You Too Can Right Like a Blogger
I confess that I often write these blurbs and notes in haste and so errors creep in. This column was both amusing and poignant. Here is the text:
You Too Can Right Like a Blogger
around the cafe the other day, pondering the many ways in which
technology has contrived to screw up my otherwise placid existence, the
talk of my table mates turned to the craft (or is it the art?) of
"There’s a case to be made that the internet has actually helped
improve the quality of writing in general," said, well, we’ll call him
"Topsy." I leaned in close to see if any alcohol was present on Topsy’s
breath. Detecting nothing beyond the usual halitosis, I surmised that
he was being serious.
"Make the case," I said.
Topsy’s line of reasoning, as best I could follow (for nothing is
ever simple in Topsy’s world), is that the easy access and limitless
nature of the web allow you to expose yourself to tons of writing, both
good and bad. Presumably, the average educated swine will gravitate
toward the good writing and, as a result, improve his own skills as he
increases his knowledge. I expressed skepticism.
"Because our chief job in life is pattern recognition," Topsy said,
pressing his point, "and the chief job of the internet, through
googling, is pattern recognition, what we do by living on the internet
is discriminate between good and bad writing. Bad writing is, by its
genes, something that doesn’t convey information, whether artful or
"The question is, are there enough of ‘us’ out there (I presume he
was referring to the aforementioned educated swine), through this
passive-aggressive process, to make any difference at all in this
I looked longingly at the bottle of Chianti behind the counter, but
resisted the urge. It’s hard enough staying with Topsy’s train of
thought while nursing a latte. I was left to wonder, though. If he’s
right — if only a relative few in our post-literate society can tell
good writing from bad, whether it’s online, in print or scratched in
the mud with a stick — then what’s the point?
As a mere stripling, I was advised that if I hoped to become a good
writer, I should write every day. More than that, I should read good
writing every day. This can be accomplished on the internet as easily
as it can by reading a book or magazine. But if you’re the sort who
prefers People to The New Yorker, well, again, what’s the point?
So my riposte to Topsy was, while the internet may be a nifty
vehicle for delivering one’s polished prose and penetrating insights to
an impatiently waiting world, it can’t help you become a better writer
if you, pardon my French, suck.
Moreover, the internet leads to all sorts of unsavory writing
practices, like blogging. You know, the journal of the 21st century.
Keeping a diary or journal ("journaling" they now call it, thanks to
the modern world’s habit of turning perfectly good nouns into verbs)
was common among the literate before television came along and hooked
us up to the communal drool bucket.
A journal exists for its author to reflect on, well, anything. A
fading love, political turmoil, a spat with a friend, the weather in
Buffalo, New York, on June 10, 1946. The writer is free to express the
most intimate thoughts, because the nature of keeping a journal is to
keep it private.
Occasionally, if the journal belongs to a writer or an artist or a
statesman, the writing is so compelling that it finds its way into
print after the author dies. In the best of those, we are invited into
the mind behind the creative process and we emerge with a deeper
understanding of a masterwork, say, or the thinking behind a crucial
Most journals go unread, though, and that’s the way it should be.
The contents were only intended for the writer’s eyes, after all.
A lot of people will tell you that blogging is merely journaling
online. It is not. Blogging is not private, but very public. And very
few blogs involve the kind of introspection that characterizes a
serious journal. Most blogging is sheer exhibitionism, either the
self-absorbed ramblings of an individual blogger or the corporate site
that exists for the sole purpose of making money. (If anyone sees a
disturbing parallel between blogging and column writing, kindly keep it
This doesn’t mean blogs have to be badly written. It just means that most are.
But let’s be fair and balanced, like Fox News. Of the 27 million or
so "daily diaries" floating like space junk in the blogosphere, there
are a handful that aren’t bad. Some are well written and insightful. But understand that we’re talking about a precious few needles in a mighty big haystack.
Were Truman Capote alive today he might be moved to say, "That’s not writing. That’s blogging."
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Tony Long, copy chief at Wired News, cries plaintively, "Can’t anybody out there diagram a sentence anymore?"