Sorting through my followed sites and blogroll yesterday, I made a curious discovery. Many of the erudite Russia blogs I followed (A Good Treaty, Putinania, and UCG’s blog, to name a few) had seemingly gone inactive in ’14, ’15, or early ’16. At first, I thought that perhaps these bloggers had grown tired of Russia and moved on to another subject. But upon closer inspection, I found that the Twitter widget in the sidebars of several “inactive” blogs was still very active, with Russia-related tweets from as recent as an hour ago!
This indicates not so much a lack of interest in Russia, but the trajectory of online debate.
It seems to me many blogs are struggling or beginning to struggle because the focus has moved to Twitter. It’s a pity, because blogs and forums allow for more deliberate contributions.
I often feel that the more debate and discussion is “democratized”, the more it degenerates.
Before the advent of the internet, to contribute to a debate, usually through a newspaper, magazine, or academic journal, you had to present your thoughts in a way that an editor would consider fit for publication.You had to have an informed opinion – or at least some semblance of one – on your subject. Otherwise, your article would have trouble getting past the editor. The internet enabled anyone to contribute. An exception lay with blogs and forums, where content had to be more or less coherent and cogent to attract readers.
Then along came Twitter.
Twitter, by contrast, allows people to spill their guts, instantly, about any topic. A single tweet lasts a few hours tops before being lost to the poorly indexed Twitter archives. The 140-character limit inhibits one from making substantial points while encouraging knee-jerk reaction. There’s absolutely no price to offering up your opinion to the masses. You don’t need to know about the topic, you don’t need to be semi-literate and you don’t even need to have something worth saying. All you need is two working fingers and a smartphone.
Some people celebrate the democratization of debate. They claim social media like Twitter “increases the amount of information at the fingertips of the ‘global citizen'”. Honestly, I won’t defend this sentiment intellectually and don’t agree with it personally. As a casual Twitter user I’ve learned that although there is an enormous amount of information on Twitter, there’s a deficit of useful information. Especially in regards to the Russia debate, what one gets on Twitter is soundbites, not sound analysis; superficiality, not significance. It’s a lot easier to tweet “Putin hasn’t been seen for X days! There’s been a coup!!!” than actually examine possible reasons for his alleged disappearance. Would you consider the former a worthwhile contribution to the conversation on Russia?
Twitter and I have grown apart substantially since I first joined the site back in May of this year, and the more I think about Twitter, the less I want to maintain my presence there. I spend my online leisure time, and increasingly my offline life, hearing ignorant people sound off about things they haven’t even bothered to read up on, much less understand. Debate has gotten wider, but also shallower. It’s a pity, but inevitable.
Thank goodness there are still some intelligent blogs out there.