17 March 2007

Form Dictating Function

A Note on Readership

If modernism's still gasping along - and there's enough hysteria over originality, plagiarism, copyright to lend credence - blogs aren't helping. The form is all pastiche - self-reflexive, scrapbooking - and impermanent to boot. Digital text is endlessly malleable. The narrow columns and itinerant readership encourage frequent posts, short length, unfinished and unguarded.

The blog (as a medium) practically begs us to combine advertisement and content - whatever we write we shape to preen in front of search engines and feed sifters, to reach out and touch other sources, to direct and redirect the reader and arrest a flitting, promiscuous gaze.

Cf. the way say, Slate Magazine solicits clicks as ends in themselves, and mixes content with solicitation - articles phrased as questions and endlessly repackaged, a revolving header that moves faster than the content changes, strategic hyperlinks.

That sentence, by way of contrast, has already gone on too long.

And all of this, perhaps, is only a roundabout way to get to intertextuality: Blog Meridian, who's been kind enough in the past to single out some of the work I've done here, fronts a clever video on Web 2.0 by a Kansas State professor of cultural anthropology. It does a good job of dramatizing the radical changes in composition that are accompanying this technology (you could almost call it the last, attenuated phase of moveable type's destruction of the illuminated manuscript and its immoveable, singular, hand-crafted text); I'm not sure I can share its unalloyed optimism at the changes being wrought, though - the music swells triumphal as it promises to sweep away of all that's come before, but that really begs the question.

How much does form dictate content? How much does technology shape perception, or social networking alter socialization? How much will blogging change the way we write - the way the cinema has affected juxtaposition, scene setting and cuts in literary fiction?

The reposted video is sandwiched between a detailed two-part parsing of the identity politics surrounding Barack Obama's candidacy, which makes any clear indictment of blogging as a medium look a little silly. But: the questions stand.

I have to face a Boston snowstorm on St. Patrick's Day in seven hours; these are best left rhetorical on my end. You readers, hypothetical or not, are welcome to take them up in my stead.

1 comment:

John B. said...

Good to see you returning to posting, first of all. I'll try to send some more readers your way--and not just because you happened to link to me here (for which, thanks).
I'm ultimately ambivalent about the blogosphere's goodness or badness as regards culture, history, politics, etc. Those statements at the end of the video--all that rethinking about things we assumed we knew the meanings of--I didn't understand to be triumphalist in their tone. But that's maybe because I tend to see such statements as opening up discussions in various directions, along the lines of, "Okay, we can split the atom . . . now what?"

I'll cop out and say that the medium is still too new to say definitively whether it is a force for Good or for Evil, but if pressed I'll say, "Depends." And if pressed further, I'll say that I myself imperfectly try to model what I'd like more of the blogosphere to be like in hopes that a fellow traveller or two finds his/her way there and says, "I can relate."

Best of luck with that Boston snowstorm, and Happy St. Paddy's Day to you.