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Jellybeans for breakfast

November 22, 2005

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.


In the immortal song of Christine Lavin:

"Cold Pizza for Breakfast
Warm Coke to wash it down (Ahhhhh)
Maybe a couple of anchovies
Make this meal well rounded"

The bloviosphere *is* the old world, to a very large approximation. If you wish to read the output of big-time "mainstream" pundits, you can read them. If you enjoy reading small-time "offbeat" pundits, you can read those. If you enjoy reading a friend's quirky fanzine, then - *gasp*, amazing - you can read that. And the world isn't much changed (a tiny amount, but an extremely tiny amount) if it's on paper or on screens.

The nonsense comes when projecting the changes from paper to screens - which again, do exist, but are only an extraordinarily minute shift overall - into all sorts of earth-shattering social revolution.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at November 22, 2005 05:06 PM

You are assuming for everyone blogging is just a social networking platform. For others like me (and I suspect you) it is a personal publishing house. We are in the advice and influence businesss - and we are riding the Google/Yahoo channel which are growing exponentially quicker than the HBR, Gartner or Forbes channels.

I am slow - In about my 4th year at Gartner it dawned on me that corporate users (vendors read it more religiously) did not really read Gartner stuff as it came out. But when they absolutely needed it they scrambled to find it and harassed our sales force to collate all the relevant jewels. The beautiful thing about blogs today is their just-in-time availability - when they are ready readers more likely than not will type in a key word in Google and find you or me or another blogger many times more often than they will find a journalist or an analyst. You are right they will not find really deep analysis (well, ok deeper in your blog than mine). But do you really think an HBR article or Gartner analysis really, really offers readers much more depth on a topic? The real high value comes for customized consulting or research (ok, to be real humble it comes from ops and execution, but they have plenty of that talent). Hopefully some of them will come to you or me for that or ask Gartner to sub-contract us.

I may not agree with your views on utility computing or end of IT, but SAP or Microsoft are not likely to slip too much by us. The established "influencer" community is too conflicted or editorially too slow to say what we say. And not all the stuff from blogs is negative. A lot of the positive press for web 2.0, VoIP, open source and other innovations is coming more from blogs than the established influencers.

As for Seth's comments - I happen to believe the butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon does affect global weather. We may be lowly butterflies but I do believe we are making a difference...no more jelly beans for me...

Posted by: vinnie mirchandani at November 22, 2005 09:52 PM

I certainly haven't drunk the blog kool-aid, but I must take issue with your use of "hydroplaning". I think that reading the (for lack of a better term) MSM is much more akin to this hydroplaning. Blogs offer expert advice about absurdly specific topics. Even good daily newspaper, for instance, might have a few stories about an interesting topic or development, and then drop it to move onto the next new thing. On the other hand, with blogs, you can get daily, in-depth analysis of everything from election law to organized labor. If I tried to get coverage of election law matters even from the Washington Post, I would never attain this level of focus or detail--let alone from TV. Before denigrating the depth of blog coverage, look at the alternatives.

Posted by: Dan Miller at November 22, 2005 11:53 PM

I'm more likely to engage in an interesting discussion with my neighbor about 'serious' topics via e-mail or blog comments than talking face to face. It's not that I would have had all sorts of serious face-to-face discussions if the Web, e-mail and blogs didn't exist. I believe it has more to do with the types of interchanges that tend to take place in written vs. verbal form. And somehow typing an e-mail or blog comment seems so much easier and more spontaneous than writing a letter and mailing it, particularly to a neighbor. As for why writing letters seems like such an effort, I think the telephone ruined letter writing a long time ago.

Of course the vast majority of blog-based discussion skims the surface of interesting ideas. Going deep enough to be serious involves books and/or academic study. Would anyone seriously contend that alternatives to the blogosphere such as television, newspapers or magazines do more than skim the surface?

Posted by: Jud at November 23, 2005 07:32 AM

I definitely agree with the lack of depth/seriousness. Granted, what Dan says is right, there are some who go deep (at least deeper).

But if markets are a conversation, and the conversation is about nothing, the market is useless and contrived - as far as I'm concerned.

If we're trying to have conversations and figure things out, there are tons of people who are wasting their time. But I don't think they're out there publishing to figure things out, only make a name for themselves (your ego comment).

I for one think it would be amazing to move academic journal literature onto this blog platform. No comments, just trackbacks. Every journal starts a blog, and all their contributors have accounts on it. And just go. Read what others are saying, and discuss. I say no comments, only trackbacks because comments are fairly short and brief. Hell, even impose a minimum word limit of 500 :)

Posted by: JohnO at November 23, 2005 09:39 AM

Remember all those free web hosting sites? It may turn out that the blogsphere is a little "anti-social" but it will also be the technology realm which teaches society to move toward wikis and forge projects where true collaboration occurs like never before. Now we just need global fiber to the fridge and some RFIDs to go with our VOIP and Voice Rec.

Posted by: Ed Dodds at November 23, 2005 04:51 PM

I think you're missing the point.

Socrates was just some guy (a stone-mason) who wandered around picking arguments with people in the market-place. He fisked his opponents with nit-picking fine-grained carping over details; made all sorts of outrageous anti-commonsensical claims - which an echo-chamber of dittoheads all dumbly agreed with; never respected any formal learning institutions or professionalism; and annoyed most people to the point of wanting to kill him.

How do you get more blog than that?

Yet this is the basis of Western civilization.

Posted by: phil jones at November 24, 2005 09:11 AM


As I wrote on my blog, I think you're being a little harsh. It's true that blogging can sometimes deteriorate into a clubby exercise in mutual back-patting. But I would argue that many readers of the MSM have just as shallow a relationship with what they are reading. At least blogs encourage discussion. It’s up to us to ensure that the discussion is worthwhile.

Posted by: Mathew Ingram at November 24, 2005 05:36 PM

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