A craving for social change

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec

Reading an article about photo blogging on one of my all-time favorite Mac sites lately, I was struck by how many times and on how many publications I have read that blogging was going to change our life and that we were all witnessing, experiencing even, a profound society change.

Somehow, I just can't picture it — and trust me, I have tried. Blogging sure is great and enjoyable. It also allows us to share our thoughts and ideas with a much wider audience than before — the very fact that you are reading this being the best proof —, it makes being confronted to different points of view a lot easier than before and it helps fight the monolithic truth that large media companies try to push on their victims — sorry, «valued customers»…

That is all very well and I am ready to call it a revolution in a way. But has society changed? So far, it doesn't really seem so… Big media corporations still own the media world, bloggers are rarely recognized as independent journalists and their real power, when compared to the one of someone who puts ink on paper is very faint. This, of course, only applies, in certain circles, in certain countries where the notion of blogging even exists — a vast majority of people have no idea what blogging is and will probably never read a blog in their lives.

So, why make up a social change? Why instead of accepting the blogging revolution for what it is — a great explosion of the media and a surprisingly successful trend — do we need to tell ourselves that taking pictures of every single cookie we eat and sharing them with total strangers from across the world is going to make us happier or profoundly transform our lives? Is it because all this surrounding promise of seamless connectivity has us waking up at night and realizing that we are still alone — more or less of course? Is it because the times are so profoundly dull compared to what we read in the history of the past decades that we need to reassure ourselves that we too are leaving our mark on the world? I sincerely do not know but the fact that we have to constantly reassure ourselves that we are witnessing change makes me question the very existence of this chance — kinda like when I am at a fancy restaurant and the maître d' asks me 4 times how I would like my meat cooked, to hide the fact that the grill only has one setting and that the chef is gonna burn it anyway…

Society changes, that's for sure and it's a great thing. But, somehow, I tend to think that real change happens by itself, without a company pushing it. Take the loosening of family ties for example: families used to be a lot closer in the past (I'm speaking geographically and economically here) than they are today but, to my knowledge, nobody ever put posters up exhorting kids to leave their parents and move to another city just for the fun of it. Change happened for many reasons — and technological advances are part of these reasons — but it happened in a diffuse way, making its way slowly into Ethnology 101 textbooks once it had happened.

Maybe I am just plain wrong — and I probably am... Maybe my cookies will have a profound impact on someone across the ocean…

Until next time, dear Mac users, enjoy thinking different!

And you, has blogging changed your life?


2005-04-07 08:10:15
Missing the Point...
FJ, I think you're missing the point of blogging entirely.

Blogs have, over the last two years:

- Brought down the Senate Majority Leader for racially insensitive comments
- Brought down a TV news anchor for a false story
- Forced the US FEC to reconsider regulating bloggers as part of political campaigns
- Massively expanded the "mashup" and "remix" concepts to new media fields.

Those are some pretty substantial changes. Mainstream Media will continue to exist as long as they can make a cheap buck of an old joke, but it's up to blogs and the web to take that further. Investigative journalism is moving closer to the people now, with blogs breaking stories that the networks won't cover.

In addition, blogs are slicing the media focus into even finer slices of the pie. I read about a dozen blogs just about poker right now, something I'm obsessing over and really enjoying, and can find specialist coverage of much more easily on the web than on other MSM.

You ignore blogs at your own peril.

2005-04-07 08:16:55
Missing the Point...

First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to post, I really do appreciate it! :^)

The points you bring up show the role blogs now play in the media and the importance they have, that I most definitely don't ignore - I am convinced blogs have a place of their own in the media and a very important role to play.

What I do not see are blogs inducing profound society changes, such as the entry of women in the workforce during the second world war or the evolution from agricultural societies in Europe at the end of the XIXth century to what we know today. These are profound changes that affect our lives and the way we interact with others whether we want it or not and without our giving approval to the evolution. Blogs are a new medium and have a large influence on society but, from what I see, they impact the existing society, they don't change it.

I hope that makes my view clearer and apologize if my original post was confusing :^)


2005-04-07 08:59:00
I had a different two years
Is this true?

Blogs have, over the last two years:

- Brought down the Senate Majority Leader for racially insensitive comments
- Brought down a TV news anchor for a false story
- Forced the US FEC to reconsider regulating bloggers as part of political campaigns
- Massively expanded the "mashup" and "remix" concepts to new media fields.

