Spectacle September 2004

Blogging, Democratic Convention, "Pamphleteers", and Reaction

by Seth Finkelstein address

[Archived at http://sethf.com/essays/blogging/pamphleteers.php (given the Big Media reaction, maybe I can write this without A-list revenge)]

Many (though by no means all) things in life can be clarified by mathematics, if properly understood. There are some basic principles that are key to keep in mind: For example, everyone can't be above average. Or, if there are N pigeons and K holes, and N > K, at least one hole *must* have two pigeons.

Don't laugh. A simple calculation from the latter: If there are 15,000 journalists and approximately zero news stories ... The outcome of "BLOGGERS AT THE CONVENTION" could not have been other than it was.

The blog-writers who in fact do journalism, were stuck in an event where there was no news, so they spun their wheels. The bloggers who do diary-style writing, were doing diary-style writing. Which was as interesting as you'd find it otherwise (note the deliberate ambiguity of that statement). All was as it must be, could only be, any hype to the contrary.

When people speak of "bloggers as the new pamphleteers" or some such, that almost always has a patronizing undertone to me. I hear an unvoiced aspect of "Aren't they C-U-T-E!". Like what you would say to a child doing finger-painting. "That's such a gorgeous picture, err, blog-post. Maybe someday you'll be a famous artist, err, pundit". It's like "Model United Nations" or "Class President". It's not meaningful in terms of power, except perhaps as play-act training in how to behave in those roles. And the flip-side of the "Junior Achievement" expectation is the "Juvenile Delinquent" archetype, those rotten kids today who have no standards, not like their elders.

In the 18th century, being a "pamphleteer" meant you had the comparative social position not only to engage in a life of leisure (very rare), but even the wealth to pay to have your political views distributed to others people (even rarer). A significant amount of the population wasn't even literate, or barely so. It was discussion among the upper classes, not the rabble.

It's all a bit like calling people who own their houses: "the new plantation-masters". Or not understanding who is a really a "gentleman".

The pamphlet demanded attention. But this was because the mere fact of being able to produce it was proof that you were rich and educated. Which then strongly implied you were worth listening to. In more sociological terms, the pamphlet was not just the message, but also a token indicating that the pamphleteer was likely socially influential. However, the influence didn't come from the pamphlet _per se_, but rather from the wealth and influence it represented. And obviously, if the mere fact of production eventually becomes so cheap that it's widely available beyond the tip of the social pyramid, it no longer represents an indicator of being a worthwhile speaker.

The blunt question of readers is always "Why should I read you"? They're asking, what power and influence do you have, what intellectual worth do you possess, what is your place in the social hierarchy? It's not impressive to answer: "Because I am a unique and special snowflake".

You're not cyber-revolutionaries. You're a freak show.

Seth Finkelstein is a consulting programmer but will never be an "A-list" blogger (despite having the Infothought blog).