Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Why Blog? (Part 1)

It's been said of Jean Baudrillard that his writing style is where thought meets performance art. It's a distinctive voice - which is a polite way of saying that he annoys an awful lot of people.

To the best of my knowledge Baudrillard doesn't maintain a Carnet Web (blerg), but his personal notebooks (published in English as the series entitled Fragments) are one of the best examples of the style and form of fragmentary exposition available in a paper format. In short, a hypertextually-challenged blog.

In one entry from his diaries Baudrillard wrote "I don't pretend to be an intellectual who has a privileged right to know and to write. I write for myself".

Indeed, for many micro-publishers the blog is not really an end in itself - it is like the skeleton of a fleshy body that only they can perceive. Each posting is a reference point in the development of their thinking (and sometimes also a record of how it spontaneously connected up with other people's thinking) not the intended final output. Like scaffolding that is never taken down.

An article in Fortune last December revealed why this aspect at least of the blog phenomenon appeals to the legal profession: When Google redesigned its search home page, a staffer blogged notes from every brainstorm session. "With a company like Google that's growing this fast, the verbal history can't be passed along fast enough," says Marissa Mayer, who oversees the search site and all of Google's consumer web products. "Our legal department loves the blogs, because it basically is a written-down, backed-up, permanent time-stamped version of the scientist's notebook. When you want to file a patent, you can now show in blogs where this idea happened."

Frode and Doug would probably recognise this as a useful augmentation of memory. (I guess we could debate whether, confronted with the prodigious marvel that is permalinks, Socrates would still beg to differ. He could certainly have a more timely dialogue with a blog than he could with a book.)

My own education helped me fine-tune an important cognitive trick. I had to memorise a lot of stuff in the course of learning, but at the crucial moment when that knowledge was to be put to use, I made use of the mental habit of suppressing my recollection of the specific facts (indexical) in favour of the relationships between them (symbolic). As you grow older, memory suppression comes more naturally of course, but to less productive effect. Blogging is a practical way of keeping mentally fit. In my case associative thinking is not only my primary mind-skill it also forms a major part of my self-esteem.

"Those who know do not talk. Those who talk do not know" pronounced Lao Tzu. Yes, the apparent ease of blogging has added a great deal of incoherent waffle to the digital conversation. But done well, perhaps there's something a little more upmarket about blogging than mere talking!

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