Thursday, March 02, 2006

Any medium of communication will inevitably have horrendous applications, most evident in the case of television, but this is increasingly true the Internet. Blogs and message boards, their older but just as functional cousins, have done what garish personal websites could not: fulfill the destiny of the Internet relative to other media by allowing an individual to reach many. There are, of course, been many useful, positive uses of blogs, message boards and the like, but the overwhelming tendency, especially in the case of the former, is to lapse into a sort of solipsitic narcissism.

I say solipsistic because much of what is written is in fact intelligible only to the writer, sometimes painfully and obviously so. We are all keenly aware of the many public journals that are kept by half-witted adolescents (and often adults), often with a propensity to listen to Nine Inch Nails, writing, often quite poorly, for no audience save themselves. I say narcissistic because of the prevalent assumption that because the individual has thought it, it is worth communicating to many, for no other reason than that it was thought of. This is, of course, sometimes at odds with the solipsism I spoke of earlier, though not always. Narcissism is far more prevalent on the Internet, and rightly so given its structure, seen in the formless, chronological accounts of day-to-day life presented to everyone, but written for no one in particular. A mess of anecdotes and daily events is often better than its counterpart, the Jerry Seinfeld anecdote: a detailed fixation on some mundane, insignificant aspect of daily life such as the packaging on a granola bar, with no wider significance or application.

It is the latter term that I will focus on. There is no shortage of self-absorbed drivel on the Internet, and I'm sure I have been guilty of this to a great extent though I am trying to make this blog something I would like to read, the net result of which is that individuals no longer have to come up with something worthy. Whereas the other significant method of communication available to individuals, the telephone, demands a willing listener and therefore something relevant, there is no such restriction imposed on the authors of message board posts and blogs. We are, therefore, free to describe in excruciating detail every morsel of every meal, each and every step of each and every mundane, fourth-rate 18-minute 5k, along with the mile splits, net heart rate, the standard deviation of the aggregate glycolytic dewpoint, and so on. Even within the context of individual existence, there is no attempt made to construct a meaningful narrative that is anything other than the aggregate of all available facts ("then I went to Michael's, then I smoked a joint, then I ran, then I..")

This dulling of our ability to converse and communicate may, and this is far more frightening, be symptomatic of a larger inability to distinguish between all facts and important facts. In the world of blogs and message boards, running four miles at nineteen minutes apiece with an average temperature of 64.2 degrees Fahrenheit, net elevation gain of 41 inches and an average heart rate reserve twelve beats above the Garibaldi Equivalency is often the same as the Ugandan election, the AIDS pandemic and the national debt. After all, all of them are true. If anything, the first of that quartet is most important because, after all, I said it and it happened to me.

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