“I miss the blogs,” — New York Times media analyst Ben Smith, April 27, 2021.
Same here, Ben, moi aussi.
I try not to be too much of a grumpy middle-aged man lamenting the lost thrills of yesteryear but I have to say, I miss the thriving blogging culture of circa 1999-2012. People blogged before and after those dates, but that was a period where blogging really had an outsized voice in shaping political and cultural conversation. Many of the voices that came to the fore in that era of course are still around, and some of them — notably Matt Yglesias, Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan — are ever here on Substack.
But the golden age of blogging was about more than just this or that voice, it was a digital party, where bouncing around through hyperlinks was always bringing in new writers and new perspectives. It was a time of discovering fresh voices and also of changing minds. Immediately after 9/11, a contingent of warmongers dominated the blogosphere but in the run up to the Iraq War in 2003 there was a revitalized anti-militarist arguments.
One of the interesting things about the blogosphere was that you could see people change their minds in real time as they grappled with contending claims. More than a few of the most strident voices supporting George W. Bush turned against the war.
In other areas as well, the blogosphere opened up debate, especially in the 21st century revival of feminist, anti-racist, and socialist politics. In a very real way, the blogosphere was the seedbed for political changes we’re still living through.
There were a lot of factors that led to the decline of blogging. In the golden age of blogs, a sizeable contingent of mid-level writers were able to earn a decent living from ads, something that dried up when Google and Facebook ate up that revenue. Social media like Twitter and Facebook also provided a new way to micro-blog.
One reason I started this Substack was that I wanted to see if some of that old blogging energy could be revived. This meant for me a forum not only for contingent, provisional thinking, but also one where I could (as the bloggers of old) display different facets of my interest, writing not just on politics but also culture.
One week in, I wouldn’t mind getting some feedback. I’m still finding my sea legs as a Substacker. I want to know what works and what doesn’t.
Here’s some recent posts:
In particular, I want to know if my attempt to mix a blend of political and cultural posts on the same day works. Does it make sense for “Fighting Vaccine Imperialism” to also include a discussion of a 1946 Frankenstein comic book? Or would they be better separated?
I’m not sure whether blogs can be revived to what they once were. It could be that the social forces of polarization and fragmentation make any large scale blogging culture impossible.
Even if they aren’t, I’ve found it re-energizing as a writer to try and work out the possibilities of this format. I’m very grateful for all those who are supporting me in this and would love to get some feedback on how things are going.