At SXSWi: Does blogging matter? How about Twitter?


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Peter Miller, a publishing professional and used bookstore owner, writes about the SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, for Jacket Copy.

When Scott Rosenberg mentions to Silicon Valley friends that he is writing a book about the history of blogging, they respond: Why bother? It’s dead. It’s over. Yet to others entrenched in traditional media his project is quixotic from the reverse perspective. Blogging surely isn’t old enough to deserve a history? And wasn’t blogging supposed to render journalism and publishing obsolete through its immediacy? Isn’t that innate ephemerality impossible to capture in a book?


Rosenberg’s observations during the panel ‘Why Keep Blogging?’ on Saturday stayed with me all throughout SXSWi. Why all the endless hand-wringing about the fate of one medium, the ascendancy of another? Are reading and writing simply a Darwinian progression of technology? Does the existence of a new format make the old one obsolete? Can’t they coexist? A term that has gained traction at SXSWi discussions is ‘permeability.’ The traditional lines between media blur more and more, but it is no longer feasible to have a binary mind-set. There is plenty of room at the publishing table.

Of course, blogs, as Rosenberg demonstrated so well, have been around for more than a decade and no longer need to prove anything or apologize for their existence. Indeed, the panel maintained that blogs were never the threat to newspapers and books that the old guard suspected, but rather were unlikely allies in the literacy wars. Lizzie Skurnick said she never could have had the life of a cultural critic -- or been the champion of books that she is at Jezebel as well as a published author -- without the blog. Moderator Emily Gordon of impressed by saying that in the ‘spinning vortex of the Internet,’ blogs are nothing more and nothing less than your ‘home planet.’

At times the session felt like a support group, acknowledging that even the most beloved blogs have a natural life cycle: enthusiasm, devotion, love and, finally, exhaustion. Distinct from books, blogs are laboratories for passionate pursuits -- where the profit motive can be put aside to accommodate expression and experimentation. It’s clear that virtually no one earns a decent living off blogging, so revel in the liberty of being beholden only to your interests. And when that interest flags and you begin to repeat yourself, as Guy LeCharles Gonzalez forcefully argued, quit and move on to the next thing.

At a conference like SXSWi, that was a rare but incredibly valuable sentiment. The Web has been through so many iterations that we now take it for granted. In the advent of social media, bloggers seek to distinguish their thoughtful commentary from the chat junk pile of Facebook and Twitter.

Yet many tweeters don’t see what they’re doing as junk. After the ‘Can You Copyright a Tweet?’ panel, I met a poet named Alana Reynolds who is attempting in her small way to elevate the short 140-character form, 17 syllables at a time. On her Twitter stream momku, she posts haiku about motherhood each day. She loves the restrictive, compressive nature and feels it has improved her writing.

Many in print seem to have gotten over their apprehensions about blogging. Will that anxiety now rise between blogs and the new media on the block, like Twitter? Or are we all in the ‘content’ business together?


-- Peter Miller

[Update 3/18/10 8:50am: Originally we reported that the title of the Saturday panel was ‘Does Blogging Matter?’ The actual title was ‘Why Keep Blogging?’]