August 9, 2005

If only we could truly communicate.

A woman in Atlanta named Leslie Ruth Hunter writes to the NYT about its recent editorial "Measuring the Blogosphere":
I have a suggestion that would save us all a lot of time and aggravation as we grow increasingly more addicted to modern technology.

It's ridiculously simple really. How about if all those who spend much of their time chattering on their cellphones stow them somewhere, and actually talk to the living, breathing human beings right in front of them? Then maybe they wouldn't have to spend so much time blogging us all senseless.

We'd all be truly communicating, and we'd have more time to truly accomplish something. Or perhaps just enjoy life.

Radical idea? You decide.
I understand -- really, I do -- how someone who doesn't feel moved to blog and doesn't enjoy reading blogs might feel dispirited by all the blogging. And I agree that face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication. I'd even go so far as to say that -- in its highest manifestations -- it's the best thing.

But blogging is just writing, and like other writing, it has aspects that are better than conversation:

It can reach beyond the people you know.

It can reach people in the future, including the people you know.

It can reveal things that cannot come up in ordinary conversation.

It can allow one person to contribute a larger share of the ideas than would be seemly in conversation.

It lets you leap over your immediate physical environment.

If I stuck to face-to-face conversations, I'd be talking to people in Madison, Wisconsin all the time! One of the best things about blogging for me has been the ability to talk to (and with) people outside of this very specific locality. I'm not knocking it as a place to come and be a student for a while. (Come to our wonderful Law School!) But it's damned insular. The self-satisfied, easily offended lefties can really get to you after a while! [UPDATE: This does not refer to my friends!] One reason I blog (a lot) is that I have so much material I can't use in real life conversations. I'm conversation starved here and have been for twenty years!

And then, of course, there are the links. When bloggers talk, we sometimes say: "I wish I could link to" some article we've read. I'm used to talking about things and showing you the text at the same time. I can't do that very well in conversation, even if I carry the NYT around with me. In conversations chez Althouse, we do often start taking books off the shelves and pointing out paragraphs, but that's more of a family thing.

Finally, once we've become bloggers, our conversation changes. Many times I've said or heard things like:
I already blogged about that... [so I think it would be tedious to repeat this.]

Well, if you'd read my blog ... [you wouldn't be making me repeat this.]

That's the short version, you should read the whole thing on my blog...
And for us hardcore bloggers that last line seems like an amusing witticism, right?


Steven Taylor said...

This kind of thing strikes me as part of a need to simply bemoan some aspect of modern society (a variation of the "back in the good ole days...").

Indeed, is it not the case that there has been ongoing bemoaning about the fact that in the modern era the written word is fading (usually along the lines of "people don't write letters like they used to...").

Quite honestly, blogging has made more communicative than I used to be (not that I was shy about talking, being a professor and all...).

However, I have found that I may talk more about a subject because not only have I given it more thought because I blogged on it, but since I have blogged about it and it is in the public domain, why not just talk about it too?

I have also found that because of blogging I have likely read more news and commentary on a subject than most people, even my peers. Because, if I am going to argue in public about something, I need to be informed—not to mention that I am often looking for stuff to blog about.

So to conclude (and make one your main points) I sign off from Alabama and I shan't make the obvious point that I likely never would have spoken to you in any capacity sans blogs, since the odds of our paths crossing were pretty slim.

Kathy Herrmann said...

Ann and Steve--What you two said!

I agree that in-person talking is sometimes overlooked in today's society (think when someone IMs you from the next office instead of walking over to talk!).

But I also find by either writing or reading blogs and their comments, I read more and get exposure to a more diverse range of opinions and insights than I received from reading the same newspapers as everyone else or only talking to nearby folks. The exposure has reformed some of my own opinions -- and in some cases -- helped me become more tolerant of the differing view because of greater understanding of why some people think like they do. In others, it's helped me identify issues that I oppose and that's stimulated me to be a more active opposition voice.

Also, writing articles that will get public attention -- and potentially wide-spread attention -- stimulates me to get clarify my own opinions because whatever I write has the potential to be out there for a looooooong time. I don't mind being wrong, but really don't want to look like an idiot with sloppy thinking!

