A collective enterprise

This post was cross-posted on India Uncut.

Richard Posner writes in the New York Times about the blogosphere:
The model is Friedrich Hayek's classic analysis of how the economic market pools enormous quantities of information efficiently despite its decentralized character, its lack of a master coordinator or regulator, and the very limited knowledge possessed by each of its participants.

In effect, the blogosphere is a collective enterprise - not 12 million separate enterprises, but one enterprise with 12 million reporters, feature writers and editorialists, yet with almost no costs. It's as if The Associated Press or Reuters had millions of reporters, many of them experts, all working with no salary for free newspapers that carried no advertising.
Read the full piece, which examines, among other things, the perceived threat that blogs pose to the mainstream media. Posner, by and by, blogs at The Becker-Posner Blog with economist Gary Becker. It is well worth your while.

(Article link via Instapundit.)

Writer's voice

Just cross-posting something I put up on my blog. Don't know how relevant it is (much of it already having been said elsewhere, in one form or another) but have been feeling guilty about not posting here and so...

(Also, check this post I wrote about the comments debate some time ago.)


At Cinefan yesterday I met Trina Nileena Banerjee, fellow blogger and leading lady of the film Nisshabd, which was screened here. We spoke for only a short while but as I was leaving Trina said she had pictured me as being quite different, based on my blog. “I thought you’d be more intimidating,” she said, as I shuffled about awkwardly, studying my shoes.

She had a point – I’m more irreverent and articulate in my writing than in person – but I don’t see why people’s personalities should be expected to exactly match what and how they write. There’s usually a world of difference between the written voice and the spoken voice. In that context I’d urge you to read this essay by Louis Menand, which I came across in the India Uncut archives. (Btw, Amit: the New Yorker link is no longer functional.) A sampler:

Writing that has a voice is writing that has something like a personality. But whose personality is it? As with most things in art, there is no straight road from the product back to the person who made it. There are writers read and loved for their humor who are not especially funny people, and writers read and loved for their eloquence who, in conversation, swallow their words or can’t seem to finish a sentence. Wisdom on the page correlates with wisdom in the writer about as frequently as a high batting average correlates with a high IQ: they just seem to have very little to do with one another. Charming people can produce prose of sneering sententiousness, and cranky neurotics can, to their readers, seem to be inexhaustibly delightful. Personal drabness, through some obscure neural kink, can deliver verbal blooms. Readers who meet writers whose voice they have fallen in love with usually need to make a small adjustment in order to hang on to their infatuation.

At another level, much of the acrimony in the blogosphere (nasty exchanges between blogger and commenter) arises from the disconnect between what a blogger writes and what he/she is like in the real world. Speaking from personal experience, for instance, I often write things in a facetious vein that some readers end up taking very seriously. If these people knew me in person, over a period of time, they’d probably feel less offended: they’d know, for instance, that my rants against PR people are, more than anything else, lame attempts to be funny; that I have close friends in PR (and in marketing, and advertising – two other professions I’m not very charitable to); and that, when in a certain kind of “hold a mirror up to the world” mood, I can be equally disparaging towards my own profession, journalism, or towards some of the things I love doing myself – like spending long hours at film festivals, or reading and reviewing three books a week.

Long-time friends will almost never post an angry, strongly worded comment, even if they completely disagree with something you’ve written. Partly of course that’s because they can just pick up the phone and talk to you about it, or send you a personal mail; but it’s also because, having known you over a period of time, they’re less likely to think of you as a threat to their entire moral universe just because you’ve expressed one opinion (or two, or five) that counters their own beliefs. But with commenters who don’t know the blogger, it’s different – it’s easy for them to misread even one sentence as a summary judgement on them and their way of thinking, and consequently their very existence.

Anyway, I rambleth on, despite promising myself that I’d try to keep my next few posts short. Read that Louis Menand essay – it’s really very good, and you don’t have to look at it in the context of blogging at all.


The "Ethics in Blogging (2005)" survey results...

...have been posted, quite appropriately, on a blog. I haven't looked through it in detail yet, but I thought it might be a topic worth discussing on this blog. The survey's findings are in this post.

The "Conclusion" section states
Overall, our findings show that personal and non-personal bloggers are distinctively different in their demographics, blogging experiences, and habits. Our findings also show that there are significant differences between personal and non-personal bloggers in the ethical beliefs they value and in the ethical practices they adhere to.

Therefore, an important point to note is that when studying the blogging population, distinctions must be made regarding the type of bloggers who are being examined to prevent any misperceptions.

In addition, the limited support from bloggers for a blogging code of ethics poses a serious problem for advocates of on-line social responsibility. If any inroads are to be made in terms of bloggers regulating themselves, consensus in the community must be developed.
Hm. It took a survey to come to that conclusion?

The survey was conducted by three students at the Singapore Internet Research Centre (part of Nanyang Technological University, between 6 Feb and 1 Mar 2005, and got responses from over a thousand bloggers (including yours truly) across the world.

Hostility in the Online Medium

I posted this piece at my blog, and then felt lets talk about this issue at Indicubed. Because it affects us as a community. So here's an edit. We've also had a lot of discussion around it earlier, and its increasingly becoming an issue with more and more of us who have voices and engage in discussions online.

Neha and I were chatting the other day about Indian blogs and how vicious and hostile bloggers and commenters can be. Am not going into a heavy link-fest here - I suspect anyone who reads Indian blogs might have noticed it too. I've personally felt under attack [see No. 13] several times, and not always for reasons I can comprehend.

