cockroaches no longer

Way back when, Henry Jenkins didn’t have a weblog, which Torill and I used as an example of the way the web can invert some power relationships – with no weblog, the influential MIT professor of media and popular culture had no online voice with which to meet criticism from bloggers.

Years have passed, and Henry Jenkins now has a blog, a very interesting one, too. This morning he posted an email from a former student of his who sent him a long description, with illustrations, of blogs in her native Lebanon, and of “city blogging”, graffiti in Amsterdam and New York that expresses opinions and care about the bombings.

The post is interesting in itself, but also illustrates a larger change in how blogs are being used. Four years ago, Jenkins wrote of bloggers as an exotic species very different from himself:

Like cockroaches after nuclear war, online diarists rule an Internet strewn with failed dot coms. (…) Bloggers are turning the hunting and gathering,
sampling and critiquing the rest of us do online into an extreme sport. We
surf the Web; these guys snowboard it. Bloggers are the minutemen of the
digital revolution. (Note: The bit about “cockroaches” generated a lot of upset among bloggers, and was actually removed from the article after publication. Apparently it was the editor who put it in, not Jenkins himself.)

Today blogs are mainstream. According to a phone survey Pew Internet conducted last month in the US, 39% of internet users read blogs and 9% write blogs. Another recent survey shows that only 40% of the US population had read a newspaper “yesterday” and only 36% had listened to the radio. (Norwegians read more newspapers: in Norway, in 2005, 74% of the population read a newspaper on an average day.) Now I realise that these statistics don’t quite match – that’s 39% of internet users, not of the whole population, and they didn’t say they read a blog “yesterday”, they said they read blogs in general, so the figures aren’t really comparable – and yet they do show that blogs are rapidly closing in on radio and newspapers as mainstream, everyday experiences.

As more and more people read and write blogs, they’re obviously going to become less like an extreme sport. Today, professors blog. Politicians blog. Celebrities blog. Sure, there are still more regular people who blog than people-in-conventional-positions-of-power who blog, but the balance is shifting.

Henry Jenkins blogging is, of course, wonderful. It not only means he can speak in the same arena as other bloggers, responding directly, for instance, to criticism of his new book, it also means we get to share some of the feeling of the classroom and the richness of his day to day connections. MIT’s Open Courseware is a wonderful sharing of teaching paraphernalia, but real learning and research, in my experience, happens less in reading syllabi and watchign lectures and more in the intersections between experiences and ideas that you find in conversations and social groups. Watching Jenkins discuss his book and share thoughts his students and ex-students have shared with him is far more interesting than leafing through the assignments given in an MIT classroom.

17. August 2006 by Jill
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