The issue, though, becomes one of balance. Step away from the computer for a chunk of your time.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure all the commenters here will be on the same page with Ann, Steve and Tiger. Me too!

Reading blogs is something I have ADDED to my regimen of communicating with others. It ain't a substitute for anything I used to do.

And Tiger's point is especially key - Blogs let you see into cliques that you can't really get at any other way. I have learned far more about libertarians and lawyers, for example, than I could ever find out through my social contacts.

goesh said...

- it's good stuff - all the info, the humor, the observations, facts, debates, insights, experience, sources for more of the same.....even sketches and photography

DannyNoonan said...

"If I stuck to face-to-face conversations, I'd be talking to people in Madison, Wisconsin all the time! One of the best things about blogging for me has been the ability to talk to (and with) people outside of this very specific locality. I'm not knocking it as a place to come and be a student for a while. (Come to our wonderful Law School!) But it's damned insular. The self-satisfied, easily offended lefties can really get to you after a while! [UPDATE: This does not refer to my friends!] One reason I blog (a lot) is that I have so much material I can't use in real life conversations. I'm conversation starved here and have been for twenty years!"

This is exactly how I feel. Except I've only been here for two years. But still, it's good to communicate with people outside of the bubble of Madison if you are at all right of center. Or even moderate.

Mark Daniels said...

I think you've touched on the core of the matter. For all its "newness," blogging is simply the latest manifestation of a means of communication that just a short while ago, some were saying was near death: writing.

For better and worse, the Information Age has resurrected written communication, whether through emails, blogging, or text messaging. New technologies allow the written word to reach others more rapidly--I just sent an email to a Marine serving in Iraq yesterday, for example. And in the specific case of blogging, the impediments between writer and public that exist in conventional publishing are gone.

Good post! How did you get so stinking smart?


Simon Kenton said...

"How about if all those who spend much of their time chattering on their cellphones stow them somewhere, and actually talk to the living, breathing human beings right in front of them? Then maybe they wouldn't have to spend so much time blogging us all senseless."

Not to discount your response and that of your commenters, but this woman can't tell the difference between a cell phone and a blog.


One of your lurkers and I discussed recently how we had enjoyed this last election more than any in memory. Not just the shock of recognition - though it's nice to find kindred thinkers. Not just learning there are alternative sources of information out there - though it has been a dry 30 years trying to get information from the MSM. Not just getting actual analysis, instead of the sonorous deprecation and lifted eyebrow that Brokaw, Rather, and Jennings used for 30 years to key us to what our real opinions should be. But the talent! God, I'm just so pleased and grateful to have run into real writers like Lileks, den Beste, Steyn. And writers that speak to me personally, like you, Shannon Love, neo-neocon. From a global perspective I'm glad Bush won; it has been so heartening to watch other peoples awaken. But most of all, I just purely enjoyed the hell of the run-up to the election, and the post-election, and the present. And that's due to the blogs.

Ron said...

Why is it that people only 'get addicted' to new things like technology? Why isn't Ms. Hunter 'addicted' to old-fashioned notions of how people communicate, thus rejecting the new?

Isn't it a sign of how much we love communication that we're all online chattering like magpies? (sorry, had to get in a cliche of my own)

P_J said...

I find that reading blogs enhances my face-to-face communication with others. The MSM tends to be an echo chamber. I've discovered many interesting and unique things (and perspectives) through blogs that have led to better conversations.

The argument presents a false dichotomy. I manage to have both friends and the internet.

John said...

Instead of writing a letter to the NYT, shouldn't Ms. Leslie Ruth Hunter have shared her thoughts about blogging with "the living, breathing human beings right in front of" her?"

ploopusgirl said...

It's not very conservative of you all to be defending technology like this. You sound like dirty terrorist liberals!!!

Anthony said...

Good timing, Ann, as today is the 10th anniversary of Netscape going public which, arguably, started this whole thing off. I posted about it at ArchaeoBlog, with a link to this post.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

ploopusgirl said...