Comments at some blogs run into several scores - and many times it is one group vs another - each speaking over the other - and shouting as loud as they can to be heard. I must confess that I've been party to a few such 'discussions' myself. The author of the blog is often forced to defend his or her case in a tone and manner that isn't otherwise their style, and makes them so uncomfortable. Many have closed comments as a result of this viciousness. Others are reflecting on what strategy might they adopt to keep healthy and constructive discussions going.

So what's happening here? Is it that there are just some rotten eggs? Is it that they are perverts and sicko's? Or spineless cowards who go under the name Anonymous (several Indian blogs are on Blogger and this is an easy way out for commenters)? Or is there something deeper that makes us want to shout out loud - you are wrong and I am right?

Perhaps it is time to reflect. Its probably got a lot to do with how we are coping with this relatively new medium. We come from a society that's so hierarchical in nature, that has very strong rules and sets of do's and don'ts, that has power balances rooted in tradition, that has little concept or value for personal space, and that doesnot always encourage team play.

Let's just be conscious that it is a new medium, and we're in a transitional phase - the blog world is toppling and threatening many of our traditional structures, giving open voice and power to many who hitherto had none. It is a world that is not hierarchical, one that encourages an even-playing field for free speech and debate no matter what gender or age or race or religion you belong to, it does not have many pre-ordained rules and prescriptions, it is one where we need to learn to respect personal space, and where team play can be so rewarding.

Maybe we're in a state of Anomie - we're all learning ... let's deal with these issues in ways that make us more comfortable --- for some, it is to close comments (which is such a pity), for others it is to simply ignore obvious 'flamers', and not engage in a debate. I personally prefer the latter. When you don't engage someone, they may knock harder for a while, but soon, they will go away.

It's also obviously not just an Indian online phenomenon - there's some wisdom in this post by Chris Allen on Extrapolative Hostility in the Online Medium - where he quotes Mick LaSalle, in a column :

"As for why people get hostile when they hear a differing opinion, I go back to Spinoza's definition of love and hatred. He says that people love that which they think reinforces their survival and hate that which they think threatens their survival. I believe - this is just my humble theory, now - that when people hear an opinion that counters theirs, their minds extrapolate from that one opinion to imagine a whole philosophical system. And then they imagine how they would fare in a world run according to that imagined system. So they go from disagreeing to feeling threatened in a matter of seconds, and they lash out. Often they write letters that begin, "You are obviously," and that's where they identify, not you, but the phantom they feel threatened by......"

Of Kaafiri and bloggers

Neela asks me: I am curious about why bloggers advocate not reading their blog as the solution to anyone who criticizes their writing. Would you really rather that someone does not read you if they disagree with what you say or would you rather have them say waht they will?

I cannot presume to speak for all bloggers; but here's my answer:

I would rather that people continue to read me, whether they agree or disagree with what I'm saying. I'd rather that people hate me, despise me, get infuriated by and want to hit me, but that they continue to read me.

Why do I (as a blogger) tell someone to stop reading my blog?

Because that is my way of saying 'Live and let live'.
See, dissenters have the option of providing an alternative perspective, either through comments or via email. Or creating a new post on your blog (and I will happily link to it).
You have the option of shooting holes in any given argument. You have the right to correct me if I'm factually wrong. You can even tell me you don't like the blog (and I will probably reply along the lines of 'Thanks for nothing... I don't like you either').

But you can't tell me to change my blog, to suit your tastes.
If people are going to try and tell me what should or shouldn't be posted on the blog, then I would have to gently remind them that this is my turf, created for the specific purpose of allowing me to have my say.

Besides, that is the most civilized way of dealing with disagreement.

I do not take differences of opinion (dissent) lightly.
Dissent led to burnings at the stake. Dissent let to impalements over a gate. Dissent has led to killings and war.

They smash shops on Valentine's Day because it cannot see eye-to-eye with love-hungry teenagers anxious to get their first date through this love-sanctioned festival.

They strip down to their underwear and parade semi-nude in front of an old, respected actor's home. (Saira Bano must have been vastly amused... in her place, I'd have filmed it all for post-dinner entertainment in duller times).

They rip through brilliant canvases because they don't like to think a Goddess could be nude. They threaten to burn down cinema halls because they disapprove of one dialogue, one scene, or one song. (Poor MF Hussain gets it from both sides of the communal spectrum... and such a lovely song it was too!)

They set off bombs in theatres, tubes, bus stations, offices. They fly planes into buildings. They induce children to take up arms and turn into suicide bombers. They break down mosques and destroy hard-won livelihoods, all on account of a difference of opinion.

Do you know the meaning of 'kaafir'?

Not 'non-believer', as they would have you believe. My mother tells me that the word actually 'dissenter'.

Yet, dissent is all around us. All of us are Kaafirs unto each other.

The trouble begins when we take upon ourselves the onus of tackling this kaafiri, of
wiping out the things we don't like.

What would you say is a rational way of dealing with each others' kaafiri?

Would you not tell the violence-mongers that they have the option of not watching a movie they find offensive? That they have the option of not celebrating Valentine's Day? That they have the option of not looking at women, if they think women's faces should not be seen?
That is the rational, peaceful approach, right?

Cut back to blogs and the blogger's reaction to disagreement.

People have the right to disagree with my writing. They have a right to tell me they hate my writing. You have right to say I'm melodramatic and that my brains probably aren't working because they've been snack-deprived for too long.

They do not have the right to tell me to spare them x or y kind of post.

For all of us are kaafirs unto each other...

[Cross-posted on Known Turf]
Independent, Individual, Indian.

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