how discourse on the web works 01.23.2010, 11:10 AM
posted by dan visel
Good weekend reading: Jonathan Dee's examination of the fall from grace of Charles Johnson's Little Green Footballs. Internecine fighting on the right isn't inherently interesting; however, Dee's piece is as much about how we think now. A few samples:
That concept of the link, in all its permutations, is the key to what happened next, both to Johnson and because of him, and it says something enlightening not just about blogging but also about the nature and prospects of citizen journalism. Whatever you think of him, Johnson is a smart man, a gifted synthesizer of information gathered by other people. But just as for anyone in his position, there is an inevitable limit to what he can learn about places, people, political organizations, etc., without actually encountering them. Instead of causes and effects, motivations and consequences, observation and behavior, his means of intellectual synthesis is, instead, the link: the indiscriminate connection established via search engine.
Johnson evidently fell out with the right-wing blogosphere when he realized that the right wing he was associating with was shading into the historical right wing; in his case, he realized that Vlaams Belang, a Flemish nationalist party in Belgium, weren't the most savory of consorts:
Regardless of whether Johnson's view of Vlaams Belang is correct, it is notable that the party is defined for him entirely by the trail it has left on the Internet. This isn't necessarily unfair – a speech, say, given by Dewinter isn't any more or less valuable as evidence of his political positions depending on whether you read it (or watch it) on a screen or listen to it in a crowd – but it does have a certain flattening effect in terms of time: that hypothetical speech exists on the Internet in exactly the same way whether it was delivered in 2007 or 1997. The speaker will never put it behind him. (Just as Johnson, despite his very reasonable contention that he later changed his mind, will never be allowed to consign to the past a blog post he wrote in 2004 criticizing that judicial condemnation of Vlaams Belang as "a victory for European Islamic supremacist groups.") It may be difficult to travel to Belgium and build the case that Filip Dewinter is not just a hateful character but an actual Nazi (and thus that those who can be linked to him are Nazi sympathizers), but sitting at your keyboard, there is no trick to it at all. Not only can the past never really be erased; it co-exists, in cyberspace, with the present, and an important type of context is destroyed. This is one reason that intellectual inflexibility has become such a hallmark of modern political discourse, and why, so often, no distinction is recognized between hypocrisy and changing your mind.
Dee does a fine job of examining exactly how the Internet has changed discourse with political ramifications: it's a long piece, but it's worth reading in full.
Posted by dan visel on January 23, 2010 11:10 AM
j.s. kitololo on March 27, 2010 4:46 PM:
i like this. "hypertext destroys context": a brilliant maxim for the web age. whatever we gain through the link, arguably the first punctuation mark invented in centuries, we lose context. again, i like.
Maria Langhorn on April 16, 2010 3:36 PM:
I get what he is saying. But one can argue that this is a temporary phase in the internet. While there will always be a record somewhere of the past the internet in evolving to stay strictly with the current news. Take Google and Microsoft new addition of twitter feed to their search engines. We are moving more towards real time current news and stories and letting the old ones become de-indexed! It is all there on one internet... but it is not all on the first page. I have come to think of it as a newspaper.
"the indiscriminate connection established via search engine." Love that quote