...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, November 16, 2012

Day 4338: Don't Dumb Down Our BOTYs!


This week there's a call from Daddy Alex (supported by Auntie Jennie, following Lord Bonkers) for REVITALISATION of the Liberal Dcemocrat Blogger of the Year Awards.

And rightly so. In 2010, when my obvious awesomeness was (finally!) recognised, it was a HUGE deal. This year's ceremony, for the just-as-deserving Mr Mark Reckons, didn't feel as SPECIAL. And that's a SHAME.

But today Mr Paul Burblings, who's usually very wise, falls into the TRAP of ANTI-INTELLECTUAL SNEERING about "long blog posts", implying we should drop the BLOG of the year for the TWEET of the year.

Which would be GHASTLY!

For the better part of five thousand years, Rhetoric, the ability properly to couch an argument, whether in speech or essay, has been one of the seven Liberal Arts and a bedrock of what we laughingly call Western Civilisation.

And while the likes of Mr Dame Stephen Fry may (from time to time) Tweet a bon mot with the erudition of a latter day St Oscar that doesn’t stop most of Twitter being an exchange of rather dull, partisan rants.

I'm on Twitter myself (@millenniumdome) but increasingly I don't like what it does to my arguments. It seems to me that 140 characters is ideally calculated to reduce them to the meanest and often stupidest. The immediacy, the brevity, the peer pressure to big up "your side" or, more often, bait the "other side", all combine to incite the sort of Tweets that lead to flame wars. The advantage of a "long blog post" is that it makes me THINK about what I'm writing and consider the OTHER viewpoint(s), not just fire off for instant gratification. And what the fluff is WRONG with allowing a bit of NUANCE anyway? Or even some circumlocution?

Twitter is a conversation in a crowded room with everyone shouting at once, some of whom are friendly, some hostile, some utterly indifferent and no one is really, entirely LISTENING to each other. It’s not as shared an experience as blogging, where a post is out there on the aggregator for anyone to see. The great thing about “Lib Dem Blogs” is the sense of community that it creates and fosters. We all feel we’re on the same team, sharing viewpoints. Twitter never gives me that same sense of togetherness.

As for a “tweet of the year” – at least with a “blog post of the year” there’s a chance of it being memorable/having hit the golden dozen/at least you can look back over the aggregator archive. But if you *want* to produce a “tweet of the week” post every week for 52 weeks then maybe people will have something to base their choices on, otherwise you’re asking people to review an unspeakable number of tweets. Most of which will be dribble.

There's nothing wrong with praising a well put, pithy Tweet. There's no reason not to praise short, gossip or "look at this" style blog posts. If that's what you're good at then more power to your fluffy elbow. But there are NO EXCUSES for dissing the long essay. Writing a long essay is HARD WORK, and people who have put time and HEART into writing – even IF they're only read by eight other people ever – deserve respect and encouragement, not contempt.

Usain Bolt can run a hundred metres in nine-and-a-half seconds. But you wouldn't tell Mo Farrah that his 10,000 metres is "too long and boring", would you? And Jessica Innes would be well within her rights to stick you with a javelin if you criticised her for doing seven events over two days when she should be getting it all over quicker by doing just one.

We complain about SHORT-TERMISM and FALLING ATTENTION SPANS. We are DEEPLY AGGRIEVED when people make SIMPLISTIC black and white judgements – like "the Lib Dems just jumped into bed with the Tories cos they wanted bums in ministerial limos". We have EVERY RIGHT to be BADWORDED off when the BBC reduces political arguments to "left v right" or "rebels v loyalists". So why put up with a trend that says "I can't be bothered to read more than two sentences".


One of Americaland's greatest presidents, President Bartlet, once said it like this:
"There it is. That's the ten word answer my staff's been looking for for two weeks. There it is. Ten-word answers can kill you in political campaigns. They're the tip of the sword. Here's my question: What are the next ten words of your answer? Your taxes are too high? So are mine. Give me the next ten words. How are we going to do it? Give me ten after that, I'll drop out of the race right now. Every once in a while... every once in a while, there's a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts. Other than that, there aren't very many unnuanced moments in leading a country that's way too big for ten words."

If you're going to approach the Internet with an attitude of "tl:dr" then it's YOU who has a SERIOUS problem, not me.

A "blog" is a diary, is a journal, is a body of work that builds up over time and develops coherent and self-supporting philosophy. You CAN read it one post at a time. Or you can read it in long stretches. You can read it as a single essay that catches your eye, or as chapters in a developing narrative.

As Liberal Democrats we EXPECT MORE of people than just a grunted "didn't like it". We NEED more too. Unlike the Red or Blue Labservatives, we pride ourselves on our grasp of HISTORY and PHILOSOPHY and IDEAS and INNOVATION, not our TRIBAL DOGMA. We NEED "long blog posts" because we need to be always renewing our intellectual STRENGTH IN DEPTH. We, far more than the knee-jerk Conservatories or Her Majesty's Loyal Opportunists in Hard Labour, we need to know what the next ten words are. And the next ten. And the ten after that.

Perhaps we expect too much, but if we have it in our power to encourage the "better angels" of human nature then that is what we should do.

1 comment:

Paul Walter said...

I am sorry my post came across as "sneering". I was trying to be as kind as I could to old fashioned bloggers such as myself.

I was trying to say that the old blog element should remain and be augmented by other stuff. I am sorry as I obviously didn't express this well.