Chasing our own Tales, or The Blog is Dead?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Are blogs dead? Are they being repurposed? Is the air going out of the balloon? Are we really on the edge of a no-book, no-newspaper, no-blog world, content to feed on the 140 characters of Twitter? Or have we already arrived?

I was talking with Anna Lefler about all this the other day—spinning out my theories and my unevidentiary evidence—and Anna being Anna (that is, infinitely more connected and tied in than I'll ever be) came back last night quoting an interview with Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur and, yes (shudder) a blogger. Keen recently predicted that static blogs (such as the one you are reading, if indeed you are still reading) are on the quick outs, while the sort of "real-time social media personal portal(s)" now being enabled by Wordpress are on the rise. Indeed, in an Editor Unleashed interview with Maria Schneider, Keen declared that "the shy and reticent author" will not survive the near-term future. "Ugly, mute writers," he likewise cautioned, "should probably switch careers."

I read Keen not long after I finished reading Margaret Talbot's fascinating piece in The New Yorker, called "Brain Gain: the underground world of "neuroenhancing" drugs" (I've always been a huge Margaret Talbot fan—perhaps because I, being a very old woman, prefer magazine-y thorough and thoughtful to 140-character nano?). It's the story of a Harvard student, a poker player, and a handful of others (representing the legions of the growing many) who have decided to approach their brains much in the same way that women of a certain age approach their faces: with an eye to cosmetic improvements. Why not off-label Ritalin, a treatment for ADHD, for example, or Provigil, a treatment for narcolepsy, to give oneself a little boost? Why not indulge in what Talbot calls "cognitive enhancers: drugs that high-functioning overcommitted people take to become higher-functioning and more overcommitted"? Why not feed your child "smart pills" to help them get ahead? Why not smart-pill yourself, if it can level the playing field against less old, less ugly, less mute, less reticent colleagues?

Well, hmmm. There are reasons. These are drugs after all, and every drug has side effects, some known, some not yet proven, some physical, and some social. Here, for example, is the Harvard student of Talbot's story, describing papers he's written post-enhancement: "...they're verbose. They're belaboring a point, trying to create this airtight argument, when if you just got to your point in a more direct manner it would have been stronger."

Is this...enhanced? Is this...our future? Is this...what we want? Drugs (taken off label) that perhaps verbose-ify and dilute true content, social media that tolerate no more than 140 characters? My small and unenhanced brain tries to accommodate the two thoughts at once and conjures splatter, refractions, lots said, lost meaning. Clearly, I need someone much younger, much prettier, and infinitely less reticent to help me understand how all of this makes for a better world, the sort we're eager to hand down to our children.


Q said...

I do not believe that the world will fall to Twitter. Even if newspapers and books go completely digital and blogs start becoming a thing of the past. There will still be people who want to read the newspaper and who want to read proper blog posts. Twitter and blogging just have different purposes.

Lilian Nattel said...

I agree--it isn't the same thing and serves a different purpose and the purposes served by blogs haven't changed. I have a life--and because of that--I don't have time for twitter. I work, and I have a family, and young kids, and volunteer time at the school, and friends, and I just don't have time for 140 character bits on top of that. But I do have time and a need to read blogs, even though it takes longer, because blogs feed my mind and soul. I'm sorry--but 140 characters don't. If others like it, and obviously many others do, terrific. Enjoy! But I will keep reading & writing blogs.

Anna Lefler said...

I'm with you, sister.

"Ugly, mute writer" is the career I'm pursuing and, dangit, it's the career I'm sticking with! (Oops, I mean *with which I'm sticking.*)

As for performance-enhancing drugs for my brain, I regularly ingest them in liquid form. The ones I abuse are called triple lattes.

Fantastic usual.

;^) Anna

Becca said...

I simply can't bear the idea of a world reduced to electronic sound bytes created by over stimulated brainiacs. I know it would never be satisfying for me.

However, it gives one pause to think about children who are growing up with Twitter and Facebook as the epitome of communication.

