Blogging as 'intellectual hydroplaning'?

Summary:Nick Carr responded to my post about "Why blogging matters," characterizing blogging as mostly superficial and impressionistic, and suggesting that the blogoshere is a "fantasy community crowded with isolated egos pretending to connect." Here's a piece from Nick's post:The blogosphere's a seductive place - it's easy to get caught up in it - and there's lots of interesting thoughts and opinions bouncing around amid the general clatter.

Nick Carr responded to my post about "Why blogging matters," characterizing blogging as mostly superficial and impressionistic, and suggesting that the blogoshere is a "fantasy community crowded with isolated egos pretending to connect." Here's a piece from Nick's post:

The blogosphere's a seductive place - it's easy to get caught up in it - and there's lots of interesting thoughts and opinions bouncing around amid the general clatter. But does it really provide a good way of becoming informed? Experiencing the blogosphere feels a lot like intellectual hydroplaning - skimming along the surface of many ideas, rarely going deep. It's impressionistic, not contemplative. Fun? Sure. Invigorating? Absolutely. Socratic? I'm not convinced. Preferable to the old world? It's nice to think so.

For all the self-important talk about social networks, couldn't a case be made that the blogosphere, and the internet in general, is basically an anti-social place, a fantasy of community crowded with isolated egos pretending to connect? Sometimes, it seems like we're all climbing up into our own little treehouses and eating jellybeans for breakfast.

For those of you who read Nick, he is adept at deflating what he calls millenialist rhetoric about the Internet or IT with this prose. His now famous, or infamous depending on your viewpoint, 2003 essay in the Harvard Business Review, "IT Doesn't Matter" and subsequent book, "Does IT Matter?," forced every CEO and CIO to come up with a response to his proposition. His actual thesis (check out my video interview with Nick) was more measured--for most companies IT is a commodity input, especially with standards across hardware and software, and presents little opportunity to achieve a defensible or enduring competitive advantage through IT.

Nick's critique of blogging is really ironic. He started blogging in April and has now become part of what he calls the fantasy community of isolated egos. Clearly, the blogosphere is not as collegial or knowable as the Harvard campus. He's right in that isolated egos (bloggers) often aren't connecting, more piling on and then moving on to the next target.

The fact is, Nick has become an eloquent and incisive voice riffing on various topics--or at least commenting from his home office--with members of the blogosphere, challenging assumptions and spawing or mutating ideas about the Internet, search, Google, IT, Microsoft, social media and other current topics. Instead of writing longer articles and waiting months for them to appear in print, or just emailing with his colleagues, he can offer and receive near instantaneous feedback, which, by the way, is all fodder for going 'deeper' and creating end (some revenue-generating) products, such as books, articles and speeches.

His post "The Amorality of Web 2.0," posted in early October, received a lot of play in the blogosphere. Nick took issue with what he termed the "cult of the amateur" on the Web:

I'm all for blogs and blogging. (I'm writing this, ain't I?) But I'm not blind to the limitations and the flaws of the blogosphere - its superficiality, its emphasis on opinion over reporting, its echolalia, its tendency to reinforce rather than challenge ideological extremism and segregation. Now, all the same criticisms can (and should) be hurled at segments of the mainstream media. And yet, at its best, the mainstream media is able to do things that are different from - and, yes, more important than - what bloggers can do. Those despised "people in a back room" can fund in-depth reporting and research. They can underwrite projects that can take months or years to reach fruition - or that may fail altogether. They can hire and pay talented people who would not be able to survive as sole proprietors on the Internet. They can employ editors and proofreaders and other unsung protectors of quality work. They can place, with equal weight, opposing ideologies on the same page. Forced to choose between reading blogs and subscribing to, say, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Atlantic, and the Economist, I will choose the latter. I will take the professionals over the amateurs.

Quality counts, but it's not a choice between the superficiality and amateurism of blogs and so-called professional journalism. Clearly it's easier for misguided amateurs and extremists to set up shop on the Web, but many new "quality" voices are surfacing and impacting micro and macro decisions, for better or worse. Nick is right about the feeling of hydroplaning. In part, blogs can be fragmented pieces of content, drive-by notes and thoughts hewn together with links and comments. It's vibrant and often chaotic, and as I wrote in my post, the lack of tools for navigating and absorbing the content and managing your attention is the problem--the profusion of content from millions of creators is just an artifact. 

Topics: Browser

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