The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

27 April 2003

The future of the personal voice

According to core mythology, some bloggers are Linkers, and some are Thinkers, and any meeting of the twain is because the rest of us are looking for a niche Somewhere In Between.

Mark W. Anderson, already established as a Thinker, is persuaded that the balance has to shift towards Thinking:

[T]he overwhelming majority of weblog operators have yet to move beyond the passive to the active voice, a transition that may well be required to move the phenomenon from the neo-underground status it currently occupies and into the accepted realm of viable, alternative news and information source many of the format's adherents clearly want. That a further majority of bloggers express worldviews through the aggregating and filtering of third-party works is instructive in this regard, not necessarily as a failure to execute the successful logistics of news-gathering but perhaps of the failure to imagine a set of possibilities found outside the currently-accepted boundaries of the format.

It should be pointed out here that most of us have day jobs that don't permit us to gather a whole lot of news on our own, and that those who have day jobs which involve gathering news are expected to do so for their employers, not for blogdom.

And while aggregation and filtration of third-party works is indeed a part of this blog, I was writing feature articles of a sort for a good five years before the Big Blog Boom of 2001.

Anderson correctly notes that the audience for blogs is, at the moment, decidedly limited:

Currently, most blogs are written primarily for other bloggers, as the general professional, educational, and access-to-technology levels needed to read them act as a sort of barrier to entry, should we wish to admit it or not.

Certainly most blogs are read primarily by other bloggers, for exactly those reasons. But I don't think I consciously shape anything I write for a blogger-heavy audience, and since most people who are driven to blogging seem to have gotten there by reading other people's blogs, this may be a circular pattern based on a self-fulfilling prophecy. Had Andy Warhol lived, he might have said that in the future everyone will blog for 15 megabytes.

So what will happen in the next few years? Anderson sees the Thinkers far outstripping the Linkers:

Weblogs represent exciting possibilities precisely because of their personal inclusiveness, elimination of the obstacles to publishing, and the sense of self-empowerment they embody. However, in a very real sense, when a weblog adopts as its mantra the realm of the political or cultural coin, it sets its sights higher than the rest, if only in wanting to effectively communicate the opinions and perceptions of its author. Should the author in question undertake the daunting task of wishing to change the hearts and minds of his or her readers, however imperceptibly, perhaps it is in the means in which that effort is undertaken that provides the best possible chance of success, not simply the expectation that the collection of the works of like-minded individuals represents either instruction or argument in and of itself.

Here we get into the realm of intention. I've never seen myself as a force for social or political or cultural change; I do this blog because I consider it part of the ongoing process of defining my self, and if someone's opinion (or, for that matter, mine) gets altered somewhere along the way, well, these things happen. By Anderson's definitions, I am destined to be less successful than other bloggers, but the blog future he sees is stronger of purpose, more goal-oriented, than today's rather random, even haphazard, mix. And he may be right; with any revolution, even one as minor as this, there is bound to be some kind of shakeout. Still, I'm just contrarian enough to think that some of us who stand at odd angles to the prevailing winds will still be standing five years from now.

Posted at 12:50 PM to Blogorrhea


He's got a point. I myself have been thinking about it a lot lately, in regards to my own blogging...

I'd like to be more of a "thinker", but I'm just not that smart!

Posted by: Dave at 1:36 PM on 27 April 2003

Well, I'm not a blogger myself, but I enjoy reading (most) of your 'articles' - if that's the correct term - as they promote 'thinking' and also I enjoy the 'linking', which has led me to a number of interesting sites which are now firmly ensconced in my bookmarks.
So, apart from proving my ability to ramble on and make little or no sense, I guess I must be one of the minority of non-blogging 'thinkers'.
Keep up the good work!

Posted by: Woody at 3:54 PM on 27 April 2003

I think there will always be a place for the linkers, those folks who dig up nifty things just because they think we should see them. They have a role to play, no less than the Thinkers of Deep Thoughts. To some, it may be more valuable a role, because they're providing the linkage without commentary, without feeding whatever preconceived notions you may have. But ultimately, the Thinkers will have the larger impact on the Real World.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:03 AM on 28 April 2003

Chaz, I think your reasons for blogging coincide pretty closely with mine - there's something about putting things in writing (pixels?) that helps to clarify your thinking. Do I sometimes tend to write in a way that might persuade? Yes, but that's not foremost in my thoughts as I write.

As for linking, I do think it serves a purpose. I tend for the most part to link to three types of material: (1) others' writing that says what I would say if I could say it as eloquently as they did (2) factual articles that provide information that I think is of interest, or that I wish to comment on, positively or negatively (3) things that I find humorous.

You have obviously been at this for much longer than I, and you have reached what I consider to be a good balance between the two, the kind of balance that I would strive for if I had more time to devote to it. And because of that, I agree that your blog and others like it will survive into and past whatever the 'next phase' might be.

Keep up the good work!

Posted by: Wylie at 9:09 AM on 28 April 2003

The tenacity of the cockroach, as The Onion calls it.

Still, I've been doing this so long I can barely imagine not doing it.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:24 AM on 29 April 2003

BTW: I didn't mean to denigrate Linkers, or in any way suggest that they were less "desirable" than the supposed Thinkers, just the notion that linking, as a format, was more deeply ingrained (and therefore more kind of "natural") for bloggers and the format they work in. I recognize that that idea may not have come across very well in the piece.

After all, some of my best friends are linkers.

Mark

Posted by: Mark W. Anderson at 3:20 PM on 29 April 2003

Let it be said that were there no links, there would be no blogs — they're at the very heart of this thing we call blogging.

Still, the Thinkers and the Linkers don't occupy quite the same niche, and not everyone can split the difference with equal aplomb. (I can, but then I don't do either especially well.) I certainly didn't assume that Linkers were being attacked.

Posted by: CGHill at 3:35 PM on 29 April 2003

I guess I'm a Blog Thinker. My relatively small number of readers will attest to that fact, I'm sure.

As far as Linkers go, I think they have an advantage over the Thinkers, in that each set of Linkers fills certain "niches" - political news links, pop culture news links, personal diaries linked to other blogs covering similarly-themed lives, etc... While the Thinkers, by their very nature, tend to roam more freely over the "map of sociopolitical culture", both in content & writing style. (The so-called 'hybrid'.)

There is, of course, room for both The Link and The Think. That said, 99.9% of all blogs are pretty much still in what I call the "blog ghetto".

The other .1% would, of course, be Glenn Reynolds. And maybe a couple of others whose names I don't recall at the moment, mostly because I don't have the links to their blogs in front of me.

Perhaps it's time for somebody to start up a thinkersblog.com clearing house site, where Thinkers of all persuasions can be catalogued, indexed and possibly reviewed. The Big Link for The Various Thinks, so to speak.

Hey, it's just a thought. I can't help but share. It's my nature. I'm a Thinker.

Posted by: pete at 3:48 AM on 30 April 2003