Why So Many Blogs Are So Tiresome

By | June 1, 2007

If you find the blogosphere’s obsession with politics to be as pointless as I do, don’t miss Michael Anissimov’s new entry at Accelerating Future: Why Utilitarians Should Focus on Technology. Michael writes:

Our minds are programmed to overfocus on politics, and underfocus on technology. The reason why is that our ancestors evolved in an environment where the political scene was constantly changing while technology stayed roughly static. Today, both areas change rapidly, but technology has a greater impact.

So those of us who blog about technology are doing the public a service by trying to get them to focus on the greater-impact area.

I caught a little of the Dennis Prager show while out driving yesterday; the guest was the author of an exhaustive historical account of the JFK assassination intended to provide a thorough debunking of all the conspiracy theories associated with that event. In one segment, Prager talked a little about why conspiracy theories are so attractive. Among the reasons he cited were their tendency to reinforce our prejudices as well as to provide a more emotionally satisfying explanation for events than the mundane facts.

Closely related to that second reason, I think people get caught up in conspiracy theories as a form of entertainment. And although I believe there is a difference in degree (and probably in kind), politics also provides a good deal of entertainment value. I mean, there can’t be any doubt that TV shows like Hardball are primarily intended as entertainment. Rush Limbaugh and Bill Mahr make the point even more explicit.

I think a lot of people who read and write political blogs aren’t all that different from Star Trek fans. They’ve found something that’s really interesting and fun for them, and they go with it. The big difference, of course, is that political junkies know that they are dealing with matters that impact the real world, and believe that they’re having some influence on real-world outcomes. (Most Star Trek fans aren’t interested in that, although many will tell you how Trek is a force for good which has changed the world, etc.)

Most people who read and write about technology are more like Star trek fans than they are political junkies. They follow their subject primarily because it’s entertaining and fun, without much consideration as to the greater societal impact. (Although some do think about this quite a bit.) But technology has a much greater impact than Star Trek, and — as Michael demonstrates by naming two fairly obscure inventors who have had a tremendous impact on the world — a much greater impact than politics, too.

For those of us who get bored with politics pretty easily, and who are inclined to try to steer the conversation in the direction of technology, this is pretty encouraging.

UPDATE:

Actually, as I read back over it, I would slightly disagree with Michael when he says that today both areas change rapidly. I think there’s a lot of activity in the political sphere, but not nearly as much change as all the activity suggests. Political change (when it occurs) is reactive to what’s happening in society, whereas technological change is one of the drivers of what’s happening in society.

UPDATE 2 (from Stephen):

To some extent, this might be a matter of personal taste. What’s tiresome to us might be very interesting to others. A good political rant from somebody who cares about the subject (and so has kept up), and who argues with intelligence is usually a fun and/or enlightening read.

And politics is important. The ideas by which we govern ourselves and conduct ourselves socially are a big part of who we are.

That said, I can’t think of anything that will have a more profound impact in the coming years than accelerating technological development. So nothing is more important politically. The weird thing – and Michael was pointing this out – is how few in our political and academic classes (including our bloggers) get this.

Among political bloggers a big shining exception is Glenn Reynolds.

Already I think Glenn has benefitted from this. Those who don’t understand the implications of accelerating development often find themselves themselves looking shortsighted by comparison to those who do.

Regardless of the subject-matter their blog covers – be it politics, religion, or pet cats – techno-saavy bloggers have an advantage over those who don’t understand the implications of accelerating development. They’re just less tiresome.

  • MDarling

    Representative gov’t in general – and our form (US) in particular- encourages precisely what exacerbates this problem.

    See Lakoff- Framing the Debate. Or Luntz- Words That Work.

    It’s not just a dumbing down to the lowest common denominator- it’s sensationalizing to the most easily manipulated and prodded hot button.

    It’s why Brittany Spears’s naked vagina gets headlines and buzz. If there is a way to spin that buzz so your preferred partisan affiliation benefits- all the better.

    Sometimes simply referred to as “gotcha” politics, it’s part of the lunacy that all votes are and should be equal.

    That said- I agree enthusiastically with Michael A. and think it begs the critcally important question about how we educate (or not) kids.

  • Phil Bowermaster

    Stephen –

    Well, maybe I should clarify — I am not entirely immune to politics as entertainment, and I don’t think that the substantive issues can or should be ignored. What I find tiresome is the constant rehashing and reinforcing of the same ideas over and over again. As I’m typing this, I notice that one of the Google ads at the bottom of my screen is for the book Why Mommy is a Democrat. A book like that doesn’t really provide any information, although I’m sure it’s quite entertaining and satisfying for those who read it and share its biases, while infuriating (although still, interestingly, very entertaining) to those who disagree. The same can be said for the often forced and trite one-liners that lead to huge rounds of applause on the Bill Mahr show, or just about anything that Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or any of those other guys say.

    But you’re right — it’s largely a matter of personal taste, which is an interesting thing to say about preferences in political discourse. Ideally, we would want those preferences driven by reason and values, not aesthetics. (Not that aesthetics isn’t a value, but you see what I mean.)

    Covering technology provides the advantage of fresh information — not just talking points from the headlines that allow us to reiterate the same points over and over. I agree that Glenn doesn’t fall into the trap that many political blogs do, partly because he is very concise. But it’s also interesting to note that he spends more time on tech issues than most “political” blogs.

  • MikeD

    While reading that last bit about preferences, I could actually hear Limbaugh disparaging tech bloggers for all the reasons tech bloggers disparage political blogs. His audience is more homogenized than a gallon of milk, so he knows the hot button of his crowd. Tech-blog readers are going to respond to tech-blog writers with the same kind of predictability.

    I think there is some equivalence to red-shift in the acceleration towards Singularity – as technology makes the world smaller, our respective niches seem to expand in importance in order to drive out that which we perceive is nonsense (or less-sense). When the American public had 3 channels on TV, statistically 1/3 of the TV-viewing audience was on a particular show – some shows captured significantly more ‘mindshare’ than others. We have hundreds of channels dedicated to such specific interests that we probably ignore more than we observe. The variance in popularity of any one topic is indistinguishable (or immeasurable) from chaos. I think there is also a dampening effect that diminishes the import of a great splash on one side of our culture to a mere ripple across the pond. ex: The anti-censorship “riot” on Digg that swirled around a coworker of mine (Chester Millisock) was very exciting for a few hours while digg+ rates were driving his story to the front page. His own blog was crushed under the traffic searching for his multi-hundred comment archive after Digg killed his story (and account) Within 12 hours the event was effectively over. Mainstream media was calling him 3-4 days afterwards trying to figure out what happened. By that point, the only real answer was, “You had to be there” There was so much context in the 2 hours around his account deletion, that it was impossible to explain to people who don’t even know what Digg is about, much less try to explain the emergent rally of a physically distributed but idealistically united anonymous mob.

    Sorry if my example turned into a story that lead away from the point I was trying to make. If it isn’t clear enough, I doubt I will help by adding more confusion.

  • http://ela0327.typepad.com/gift_idea_help_unique_gif/ ela0327

    I think there are too many political blogs. Everybody seems to want to have a political blog. With all of them, there ia nothing unique or different about them. Basically, they are all talking about the identical issue only from their perspective which is as different as the next blog written by a neighbor. Now, if you want a truly innovative political blog, make your focus technology and politics. Technology is fueling the growth of the blogs. Without it, there would be no blogs and by extension no internet and no computers. Political bloggers have found something that may interest them and perhaps their literal neighbors, but not many other people.

    If you are looking for viral blogging or business blogging, check out http://www.converstations.com/