Great post, Beth, and very thought provoking.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Your blog is not static. Sometimes you even post more than once a day!

Twitter freaks me out. The very idea that people need to be so constantly connected is weird. And some of what people supposedly twitter about...I'm sorry. Too much information.

I like how Lilian put it..."blogs feed my mind and soul--but 140 characters don't." Well said!

Lynnette Labelle said...

I wouldn't say blogs are dead. However, you have to work to keep them going. Strange, isn't it? LOL

Lynnette Labelle

Priya said...

We've been talking about this topic at school too. Most people seem to think that everything is going to be completely computerized in the future (no newspapers, no books, no magazines, etc.) But I don't agree with them. There are just so many people that love to hold books in their hands and read them (myself included).

Amy said...

While I love Twitter, it could never and will never take the place of blogs.
They serve different purposes. But of course I love's how I found out about you!! ;)

Melissa said...

Interesting discussion, and timely for my day which was spent at a conference where discussions focused heavily on social media. I'm on Twitter, but given the choice, I'll opt for reading blogs over Twitter any day.

(And I beg to strongly differ on point, Beth: you are NOT an old woman. I've met you, I should know.)

Woman in a Window said...

I wonder if in fact we are handing the world down, or if the new generation is grabbing it by its twitters and pulling it along to its own beat?

Beth Kephart said...

A huge thank you to all of you who participated in this conversation today. There's so much I need to learn about new media. And so much of the right now that I yearn to freeze.

A Cuban In London said...

I don't think that Twitter will be around for a long time. The world is cyclical. Look at myspace. Fallen by the wayside. As long as there are blogs and bloggers like you and your space the blogosphere will survive. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

holly cupala said...

I've been wondering this same thing lately, especially as blogs become more ubiquitous and less read. Perhaps the ugly, mute writers will fall to Twitter, where they will only have to text in 140 characters versus the graphic-intense terror of the blank blog post.

Oh, and I have tagged you with a bookish meme on my blog - which might actually speak to this point.

Laurie Schneider said...

Great. Now I have two new adjectives to add to my static blog profile: mute and ugly.

Your blog is beautiful, Beth.

Maya Ganesan said...

I used to want a Twitter account badly, but now I've realized I just don't have time. There's nothing so important that it can't be saved for a later blog post -- nothing that HAS to be said right then and right there. Blogging, like Lilian says, feeds your mind and soul. It's beautiful and lovely. Tweets, on the other hand, are short and (in my opinion) fairly useless.

I hold nothing against those Twitterers who enjoy it, but I'm not going to get into it soon. It's probably necessary for most people to create an Internet presence, but honestly, blogging is so much more enriching.

Saints and Spinners said...

It is fascinating to be living in a time when so much is has changed and is changing. Since I was born, I've known records, cassette tapes, 8-tracks (not personally), CDs, mp3s.... And now, while, movable type is a thing of the past except for in cool retro ways, the printed word continues.

Despite predictions that we would become a paperless society (this was a late 70's ad, I think), we still have printed books. We also have more.

At the risk of romanticising the "shy and reticent author", I think that particular creature will end up doing well in the long run. It has managed pretty well for a few thousand years already.

Beth Kephart said...

Laurie, I wanted to respond to you on your blog, but I am thwarted, not able to get from here to there. In any case, know that you made me laugh.

And all of you, you make me smile!

Tessa said...

I was fascinated by the Twitter axiom - that people could communicate coherently in 140 characters - so off I went to give it a bash. After a few days of familiarizing myself with the inner workings of this strange meeting place, I found it to be trite at best, incomprehensible at worst and, more depressing still, as dull as dirty dishwater. Sigh. Maybe I'm just an old grump....or as thick as a brick. Even the silver tongued Stephen Fry seems to love every moment of Twitting.

Laurie Schneider said...

Sorry you couldn't reach my blog, Beth. I didn't know how to add my URL to my user profile, but it's on there now.

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