Salon.com recently published an excerpt from Scott Rosenberg’s new book, Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It’s Becoming, and Why It Matters (Crown Publishing 2009). The book chronicles the rise and continuing evolution of blogging, along with its effects on social interactions, business, politics, and all other areas of culture and society. Especially interesting is Rosenberg’s claim that “We talk too much about television as an antecedent to the Web, and not enough about the telephone.” While the Internet and computing technology in general draws much from TV with regard to interface, the telephone, with its focus on communication and shared information, is just as useful to think about as a major predecessor.
Big-media efforts to use the Net for the delivery of old-fashioned one-way products have regularly failed or underperformed. Social uses of our time online — email, instant messaging and chat, blogging, Facebook-style networking — far outstrip time spent in passive consumption of commercial media. In other words, businesspeople have consistently overestimated the Web’s similarities to television and underestimated its kinship to the telephone.
Rosenberg also notes that the same anxieties that surrounded the telephone in its early years are now being resuscitated to fit the Web:
When the telephone arrived in American homes and businesses in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was some uncertainty over how people would use it and how using it would change their lives. Some social critics worried that the telephone’s insistent intrusions would undermine the status of the home as a refuge from the world’s pressures. Others feared that the phone would erode the shared public space of our communities and disengage us from social life. Telephone conversations were neither private nor trusted. Party lines and operators meant conversations were likely to be overheard; con artists took advantage of the new technology to prey on the naive.
The Web is still a new technology, and its complexity, breadth, and ubiquity have raised some important questions about security, as well as about its social, political, and economic effects. The participatory nature of the Web is one of many areas where both critics and proponents of activities like blogging have had a lot to say. The consensus on both sides, however, is that blogs could change, and in part have already changed, the way we read, the way we interact, and, ultimately, the way we think.
One reason for this is that blogs, as Rosenberg notes, manage to successfully incorporate the interactive, two-way communication model of the telephone while also relying on some of the visual and spectacular elements familiar in television. On the book’s official website, Rosenberg notes that
Before blogs, it was easy to believe that the Web would grow up to be a clickable TV — slick, passive, mass-market. Instead, blogging brought the Web’s native character into focus — convivial, expressive, democratic. Far from being pajama-clad loners, bloggers have become the curators of our collective experience, testing out their ideas in front of a crowd and linking people in ways that broadcasts can’t match.
The end result of this is that
we can now see that collectively [blogs] constitute something unprecedented in human history: a new kind of public sphere, at once ephemeral and timeless, sharing the characteristics of conversation and deliberation. Blogging allows us to think out loud together. Now that we have begun, it’s impossible to imagine stopping.
Rosenberg has also taken advantage of the interactivity made possible by the Web in another way: by compiling and hyperlinking the book’s endnotes on the official website for your perusal.
Rosenberg has his own blog at wordyard.com.