Google is not God, Webloggers are not Capital-J Journalists, the only thing emerging is my fear of war, and a headache

Though my opinion will not be shared by the majority of those who read this, I greatly appreciated the article appearing in the BBC News, Is Google too Powerful. Not only did the writer, Bill Thompson, challenge this continuing nonsense about webloggers ‘replacing’ mainstream Captital-J Journalism, he also exposed the falsity of the godhood with which Google is treated.

Of the so called ‘superior accuracy’ of webloggers, he writes:

The much-praised reputation mechanism that is supposed to ensure that bloggers remain true, honest and factually-correct is, in fact, just the rule of the mob, where those who shout loudest and get the most links are taken more seriously.

It is the online equivalent of saying that The Sun newspaper always tells the truth because four million people read it, and The Guardian is intrinsically less trustworthy as it only sells half a million.

When it comes to world news and opinion, he or she who gets the most links, wins in the world of weblogging. Those with the pareto charts and your esoteric algorithims of popularity tend to prove this out. According to the charts, rather than a new form of connectivity, we’re really just another instance typical of medieval community: with the indifferent, smug supremacy of the elite at the top and rule by the mob at the bottom (we know about the viablity of mob rule for fair and ethical treatment of either person or subject).

Within this view, occasionally the mob and the elite might join forces, briefly, and we might help with a story, such as Trent Lott and his big mouth. For the most part, though, we’re a bunch of editorialists without much concern for research, fact checking, or accuracy. That’s okay, though, because I didn’t start writing this to become yet another journalist-wanna be. Nor an elite. Nor part of a mob.

I’ve heard two common threads this last week: Weblogging is a whole new form of individual expression, without hinderance from editor or government; weblogging is a movement with power to report and shape the news. You can’t have it both ways — either we’re individuals with individual interests and independent thoughts and writing, in which case we’ll seldom have impact on the accuracy or direction of the news; or we’re a mass mind with too little independence to think outside the herd, but with enough power to stop war, throw out presidents, and change the course of history.

You can’t have it both ways. Either we’re different and unique and independent. Or we’re not, and weblogging is nothing more than a variation on an all too common societal theme.

Michael O’Connor Clarke wrote about journalism’s failure to cover the story of the deaths of thousands of Iraqi soldiers during our first battle with Iraq. Michael writes:

This suggests an urgent need to recruit and train an army of Iraqi bloggers, either here in the ‘Free West’ (*cough*), with strong connections to feet & eyes still resident in their homeland, or preferably right there in the thick of the horror.

We should arm them with satellite WiFi blogging tools and digital cameras to record and publish the unvarnished, un-CNNed truth.

What Michael forgets is that there would have been no witnesses because the people would be dead. In the starry eyed rush to show the glory of weblogging, and it’s full unleashed power via Google, he neglected to remember that the people were dead. Dead people don’t weblog.

We’ve long had the ability for people to “get the story out”. We have telephones and cameras, and if anyone had access to this at this battle, the story would have gotten out. But the only people who witnessed this act were those who died, and those who buried them. And the reason we know the story now is that some of those who did the burying are speaking out.

Who would have blogged this? Ghostly fingers from a grave?

Forget the pareto charts, and the Google and Blogger crap and focus on what this war is going to be like. We, the US and a few allies will invade without UN support. We’ll start with a barrage of missles and remote weapons, battering the Iraqi until we bring them to their bloody knees. Using this approach we can, hopefully, minimize the number of our troops lost. Though I agree with protecting our troops, this tactic is also the one most likely to maximize the deaths of civilians, as well as the destruction of services necessary to the survival of the people.

In retaliation, Saddam Hussein will blow up the oil wells, the dams, and the bridges. He’ll deny food and services for millions, effectively creating a human wall of misery around himself to protect himself from the invading army. However, even those within his protective sphere won’t be undamaged, because they’ll be the ones being bombed.

Saddam Hussein will also release whatever chemical and biological weapons exist, and he’s not going to care who gets exposed. His own people, his neighbors, Israel, our soldiers. For the first time in history, there will be one thing commonly shared by the peoples of the Middle East — exposure to weapons that should never have been invented. Excuse me if I don’t clap.

During this battle, the Iranians will most likely make inroads into Iraq, and the Kurds will begin the battle for control of the country, since they’ve already been told by the White House that they’ll not be allowed to run the country after Saddam Hussein is gone. We’ve promised Saudi Arabia and Turkey there will be no elections, no democracy. In addition, the Kurds will have been treated badly and if there’s one thing we know about the Middle East, the concept “an eye for an eye” is alive and well in that region.

In the midst of what promises to be one of our more vile wars, with human warring against human in our most inhumane ways, we’ll find our lone bloggers, bravely sitting at laptop with satellite phone, blogging the story so the truth will be told. I don’t think so.

