Geert Lovink on Mon, 15 Jan 2007 16:48:39 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> blogging, the nihilist impulse

(dear nettimers, this is a shortened version, first published in the  
german and danish editions of lettre internationale, of my ongoing  
essay on blogging. it was published recently on the web by an extended version will appear in my next  
book zero comments that routledge new york plans to put in july 2007.  
the editor has not done anything with manuscript ever since I submitted  
early september 2006, so that was kind of encouraging news... if you  
are interested to read the pdf version and would know publishers would  
could do a translation, let me know. routledge only owns the rights to  
the english version. best, geert)

Blogging, the Nihilist Impulse
By Geert Lovink

"An der rationalen Tiefe erkennt man den Radikalen; im Verlust der  
rationalen Methode kündigt sich der Nihilismus an. Der Radikale besitzt  
immer eine Theorie; aber der Nihilist setzt an ihre Stelle die  
Stimmung." Max Bense (1949)

Weblogs or blogs are the successors of the '90s Internet "homepage" and  
create a mix of the private (online dairy) and the public (self-PR  
management). According to the latest rough estimates of the Blog  
Herald,[1] there are 100 million blogs worldwide, and it is nearly  
impossible to make general statements about their "nature" and divide  
them into proper genres. I will nonetheless attempt to do this. It is  
of strategic importance to develop critical categories of a theory of  
blogging that takes the specific mixture of technology, interface  
design, software architecture, and social networking into account.

Instead of merely looking into the emancipatory potential of blogs, or  
emphasizing their counter-cultural folklore, I see blogs as part of an  
unfolding process of "massification" of this still new medium. What the  
Internet lost after 2000 was the "illusion of change". This void made  
way for large-scale, interlinked conversations through freely available  
automated software.

A blog is commonly defined as a frequent, chronological publication of  
personal thoughts and Web links, a mixture of what is happening in a  
person's life and what is happening on the Web and in the world out  
there.[2] A blog allows for the easy creation of new pages: text and  
pictures are entered into an online form (usually with the title, the  
category, and the body of the article) and this is then submitted.  
Automated templates take care of adding the article to the home page,  
creating the new full article page (called permalink), and adding the  
article to the appropriate date- or category-based archive. Because of  
the tags that the author puts onto each posting, blogs let us filter by  
date, category, author, or other attributes. They (usually) allow the  
administrator to invite and add other authors, whose permissions and  
access are easily managed.[3]

Microsoft's in-house blogger Robert Scoble lists five elements that  
made blogs so hot. The first is the "ease of publishing", the second he  
calls "discoverability", the third is "cross-site conversations", the  
fourth is permalinking (giving the entry a unique and stable URL), and  
the last is syndication (replication of content elsewhere).[4] Lyndon  
from Flock Blog gives a few tips for blog writing, showing how ideas,  
feelings, and experiences can be turned into news format, and showing  
how dominant PowerPoint has become: "Make your opinion known, link like  
crazy, write less, 250 words is enough, make headlines snappy, write  
with passion, include bullet point lists, edit your post, make your  
posts easy to scan, be consistent with your style, litter the post with  
keywords."[5] Whereas the email-based list culture echoes a postal  
culture of writing letters and occasionally essays, the ideal blog post  
is defined by snappy public relations techniques.

Web services like blogs cannot be separated from the output they  
generate. The politics and aesthetics defined by first users will  
characterize the medium for decades to come. Blogs appeared during the  
late 1990s, in the shadow of dot-com mania.[6] Blog culture was not  
developed enough to be dominated by venture capital with its hysterical  
demo-or-die-now-or-never mentality. Blogs first appeared as casual  
conversations that could not easily be commodified. Building a  
laid-back parallel world made it possible for blogs to form the  
crystals (a term developed by Elias Canetti) from which millions of  
blogs grew and, around 2003, reached critical mass.