Oh, John, please. Spare me. It's so ridiculous of you to be criticizing the woman like this: she has a point. While not all of you spend your entire lives sitting in front of the computer blogging and/or talking all day on a cell phone, there are many people who do (IE: Ann). It's not uncommon, unhealthy, or dirty terrorist liberal of a person to wish that people would spend more time talking to real people rather than the people on the internet. It is ridiculous, however, for you to be offended by this simply because you choose to speak with people on the internet.

You are all such hypocrites, with such self-serving agendas. You're all as conservative and right-wing as can be when it comes to anything else (abortion, homosexuality, terrorism, friggin semantics), but attack your medium for discussing the goddamn liberals and their anti-America agenda and you suddenly become as liberal as can be. Save technology!

Matt said...

The big difference (to me) between cell phone chatter and blogging is that cell phone chatter is a way of keeping within your own little "bubble universe" at all times and not engaging with other strangers, whereas blogging (done well) is designed to foster communiction and discussion with strangers and even a creation of community. I've made new friends (some of whom I've even met in person) as a result of blogging, as well as reconnected with old ones. That's a hell of a lot different from those folks who won't shut their yapper on a cell phone.

Diane said...

In my experience, most hard-core liberals are luddites.

They've mixed up their environmentalist agenda with a strong anti-technology base. They were the first ones to be against genetic engineering of foods ("Franken foods" I believe they were called), and against cloning (What about over population?!). I've met several liberals who hate computers and modern technology because "it separates us from the earth, and takes jobs from the working man!"

The most liberal woman I know refuses to own a computer because she feels that they are driving wedges between people and allowing their naturally darker natures to take over.

There is nothing ultra conservative or ultra liberal about shunning technology. It's a mark of "ultra idiot" as far as my experience goes, regardless of political affiliation.

Unless you can point out how wanting a minimum of government interference goes hand in hand with liking computers.

Tonya said...


I love your blog but I wish that so many of the threads in the comments didn't get reduced to a fight between the right and the left.

So, I'll try to bring this discussion back to the topic at hand. Like you, I am fascinated by the way blogging changes the manner in which people communicate with each other -- even people like us Madison bloggers who have plenty of face-to-face conversations with each other. During discussions, we often say to each other things like "don't blog that" and "you should blog that." And all those blog posts enhance conversation because they often lead to more topics to cover in our face-to-face talks.

Anonymous said...

If Ms. Leslie Ruth Hunter ever finds herself sitting next to me on a plane, I hope to Christ she'll whip out the cell phone and talk to someone she actually knows instead of pestering me. (This is assuming the idea of keeping quiet and reading a book doesn't occur to her, which I've a hunch it wouldn't.)

P.S. These damned kids.... nothing but a bunch of.... in my day....

Irene Done said...

1) I nominate John for The Best Comment Ever award. 2) Maybe the point is that we each have our own goals and preferences when it comes to communication and we're lucky enough to be able to choose what suits us -- and the situation at hand -- best. Ms Hunter's mistake isn't that she prefers face-to-face conversation; it's that she heaps scorn on those with different tastes and preferences. Isn't that self-serving? Isn't that intolerant?

Ann Althouse said...

Steven: Great points. I find that I'm more communicative in person now too, precisely, as you say, because I've blogged about it, so that my opinion is already on my permanent record -- too late to withhold it -- and because I've developed my thoughts on the subject and my ability to generate instant opinions on a wide variety of subjects. (I have become a sort of "insta-pundit," as it were.)

Roaring Tiger: "helped me become more tolerant of the differing view" -- great!

Stranger: "Blogs let you see into cliques that you can't really get at any other way" -- that reminds me of my theory of podcasting...

Rick said...

Dont forget the other side of blogging, besides writing, is READING. It's what some thought to be a lost art, and now it's sort of back in style. Because if no one reads the writing, its not of any use, is it?

pst314 said...

"Another damned, thick, square, book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh, Mr. Gibbon?" --William Henry, Duke of Gloucester, upon receiving from the author Volume Two of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

(Only marginally related to the topic, but I hope you enjoy it.)

vbspurs said...


It was actually George III who said to Edward Gibbon.


knox said...