I don't think so. Let's review:

  • Brought down the Senate Majority Leader for racially insensitive comments
    No, not really. Blogs helped keep the story percoloating, but it was conventional journalism that caught him saying it in the first place, and conventional journalism that killed him. Blogs contributed, but they weren't the decisive factor, nor could they have done it on their own

  • Brought down a TV news anchor for a false story
    This is wrong on two counts. First, the prime movers on this story worked through a group blog, but were also long-time right-wing activists. It was their experience in working the media that allowed them to push this story, not their blog. Second, I wouldn't characterize it as a "false story". It was a fundamentally true story--I know no one who doesn't acknowledge both that the circumstances under which George W. Bush (and many other privileged Texans of both parties) got into the Guard were unfair and that there are large gaps in his service record which strongly suggest that he just didn't show up for duty--but one in which one particularly damning piece of evidence turned out to be of questionable provenance and unlikely to be authentic. Killing a true story because one piece of evidence may have been forged is an accomplishment of sorts, but I'm not sure it's one to celebrate.

  • Forced the US FEC to reconsider regulating bloggers as part of political campaigns
    This is partially right at best. While some of the concern over the unregulated use of the Internet for political purposes (particularly fundraising) was connected to blogs (see Chris Nolan among others for examples), the concern went far beyond weblogs.

  • Massively expanded the "mashup" and "remix" concepts to new media fields
    I think cause and effect are backwards here. Blogs are an example of what I call bleditting, which is a type of remixing, but we could carry this backwards in print to, oh, I don't know--William Burroughs' cut-ups, or T. S. Eliot's syncretic poetry, or the Surrealists' "exquisite corpse", or (this is my pick for an immediate predecessor) the punk rock esthetic of collage. Blogs are an element of this general movement, which goes well back into the twentieth century, but not, I think, an exceptional one.

The press (mainstream media is becoming a biased term) is still doing most of the heavy lifting in reporting. Weblogs do a vital service in fact-checking and interpreting what the press says and does, but they are no more the new press than literary critics are the new writers. That's not to say that critics aren't valuable--I'd rather listen to Camille Paglia talk about almost any writer than listen to that writer's work--but they, like blogs, are a subsidary part of a dynamic system.

Blogs are powerful tools, but they're going to become (among many, many other things) a part of journalism, not replace journalism itself.

2005-04-07 11:04:06
Missing the Point...
But see, there's the point: Blogs kept the buzz alive. Had blogs not been all over Dan Rather, or all over Trent Lott, or all over the FEC, Trent Lott might still be majority leader, Dan Rather might still be anchor of the CBS Evening News, and the draft resolution featuring draconian restrictions against bloggers-as-part-of-politics would be under consideration.

As a result of blogs, however, none of those things were true. Without MSM listening to bloggers, paying attention to what they are saying, those stories would have gone by the wayside.

2005-04-07 11:05:36
Missing the Point...
Then you're either looking for massive upheaval too quickly, or you're not paying attention to long-term trends.

Women didn't just show up in the workplace one day. That was an incredibly long fight that many would argue is still underway in much of the world.

The long now, my friend, the long now.

2005-04-07 11:08:28
Missing the Point...
«Women didn't just show up in the workplace one day. That was an incredibly long fight that many would argue is still underway in much of the world.»

Indeed! :^) I don't think this is a matter of how long a trend or a change takes to develop here but more a question of the level at which it operates.


2005-04-07 11:36:04
Might have, and might not have
Hard to say.

I think the odiousness of Trent Lott's comments would have eventually brought him down. We can reasonably disagree on that--I could very well be wrong, and there's no way to prove it either way.

Still, the press had covered the story before weblogs got it--that's how the webloggers heard about it in the first place--and the press pushed the story until Lott went down.

The Dan Rather story is the culmination of a decades-long effort by the right wing to get him as payback for his efforts in exposing the fundmental evil of the Nixon administration.

It was a case of a true story being discredited because one particularly spectacular piece of evidence among many turned out to be unverifiable and possibly (it's still unproven) forged.

I don't think that's a good thing, but that's neither here nor there. The key point is that the people who'd been gunning for Rather could have gotten their dirty work done without weblogs.

As for the FEC resolution, that's a good example of certain webloggers wanting to have it both ways. They want to be taken seriously as political players, but they don't want to follow the rules of the game. Moderate regulation (the sort we have, mostly, and the FEC proposals were neither draconian nor out of line with them) of political speech makes politics more honest and above-board.

In this case, I'm afraid you've confused Draco with demos.

2005-04-07 11:52:08
Missing the Point...
Perhaps the change is a regression - a return to the republic form of government where those with a threshold of wealth (in this case computer access and time) were given equal voice with one another to create political change (think Roman Empire prior to Julius Ceaser).
2005-04-07 12:15:20
Echo chambers exist both inside and outside the Internet.
    I know no one
who doesn't acknowledge both that the circumstances under which George W. Bush... got into the Guard were unfair and that there are large gaps in his service record which strongly suggest that he just didn't show up for duty..."

Really, no one? I'm positive I must know someone who believes John Kerry actually spent Christmas of 1968 in Cambodia; you know, when Richard Nixon was president.

