Monday, April 24, 2006

Blogger Madness

Despite such honorable exceptions as tech columnist Walter Mossberg, some of the Wall Street Journal's content seems positively Luddite. There's not a lot in the way of hyperlinks in its online content. And for certain writers the Internet, particularly, blogs, are still treated as some exotic and rather scary place.

In the 1930s we had "Reefer Madness." In the Wall Street Journal, we get "Blogger Madness." This column by Daniel Henninger on all those wacky, depraved and raunchy bloggers is a good example.

Henninger's opening is an anecdote on the cannibal who kept a "blog." (Placing the word in quotes at this late date tells me a lot about Henninger's blog awareness.) While Henninger disclaims any intention to brand bloggers as cannibals, he's being disingenuous. He choose a shock lede with the most lurid example he could find.

It's frankly depressing to read Henninger's baffled, baby-talk description of this world.

"Typically, a blogger creates a Web site and then, in the pale glow of a PC screen, types onto a keyboard what's on his or her mind. A blog nearly always invites readers to share their "comments," which they do, and which the blogger posts seriatim."

Yes, Henninger put quote marks around "comments."

But credit Henninger for performing research. He cites an actual AOL press release on a blog study. He goes on to mention a researcher by name, psychologist John Suler. This researcher studies "dissociative anonymity," "solipsistic introjection" and even "dissociative imagination." Henninger devotes 61 words and a full paragraph to these phenomena.

Henninger even belly-flops into that pool of depravity known as MySpace:

"Example: The Web site currently famous for enabling and aggregating millions of personal blogs is called If you opened its "blogs" page this week, the first thing you saw was a blogger's video of a guy swilling beer and sticking his middle finger through a car window. Right below that were two blogs by women in their underwear."

Women in their undies!!? Wait till Henninger discovers the department store lingerie ads.

As for the shock of getting the middle finger in a car window while someone drinks and drives, well, Henninger has a point: That's the kind of stuff you only see on the Internet.

With an instant expert's certainty, Henninger sums it all up with this pronunciamento:

"At the risk of enabling, does the Internet mean that all the rest of us are being made unwitting participants in the personal and political life of, um, crazy people? As populist psychiatry, maybe this is a good thing; the Web allows large numbers of people to contribute to others' therapy. It takes a village.

'But researchers note that the isolation of Web life results in many missed social cues. It is similar to the experience of riding an indoor roller coaster, what is known in that industry as a "dark ride." This dark ride could be a very long one."

True to form, Henninger doesn't include citations or links to back up his comments on those other nameless "researchers".

Even us uninhibited asocial, beer-swilling cannibal bloggers know to do that.

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