Thursday, June 21, 2007

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Name this blog phenomenon!

Apparently the Encyclopedia Brittanica now has a blog. Michael Gorman is using it to harumph at the myriad ways in which the Internet has destroyed all that is great and good in scholarship and high culture. His first post opens with "The life of the mind in our society suffers, in many ways, from an increase in credulity and an associated flight from expertise." You get the drift -- this is not the first time Gorman has done this.

Over at Inside Higher Ed, Scott McLemee critiques Gorman's critique. He closes with this point:

What really bothers the neo-Luddite quasi-Mandarin is not the rise of digitality, as such. The problem actually comes from “the diminished sacredness of authority,” as Edward Shils once put it, “the reduction in the awe it evokes and in the charisma attributed to it.”

But it’s not that all cultural authority or critical intelligence, as such, are vanishing. Rather, new kinds are taking shape. The resulting situation is difficult and sometimes unpleasant. But it is not exactly new. Such wrenching moments have come repeatedly over the past 500 years, and muddling through the turmoil does not seem to be getting any easier.

Plowing similar ground, Henry Farrell asks:
I can see why the Encyclopedia Britannica has an urgent interest in pushing this line, but I don’t understand why the intellectual standards of argument among its appointed critics is so low (and they aren’t an aberration; I understand that they’ve made somewhat of an effort to publicize these pieces and get them talked about).
To answer Farrell's question, you need to recognize the phenomenon of Bigthink Online Criticism (BOC), which proceeds as follows:
1) Pre-existing cultural institution finds itself under threat of being ignored/devalued/losing cultural cachet in relation to online substitutes;

2) To stave off irrelevance, said institution commissions BOC essay;

3) BOC essay, to roil the waters, overstates to a greater or lesser degree the various flaws that online substitutes possess;

4) BOC essay is posted on the net, while various online and offline commentators are alerted to its presence;

5) Online community reacts with outrage, linking and critiquing the BOC essay repeatedly, making it the topic du jour.

6) For a brief moment, declining cultural institution staves off slide towards irrelevance.

7) The more Manichean the BOC, the longer the boomlet of attention.

I humbly request my readers to name this gambit.

UPDATE: Brittanica's Tom Panelas e-mails the following:

If nothing else you should be aware of the fact that Gorman's posts are part of a larger forum on the Web 2.0 movement generally, and that it includes people who disagree sharply with him, such as Clay Shirky, danah boyd, and Matthew Battles, as well as others who disagree with him by degree, such as Nicholas Carr. If you and Henry think Britannica is "pushing a line" by publishing Gorman's opinions under his name on our blog, it follows then that we are also pushing the lines of these other people. Since Clay Shirky's posts, among other things, have some strong criticisms of Britannica, we are therefore pushing criticism of ourselves. What our motives for this might be I’ll leave it to you to divine, but you might consider an alternative explanation: that we’re simply having a debate among people with different views.

By the way, if you really think the intellectual standards are low, please take a look at what Shirky, Battles, and Carr have written. (danah hasn’t posted yet; she’ll be with us next week.) If, after that, you still think the level of discourse is substandard, please feel free to raise it by adding your own comments.

posted by Dan on 06.21.07 at 03:16 PM


So we're naming blogging about blogging? Or, more specifically, blogging about the negative societal and intellectual effects of blogging?

The former: no suggestion

The latter: Hypocriticism?

posted by: Jake on 06.21.07 at 03:16 PM [permalink]

Critical blogging. Clogging.

posted by: Patrick Roath on 06.21.07 at 03:16 PM [permalink]

As I posted over at Crooked Timber, it's a bit unfair of Henry to say Britannica is 'pushing' that line.

Gorman isn't speaking for Britannica, he's just one of the tweedy authorities they've invited to blog.

Britannica's blog also hosts responses to Gorman, by McLamee, Clay Shirky, and others. They're hosting it as a bit of a featured debate.

Running Gorman's essay did accomplish one thing - it garnered attention for Britannica's blog.

(Interestingly, I note that Britannica also now provides bloggers with free-access article links, so you can refer your readers to their site and they won't be confronted by a stub and a subscription form.

They also have a free facility for setting up graphical timelines, which is kind of cool for history buffs.)

I am not an employee of Britannica, but I used to be back in 2000-2001.

posted by: Jon H on 06.21.07 at 03:16 PM [permalink]

Whoops! It's not McLamee posting a response at Britannica's blog, it's Greg McNamee. Different person entirely.

posted by: Jon H on 06.21.07 at 03:16 PM [permalink]

“the diminished sacredness of authority"

It is interesting the reviewer brings this up. Not only does it apply to the EB, but it applies to the MSM as well. It is why they hate bloggers. People like The Big Pumpkin(Russert) and Tweety can't stand that they are being called out for their lies and crappy reporting.

posted by: Joe Klein's conscience on 06.21.07 at 03:16 PM [permalink]

Parting Shots of Half-Abandoned Wankers (PSHAW)?

posted by: mk on 06.21.07 at 03:16 PM [permalink]

I'm sorry, I just kept reading BOC as "Blue Oyster Cult", rendering any attempt to name a gambit utterly futile.

Unless we want to call it the Stalk-Forrest gambit.

Yeah, didn't think so.

posted by: Sigivald on 06.21.07 at 03:16 PM [permalink]


posted by: Robin Goodfellow on 06.21.07 at 03:16 PM [permalink]

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