say everything: How Blogging Began, What it’s
Becoming, and Why it Matters
Crown Publishers, NY
When I discovered blogging some five and a half years ago, I finally found my niche in cyberspace. At the time I had been sick with M.E. for a few years and was looking for ways to interact with the outside world using a minimum of energy. The other online options at the time were either too flighty and flammable (listservs and bbs) or too disconnected (the personal home page) for my liking. In the blogosphere I found the best of both worlds: my own home base where I could say what I wanted to say and also be connected to a whole world of other bloggers doing the same thing.
That’s exactly the kind of blogging that is celebrated in Scott Rosenberg’s say everything: How Blogging Began, What it’s Becoming, and Why it Matters. Rosenberg painstakingly charts the growth of blogs, from the very first custom-coded online diaries, right up to the election of President Obama, using the stories of notable blogs and bloggers to illustrate the many faces of blogging. Don’t get the impression that the book is mostly concerned with the “big” blogs, though. This is a social history, and the author makes it clear that what is so wonderful about the blogosphere is the totality and diversity of the human voices it contains.
Rosenberg spends some time dealing with the anti-blogger backlash, making short work of just about every criticism you’ve ever heard about blogging. The chapter “Journalists vs. Bloggers” is particularly good, and when he compares the recent record of investigative bloggers to that of the mainstream media (WMDs anyone?), the journalists come off looking pretty incompetent. Unfettered by editors and the news cycle, bloggers can and do dig much deeper than journalists could ever hope to. Before I read the book I would have said that bloggers could never replace reporters; now I am not so sure.
At its heart, though, this book is about the “small” blogger, the one who just wants to say something and hear what others have to say. The critics who say blogs lacks quality miss the point entirely, according to Rosenberg. He uses a quote from blog pioneer Dave Winer to illustrate:
It was a mistake to believe that creativity was something you could delegate, no matter how much better they were than you, because it’s an important human activity, like breathing, eating, walking, laughing, loving.
Just as it is a mistake to stop creating because you are not a Picasso or Vivaldi or Austen, it is a mistake for established artists and media creatives to think that we are after their jobs. It is only journalists who ask whether bloggers are journalists; most bloggers couldn’t care less. The same question gets thrown at the litblogosphere. Professional book reviewers periodically get out of their chairs to thump their chests and declare their vast superiority over book bloggers, and we happily go on talking about books with each other.
The last section on the future and legacy of blogging was the weakest part of the book, but who can predict the future? “Now that we have begun, it’s impossible to imagine stopping” says Rosenberg in an earlier chapter, but given the rapid rate of change of internet technologies, I would hesitate to declare blogging immortal. Some have already said blogging is dead, replaced by less-demanding social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter (though these are also notorious revolving doors). They point to the millions of inactive blogs as proof that the fad has passed. That only tells me that many who tried it found it was not for them. Writing is not everyone’s thing, and as Rosenberg says, “the act of blogging is fundamentally literary.” Those who are left behind are the ones who genuinely enjoy writing and reading the writing of others, and I don’t see that impulse ever changing, whatever technological platform is used to accomplish it.
I definitely recommend this book to any blogger interested in the broader context of what they do. This is your story. The book is very well written, and I think it will stand the test of time as a chronicle of the first 15 years of blogging. For a taste, see the book’s website for links to the many blogs mentioned in the book. Perusing them will give you at least a glimpse into blogging’s past. It’s up to us to create blogging’s future, one blog at a time.
UPDATE: I just discovered that the chapter on journalists and bloggers can be read at the say everything site. It’s worth reading if you are interested in media issues. Click the “print” link if you don’t want to read it with an orange background!