Saturday, October 12, 2002

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It’s been a month and a day since I started blogging. Like my colleague Jacob Levy, I had some worries about being a scholar-blogger, like the blog becoming an addiction and distraction from my scholarly research, which is what pays the bills. After a month, this is what I’ve concluded:

1) For me, blogging is like free play. I like being a professor for a lot of reasons, but the big one is that I’m being paid to basically sit around and think. Now some of these thoughts are too arcane for the blog (though if you’re really, really interested in globalization and international regulatory coordination, click here). But before I found this outlet, I also had a lot of policy-relevant observations that were too short for an op-ed. This venue has the twin advantages of being immediate and accessible. I’ve probably devoted more time to this than I spent surfing the web six weeks ago, but not too much more. My interest in posting also waxes and wanes -- some days I just have blogathy.

2) People are reading. In the two weeks I’ve been keeping count, I’ve had approximately 5,000 visits (not visitors) to the blog. These ain’t Andrew Sullivan numbers, but given that I haven’t really advertised it beyond the occasional e-mail, it’s still impressive. [How do you account for your success?—ed. A combination of my topical, erudite posts and a healthy number of links in Instapundit. Oh, hell, it’s 99% due to Glenn.] According to... well, one American University blogger, I'm a "big-time blog." I’ve published one book, ten refereed journal articles, and a bunch of policy essays, but in all likelihood more people have read this blog than have looked at any of my collected works. That's simultaneously exciting and depressing.

1) Blogging promotes excessive certainty. Back in 1985, RAND published a remarkably prescient document on the hazards of e-mail communication. One all-too-true warning:

“One of the most surprising things about electronic mail is the ease with which misinterpretations arise. People are used to reading "body language," voice intonation, and numerous other cues when interpreting messages delivered in conversation, or even on the telephone. Those cues are missing in electronic mail, and what was meant as a casual comment, or an attempt at humor or irony, is misinterpreted. Even small misinterpretations have a tendency to mushroom.”

In old media, these problems are removed through the wonders of editing. But because blogs are self-edited, they tend to resemble e-mail more than any other publishing outlet. This effect is compounded by the urge to sound as sure of one’s self as possible. In my case, the eagerness to post has occasionally run roughshod over the need to inject nuance into an observation. I’m improving at this, but it’s a slow process.

2) The blogging equilibrium: journalists and profs. For the pundit blogs, like me, the past year has seen more blogs acquire institutional homes: The New Republic’s &c, The American Prospect’s Tapped, The National Review’s Corner, Slate’s Kausfiles, MSNBC’s Altercation, ABC’s The Note… you get the point. Because these blogs are attached to high-traffic web sites, they’re bound to attract the most attention. The Blogosphere will likely evolve in such a way that the dominant subspecies will be journalists and academics. Journalists, because that’s who magazines/networks will hire. Academics, because they have a comparative advantage in being public intellectuals, and because they’re used to expending effort on financially unrewarding activities. Like Richard Posner’s take on public intellectuals, I don’t think this trend is necessarily a good one.

1) Blogging promotes sharper debate. John Stuart Mill warned that unless societies permitted the unlimited expression of opinion, ideas became “dead dogma.” On the one hand, the blogosphere certainly permits the full range of opinion to be expressed. On the other hand, as Mill also warned, such a free range of expression will encourage the more extremist forms of discourse to ratchet up their rhetoric -- hence all of the fiskings. Despite what we want to believe, better debate is often nastier debate.

For me (especially since I’m a prof) the goods outweigh the bads. But as my research demands heat up, I’ll probably have to scale back on my posting a bit. Not to Brink Lindsey levels of scarcity, but low enough to permit some focus to drift off Iraq and onto matters like transnational regulation.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan's Sunday Times column reinforces my belief about the future evolution of the blogosphere being reduced to journalists with old media ties and profs that are used to nonprofit pontificating. However, he goes my idea one step further, citing Instapundit as an example of the prof who morphs into someone with old media ties.

posted by Dan on 10.12.02 at 10:22 AM