We won’t need the bloggers to tell us the truth. We’ll see the millions — yes, millions — who are starving, the soldiers as they suffer the effects for years to come of the agents used against them. We’ll be able to smell the smoke of the oil fires for years into the future, and we’ll feel the effects the smoke will have on our weather.

There will be no mass grave large enough to bury those that die in this war we say we want to fight for the good of humanity.

I don’t want to rain on the parades of the enthusiasts. I don’t want to dampen the spirits and enthusiasm of those, such as Tom, Jeneane, Michael, Joi Ito, and others, who think everything will be different if we all just weblog. I admire and cherish their joy and dreams based on our connectivity.

Additionally, I don’t want to rain on the “Poets against War” and the “Readings against War” and the “nudity against war”, and the other refined forms of protests. Any sincere protestation of war should be respected.

I remember the starry eyed enthusiasm of those who protested against the Vietnamese war years ago. I remember because I was one of those who protested, one who placed a flower into the barrel of a guardsman’s rifle, who linked arms, who painted peace signs and flowers on my face, who sang “Give peace a chance”. Thankfully, I was not one of those who said just vile things to the war shocked, exhausted veterans as they came home.

But I was one of those who thought it was these protests that stopped the war, only to realize as the years advanced, that it was those who were silent, the vast majority who did not march, who stopped the war. And they did so because they became tired of the body bags coming home.

The St. Louis area has over 400,000 people, and of those, probably only a tenth, if that, have a computer. Of those, a scant 300 or 400 weblog. It is those who don’t weblog, who will stop the war in this country. And, if I may presume on some cultural similarities, it is the same type of person who will stop the war in other countries.

Joi Ito sees weblogging as small groups of people formed around shared experience or interest. Within these groups, he sees a positive feedback loop that pushes a signal above the noise, identifying important information for other weblogging groups to pick up. The signal grows in strength as more groups link to it and the signal eventually, if important enough, gets picked up my those outside of weblogging. As an example, he points to the recent anti-war, pro-war debates

This is a good explanation of what happens with some of our interests, such as the recent Google/Blogger merger. However, this tends to only happen when we sustain the signal for a significant period of time, as we did with the Blogger/Google merger, and as we did with Trent Lott. It’s not enough that we push an item into the charts — it’s that we hold it there sufficiently long enough to attract the interest of others.

Unfortunately, webloggers are nothing if not little birdies easily distracted by some bright shiny new toy just around the corner. Frequently, we indulge in cross weblogging circle conversations; rarely do we do so for any sustained length of time.

As for the aforementioned debate, the quality of it is no better, nor worse, than what one hears on the street, or in the next booth at the local restaurant. This isn’t to detract from those who took the time to participate in this debate. It is to say, in effect, what makes anyone think we’re so erudite in our debates that anyone other than webloggers would want to stop long enough to hear what we have to say?

Joi Ito also writes:

Many bloggers begin their weblogs to communicate with their strong tie peers. They will mostly link to and communicate within their small group.

Of the group I linked to when I first started, half are no longer weblogging, and most of the rest, I no longer link to because of changed interests. Of the people I linked to a year ago, several quit weblogging, some went in directions I couldn’t follow, and others, well, for one reason or another, we just stopped communicating. Of the people I link to now, they’ll stay on my blogroll regardless of their views because I will no longer de-link another active weblogger. Even if they go in directions I can’t follow, I’ll still read their adventures along the way. How will my blood flow except by the push it gets when I read words that make it boil?

Will I my blogroll grow? Sure, but I’ll manage.

My point is that whatever weblogging circle we’re in at any point in time, it isn’t a fixed circle, and neither is it harmonious. The ‘best’ weblogging circles, if best is the correct word, is one in which the members don’t all agree. Otherwise, reading each others posts would be like looking at ourselves in the mirror all throughout the day — no matter how vain we are, we’re going to get bored eventually.

This means though that seldom will we all agree and when we do, seldom will we sustain that agreement. And because of this individuality, seldom will we push a signal above the general noise long enough to be heard by others. Our acts of individuality counter-act the formation of a mass-mind with enough power to effect change globally, though we may wreck chaos, at times, about ourselves locally.

I started weblogging because I wanted to write, and I wanted to share what I write in the hopes that others might like it, be moved by it, even grow from it. I’d like to think I could stop this war with it, but I can’t. And nothing Google can do with weblogging will change that.

What irony: by being an individual and writing on what I want, when I want it, and encouraging others to do the same, I’m trying my best to disrupt this push for a mass-minded power capable of possibly changing the very war I fight with all my breath.

You know what moved me today? A poem, a song, a bit of writing, a shared picture, spoken words, a giggle, a new story. That’s what moved me today. They won’t move the world, but they moved me.

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