So after a long hold-out, I’m joining the “blogosphere”. Not to imply there’s anything wrong with blogs. They allow a form of public self-expression to many who might otherwise be limited to posting on newsgroups or forums. But their advent did lower the average level of creative expression on the web.
It’s a lot like the Cambrian explosion in evolutionary history. Most of the 35 animal phyla (the classification level just below kingdom in taxonomy) originated in a sudden burst about 500 million years ago. Since that time, there have been no new phyla, and out of the ones that exist, by far the majority of species are concentrated into just four: arthopods (insects and crabs), chordates (creatures with backbones), molluscs, and roundworms.
But back to blogs. BECAUSE there weren’t really many tools BEFORE blogs, people were more or less on their own when it came to making web pages, and so their creative quirks and artistic tendencies showed through at every level. Choice of fonts, breaking up into pages and hyperlinks, images and their placement, and of course the content people chose to put up. Some put up stories, some biographical sketches, some recipes or guitar tablature. Others satisfied their latent librarian urges making lists of resources or putting up data of one kind or another. And of course many interspersed their texts with photos or other artworks of their own making. In short, during the early days of the web, it was “Let a million flowers bloom”.
Then came blogs. Handy software that took most of the technical work and creative scope out of the hands of the author and just let them write text. Of course, as in many cases, the imposition of constraints actually opened the door to increased creative output. The web exploded with blogs on many different subjects autobiographical and otherwise. They ran the gamut from interesting to provocative to boring (the “Today I woke up and ate a donut” genre).
But in this explosion a lot of the old variety was lost. Random sites as diverse as the individuals who made them were replaced with cookie cutter blogs (like this one) with just a few theme setting differences and the same post-and-comment structured content.
It’s this last aspect I want to focus on here. The majority of the non-corporate web went to short, soundbite-like posts of one to a few paragraphs, arranged in reverse chronological order. So don’t just forget creativity, but forget narrative structure, forget developing characters, themes, or subject matter. It’s all about a simple, witty “news” story designed to hold the reader’s attention for a couple of minutes at most. Maybe a quick comment, then it’s on to the next blog. And RSS even removes the need for conscious navigation, spoon-feeding the reader with the next most-recent item without any effort on their part.
And we all know where this has led. Facebook and Twitter. Need I say more? At least Facebook allows images, but both take the soundbite theme to an extreme. But again, I don’t want to deny the good here. Millions of people who would never have made a page let alone a site are able to participate in weaving the web. And yes, here I am as well, because I’m going on a long motorcycle trip and want the convenience of being able to update my trip journal and include images with an iPad app. So there you have it.