...what Simon Kenton said. Blogs are great to go to for so many things: "kindred thinkers"..."alternative sources of information"... "actual analysis"... and great talent and writers. And it's true, depending on where you live and/or what field you work in, any topic that's vaguely political can be extremely difficult in face-to-face conversation.

(Anyway, who ever said reading blogs replaces human relationships?)

vbspurs said...


What Ann, Steven, Roaring Tiger, Strangerintheseparts (hey stranger), and everyone has said about it, times two, to the power of infinity.

Now that our nodding heads are in synch, a few comments.

If I stuck to face-to-face conversations, I'd be talking to people in Madison, Wisconsin all the time!

You know, this I especially don't get.

People who are left-of-centre are always banging on about Americans particuarly being insular, and just paying attention to what goes on TV, or their local rags. If that.

So what happens? The internet comes along and never mind visas, and checkpoint Charlies, it destroys the physical barriers we humans had in communicating with each other the quickest possible way, to anyone in the world.

And with translation tools like Babelfish, you can go to France, Germany, Spain, Brazil, etc. and read their stuff too!

Good Lord, you'd think progressives would be falling over themselves touting the merits of the internet.

Instead, with some academics I know (Medical professors), you'd think the internet were rat poison.

They think it takes away from first-hand social experiences, whilst at the same time, allowing ANYTHING to be said, even if that means libelling a person. And usually, 99 times out of a 100, nothing is "done" about it.

I cannot tell you how many times I have had this argument with them.

The only conclusion I can come to is that there are many more Luddites out there than one can imagine.

And that the internet, blogging specifically, bothers something deep inside people.

Just ask Ralph Nader if all he wants is to tax commerce on the internet. I don't think so. It's more than that.

It's about lack of regulation, and possibly, lack of control of opinion-forming.

Which is basically all that MSM does in the way they slant their pieces.

Information is peachy king, as long as it's being presented by people whose starting premises and ideals mesh with their own.

If not, it's suspect.

I can't believe that 15 years on high, people are still in a snit about the internet and all its social perils. USENET was the precursor to blogging, then came HTML-friendly forums, and now blogging.

What I am trying to say is that first we've had time to adjust our social world to the internet explosion, and its alleged anti-social realities, and to enhance our real lives accordingly.

Practical Positives of Blogging:

1-We write more.
2-We read more.
3-We see the same stories from different angles.
4-With the handy Preview button, you can amend or reconsider your words, avoiding the lack of revision in uttering words aloud as you speak them.
5-We've been handed a powerful tool, which is as close to the influential pamphleteering of the 18th century, as it can be.
6-The printing press has not been destroyed, but it's need has been lessened.

If truth be told, most bloggers blog because they feel they have something to say, but Blogosphere gives them a bigger audience than piping up to the same friends and family they would usually have to spout to.

And yes, maybe in Blogosphere you have to wade through a lot of dreck to get to the nuggets of gold, but that's also a simile for life itself.

What's the fuss about?


Paul said...

Here I go again....That last line is a killer. A slow reader/comprehender like me gets to that line and rolls his eyes at the least or passes out at the most.
I read blogs for all the reasons stated; I can't think of anymore. They give me all of you and of all that you say each day, I learn at least one thing. At Ann's house - here - not there, I learn more than that. People like her and many of her commentor's do not live in my world. A few years ago, unless they wrote a book I might read, they didn't exist at all.
Occasionally, the fun part, I'll throw a thought in myself, it doesn't matter that it brings no reaction, I just feel better; I'm having fun.
Probably, and this happens often, I've just missed the entire point of this discussion with my post. Well, I'm blissfully ignorant of that usually and Ann doesn't delete it. She is kind and a lot of other good adjectives - but you all know that.
See? Germane or not, I've had a chance to read you, to talk in a manner with you, and it just feels good. (I'm getting smarter too, I think).

CarlB said...

Speaking of Madison, shouldn't it be "peninsular?"

Ann Althouse said...

CarlB: That would be isthmusal.

P_J said...

Never heard of that. I thought it was isthmian?

Peter Hoh said...

I don't think I could tolerate a conversation with EGGAGOG in real life, but as a blog, it's a delight.

California Gold said...
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