I love me the blogosphere. It is a fantastic thing. Blogs gave us the first chance to get out from under the mainstream media. They provide an incredible opportunity to connect with like minded people and get the information that you want. I am committed to the medium and hope to continue to produce in it. They have a downfall as well though. James Lileks has talked about the concept of “non-contiguous information streams”. Blogs, and the increasingly fragmented cable news market, allowed people to get the information they wanted, and ONLY the information they wanted, to the exclusion of all other information. This made it easier for otherwise smart people to maintain some really silly ideas. On the left, it convinced people that the run up to the 2004 election was a really good time for a gay marriage push. On the right, it tragically maintains the idea that we need a bigger defense budget to deal with a bunch of fanatical Islamist peasants in tents than we needed to deal with Hitler or the Soviet Union.
Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook are now dramatically more important than the blogosphere. Pundits who used to maintain well thought out blogs, are devoting more of their time to these other services. It is a bit of a tragedy for those of us who remember the vibrancy of thought and significance that blogs once had. But, crucially, these systems avoid the problem described above. By expressing yourself on Twitter, and especially on Facebook, you are getting out of the echo chamber. Your liberal co-workers will be exposed to what you think, and vice versa. My facebook stream is an incredibly valuable thing. I get a sense of what a much broader slice of America actually thinks than I would if my only source of news were still Reason and National Review Online.
Of course, my networks are limited to the people that I have met and interacted with, but even that is a much broader slice of the world, and especially a wider spectrum of opinion than you can get in a DailyKos comment thread.
Even better, I can get a sense of what issues motivate those who generally couldn’t care less about what is going on in Washington, DC. 5 minutes with the images and stories that they gravitate to can tell you more about America and where we are going than days spent nodding your head along with Huffington Post or the Drudge Report. You can learn more from this media, and it can also do more. Take the image attached to this post for an example. At least 20 odd facebook friends have shared it over the past week. It’s quick, funny, and true. You don’t have to click on it to get the message. It isnt changing my mind. But what about that web designer who made it from a small Bible Belt town to Brooklyn or San Francisco? When she posts it, everyone in her high school class will see it. They may or may not like it, but they will think about it.
The past 5 years have seen incredible movement on issues that were once seen as un-changeable. Support for gay marriage has gone from a fringe position to the mainstream. This impassioned speech from an Iowan child of two mothers reached people who will never hear of Andrew Sullivan or Dan Savage. It has been viewed over 16 million times. Coincidence? Over 50% of Americans now support Marijuana legalization. I have tried to contribute to that in a small way. The Republican primaries featured Ron Paul, a candidate who seriously advocated for de-militarization and ACTUALLY cutting the federal budget. None of these developments are in the interest of those who hold power in this country. They are happening nonetheless. To some degree, Social media can take credit for all of these developments.
Blogs will remain an important part of this developing media culture. Their great golden age has passed, but they are now a vital part of an immensely more powerful ecosystem. This is a good thing.
Rob Morris is building his own little Social Media Empire here.