I would be interested to hear your opinion on why Eason Jordan's resignation from CNN also was not driven by the blogs, since his comments at the World Economic Forum were blogged first and then virtually ignored by the mainstream media until his ouster.

2005-04-07 12:20:22
Might have, and might not have
Have you read the initial draft? It's very draconian. Limits the free speech of individuals with audiences larger than 500.

Wait, I thought McCain-Feingold was supposed to make politics more geared to the individual? What about my voice?

The draft rules were awful.

Check em out over at Red State.

2005-04-07 12:25:21
Missing the Point...
While I certainly don't expect weblogs to overtake MSM, I can certainly see them having a great deal of value in terms of coverage that MSM is incapable of providing. That is the sea-change: affinity groups casting broader nets.
2005-04-07 12:43:44
A fair criticism on your part
Yes, that was overstated. Let me rephrase it thus:

s/(I know no one)/$1 knowledgeable who is not a partisan of the right/

Still, as you imply, this may simply be an artifact of who I know.

I didn't follow the Eason Jordan controversy too closely, so my thoughts may not be useful.

However, the weblog which first reported his comments was a Davos weblog which put on the record a talk which was supposed to be off the record, true? So what we have is a case of the press following one rule--"We agree that we, like all other participants, will participate in these discussions without reporting"--and a weblogger not, gaining an arguably unfair advantage.

(Sometimes you have to break such agreements. Felonies, life-threatening situations, and such are pretty good reasons. Someone making a controversial remark is, in my opinion, not.)

Did Jordan resign because of webloggers?

My impression is that he was already in trouble at CNN, and this was a last straw situation. I don't know if you've hunted much, but here's a parallel situation: Who kills the coon? My father, who shoots it out of the tree with a twenty-two? Or the hounds, who take down a stunned and injured animal they couldn't otherwise have gotten to? I give the pelt to my father--you may disagree.

I'd also point out that (unless there have been developments of which I'm unaware) we still don't know exactly what Jordan said. I personally think it's most likely that his comments were much as reported (or worse), just as I think it's likely that the one set of four documents in the Bush draft-dodging case was faked. I don't know either of those things to be true, though.

Anyway, is that a good thing? The idea that whatever you say--anything at all--around another person can be used against you, in any context? That an offhand remark is equal to a carefully-thought out statement? Don't we already have enough cowards and weasels of all political persuasions in public life? Don't we want public figures to be willing and able to speculate?

(I had a similarly queasy feeling during the Jeff Gannon scandal. His conduct as a faux journalist was reprehensible and deserved to be reported on, but who cares about his sexual activities?)

2005-04-07 12:50:38
Closer to the point
I'm not sure that weblogs are going to provide much coverage that the press doesn't, but they do provide context, and they also provide valuable fact-checking and editorial functions.

Weblogs which perform those functions are de facto part of the press, whether they like it or not.

2005-04-07 12:58:07
Sounds good to me
I assume the link pointed to a "worst of the worst" collection of that document, right?

Sorry, it ain't draconian. It's politics.

2005-04-08 08:47:38
blogs and social change
Please take into consideration that bloggers often have a certain agenda and play to that agenda very thoroughly. The idea that if you repeat a falsehood enough times it becomes the truth is often their motto.
Blogs may help the MSM, but they may also try to twist stories to their point of view and disregard the truth of the matter.
2005-05-01 18:20:27
Missing the Point...
Women made gains when corporations wanted a larger pool of cheaper labor. And when large companies realized women with money would buy more goods. I fear that bloggs mostly serve to reinforce the mistaken notion that opinions have value. When in fact, an opinion and $6.01 will get you a cappuccino and a blueberry muffin at the CoffeeHound in Bloomington Illinois.

The belief in the value of opinions is a marketing maneuver to make you feel important. Ideas can be important but opinions seldom are.


2005-11-29 12:53:12
social changes
The changes that you speak of relate to various feminist movements throughout history. You cannot expect blogs to encourage profound changes such as creating jobs or raising welfare. But slowley and surely blogs will created small 'revolutions' that encourage change within the social realm. One type of change that has been made through the uses of blogging, is within Iran, and the attempt to create a democratic society. The individuals who created this blog, have Iranian backgrounds, and began this "movement" in Toronto in the hopes to convince people of change within Iran. This, of course, is a legitimate website. Blogging has helped them communicate their interests to change and has induced others to become involved. This, I think, can be considered as an attempt to change existing norms of society in the hopes of creating and promoting different values of justice. These individuals inform and educate the people of Iran of what it is like to live in a democratic society, and to bring about this change.
This is simply one example of how blogs attempt to change society, but not in such a profound way. The chances of these individuals to succeed are minimal however, they still get ideas across to millions of Iranians.
So my view simply entails that blogs are a means to change however, because blogs are web based and do not contain any personal interactions, it is difficult to achieve the means of social change, in relation to the changes you seek.