the better, of course. But to my thinking, that means that media literacy, critical thinking and listening skills, not to mention the ability to write lucidly, are more important than ever.

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August 19, 2008 @ 6:30 pm

The Postman book is one of my favorites from graduate school — it would probably be good to read it and re-interpret it in light of all the “new media” that has emerged since I last reviewed it.

This is the kind of stuff that makes me (momentarily) want to go back to school. Dammit.

August 24, 2008 @ 8:55 am

I think it’s probably a bad sign that we have “favorite books from grad school.” ;-)

August 24, 2008 @ 8:56 am

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