When my daughter was a little girl, one of her favorite books was Jellybeans for Breakfast. (Holy crap. I just checked Amazon, and used copies are going for hundreds of bucks!) It’s the story of a couple of cute tykes who fantasize about all the fun stuff they’d do if they were free from their parents and their teachers and all the usual everyday constraints. They’d ride their bikes to the moon. They’d go barefoot all the time. They’d live in a treehouse in the woods. And they’d eat jellybeans for breakfast.
Yesterday, Dan Farber wrote a stirring defense of blogging, illustrated by a picture of a statue of Socrates. “For the most part,” he said, “self assembling communities of bloggers hold a kind of virtual Socratic court, sorting out the issues of the day in a public forum, open to anyone, including spammers.” After discussing some technologies for organizing the blogosphere, he concluded:
For a journalist, technologist, politician or anyone with a pulse and who doesn’t know everything, blogs matter. Every morning I can wake up to lots of IQ ruminating, fulminating, arguing, evangelizing and even disapassionately reporting on the latest happenings in the areas that interest me, people from every corner of the globe. That’s certainly preferable to the old world and worth putting up with what comes along with putting the means of production in the hands of anyone with a connection to the Net.
That’s one way of looking at, and most of what Farber says is true. I don’t think it’s the whole story, though. The blogosphere’s a seductive place – it’s easy to get caught up in it – and there’s lots of interesting thoughts and opinions bouncing around amid the general clatter. But does it really provide a good way of becoming informed? Experiencing the blogosphere feels a lot like intellectual hydroplaning – skimming along the surface of many ideas, rarely going deep. It’s impressionistic, not contemplative. Fun? Sure. Invigorating? Absolutely. Socratic? I’m not convinced. Preferable to the old world? It’s nice to think so.
For all the self-important talk about social networks, couldn’t a case be made that the blogosphere, and the internet in general, is basically an anti-social place, a fantasy of community crowded with isolated egos pretending to connect? Sometimes, it seems like we’re all climbing up into our own little treehouses and eating jellybeans for breakfast.