Blogging is fundamentally Postmodern

Blogging is fundamentally Postmodern
In my studies of Postmodernism and attempting to apply it to today’s culture, I often come up against a dividing line between it and Modernism. The two cultures live side-by-side — with Modernism on the descent and Postmodernism on the ascent — and clashes between the two are usually obscured by the rush of life. When I am able to see the conflict, it’s generally when logic and reason attempt to understand or define things Postmodern. It just doesn’t work, and it sticks out like a sore thumb.

This is the case in the ongoing discussion of the phenomenon of blogs and blogging. The idea of interconnected citizen journalists and the role they can (and do) play in the business of news is simply unapproachable to the Modernist mind. Even people who do “get it” fall into hierarchical thinking, because that’s the way we’ve all grown up and have been trained. A case in point is an op-ed piece in The Star-Ledger by Jeff Jarvis. Jeff is a very smart guy with a deep background in the media. He’s also a prolific blogger and considered by many to be somewhat of an authority on the subject. His blog is in my RSS reader, and I pay daily attention to what he says. In a Postmodern sense, you might say he’s a member of my “tribe.”

But in this piece, he makes what I think is a Modernist judgment about the future potential of blogs. To establish context, he’s writing about Howard Dean’s use of blogs in the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination. His point is that Dean’s blogs only allowed him to hear from his supporters, which may have given him a false sense of political reality and, therefore, contributed to his 3rd-place finish in Iowa.

Weblogs — the citizens’ weblogs outside the Dean tent — could have helped Dean avoid these pitfalls. For the true strength of weblogs is that their links bring you fresh information, diverse perspectives, and the real buzz of what the people are saying.

That is why the first response of those in power — in politics or media or business — should not necessarily be to write weblogs but instead to just sit down and read them. For the first time in centuries, weblogs have given citizens the power of the platform and the printing press. It is their turn to speak, and it is time for the powerful to listen.

I love, respect and admire Jeff’s idealism, but there’s a problem. Reading citizen blogs to get an overall sense of how the public feels is impossible. It’s a fulltime job reading Jeff’s own blog, let alone hundreds or thousands of others. That means, there would have to be a filter or an A‑list, B‑list, etc., and both ideas are contrary to the very essence of blogging.

If blogging in any way results in power and influence to the few or even layered power, it will ultimately self-destruct as just another form of mass market communications. The beauty of blogs is that they put the reader right on the street with the people. An overview (such a Modernist term!) requires separation, and therein lies the rub.

The problem is that no matter how you stack it in a Modernist world, the pyramid has a very wide bottom, and blending the Modern with the Postmodern is always a risky task. Blogs are anti-hierarchy, so we ought not be surprised if a hierarchical “read” is problematic. This is why trying to predict how these things “fit” into an institutional world often makes the “fitter” end up looking like a fool.

The Internet (the people thereof) simply will not and cannot be manipulated for individual gain, and that is the real lesson of Jeff’s piece. Howard Dean’s legacy (that is, Joe Trippi’s and Jim Moore’s) is that of trailblazer in the early history of this new communications form. That alone is sufficient for my respect.


  1. I share your feelings about Jeff and about this particular point he makes. I agree with you. The campaign does read blogs, but the most important direction is not up but out: blogs connect Dean supporters to one another. That’s their real importance to a political campaign, IMO. As a way of listening to the opinions of individuals they don’t scale much better than snail mail does.

  2. Susan Korbel says

    Analyzing the role of blogging in Dean’s campaign is useful, but should not viewed out of context with the rest of the campaign’s outreach — their massive e‑mail strategy which was great but at times very frustrating — it was impossible to get a response to the 3–5 e‑mails blurting at me begging for money every day — when I did respond, I would get an auto response saying that they couldn’t/didn’t have the resources to respond to every e‑mail. It gave me the impression that the campaign was, after all, still very one-way and hierarchical, which made the hype about radical use of new media sound/feel very disingenuous. Until somebody figures out how to solve the e‑mail/interaction overload, I think they should scrap it as a communications tool.

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