Blogging in the post-9/11 period closed the gap between Internet and  
society. Whereas dot-com suits dreamt of mobbing customers flooding  
their e-commerce portals, blogs were the actual catalysts that realized  
worldwide democratization of the Net. As much as "democratization"  
means "engaged citizens", it also implies normalization (as in setting  
of norms) and banalization. We can't separate these elements and only  
enjoy the interesting bits. According to Jean Baudrillard, we're living  
in the "Universe of Integral Reality". "If there was in the past an  
upward transcendence, there is today a downward one. This is, in a  
sense, the second Fall of Man Heidegger speaks of: the fall into  
banality, but this time without any possible redemption."[7] If you  
can't cope with high degrees of irrelevance, blogs won't be your cup of  

The motor behind the expansion of the blogosphere is the move away from  
code towards content. There is no more need for empty demo design.  
Blogs are not a test or proposition. They actually exist. From early  
on, blog culture has been the home of creative and social content  
producers. I hesitate to say journalists and academics, because despite  
the fact that many have such a professional background, it would be  
false to locate pioneer bloggers inside institutional setups. Yet they  
weren't anti-institutional either. Much like '90s cyberculture, the  
first generation of bloggers possess colorful biographies. However, a  
dominant culture, such as the Californian techno-hippies, failed to  
emerge and if it exists, it is tricky to label. Blogging comes close to  
what Adilkno once described as "vague media".[8] The lack of direction  
is not a failure but the core asset. Blogging did not emerge out of a  
movement or an event. If anything, it is a special effect of software,  
constituted especially by the automation of links, a not-overly-complex  
technical interface design issue.

There is a presumption that blogs have a symbiotic relationship with  
the news industry. This thesis is not uncontested. Hypertext scholars  
track blogs back to the hypercards of the 1980s and the online  
literature wave of the 1990s, in which clicking from one document to  
the next was the central activity of the reader. For some reason, the  
hypertext subcurrent lost out and what remains is an almost  
self-evident equation between blogs and the news industry.

It is not easy to answer the question of whether blogs operate inside  
or outside the media industry. To position the blog medium inside could  
be seen as opportunistic, whereas others see this as a clever move.  
There is also a "tactical" aspect. The blogger-equals-journalist might  
get protection from such a label in case of censorship and repression.  
Despite countless attempts to feature blogs as alternatives to  
mainstream media, they are often, more precisely described as "feedback  
channels". The act of "gatewatching" (Axel Bruns) the mainstream media  
outlets does not necessarily result in reasonable comments that will be  
taken into account. In the category "insensitive" we have a wide range,  
from hilarious to mad, sad, and sick. What CNN, newspapers, and radio  
stations the world over have failed to do ? namely to integrate open,  
interactive messages from their constituencies ? blogs do for them. To  
"blog" a news report doesn't mean that the blogger sits down and  
thoroughly analyzes the discourse and circumstances, let alone checks  
the facts on the ground. To blog merely means to quickly point to news  
fact through a link and a few sentences that explain why the blogger  
found this or that factoid interesting or remarkable, or is disagrees  
with it.

Blog entries are often hastily written personal musings, sculptured  
around a link or event. In most cases, bloggers simply do not have the  
time, skills, or financial means for proper research. There are  
collective research blogs working on specific topics, but these are  
rare. What ordinary blogs create is a dense cloud of "impressions"  
around a topic. Blogs will tell you if your audience is still awake and  
receptive. Blogs test. They allow you to see whether your audience is  
still awake and receptive. In that sense we could also say that blogs  
are the outsourced, privatized test beds, or rather unit tests[9] of  
the big media.

The boundaries between the mediasphere and the blogsphere are fluid. A  
detailed social analysis would, most likely, uncover a grey area of  
freelance media makers moving back and forth. From early on,  
journalists working for "old media" ran blogs. So how do blogs relate  
to independent investigative journalism? At first glance, they look  
like oppositional, or potentially supplementary practices. Whereas the  
investigative journalist works months, if not years, to uncover a  
story, bloggers look more like an army of ants contributing to the  
great hive called "public opinion". Bloggers rarely add new facts to a  
news story. They find bugs in products and news reports but rarely  
"unmask" spin, let alone come up with well-researched reports.

Cecile Landman, a Dutch investigative journalist and supporter of Iraqi  
bloggers with the Streamtime campaign, knows both worlds. "Journalists  
need to make a living. They can't put just anything online. Bloggers  
don't seem to bother too much about this, and that does create a  
conflict." According to Landman, blogging is changing the existing  
formats of information. "People are getting bored with the given  
formats; they don't catch up with the news anymore, it no longer sticks  
to their cervical memory stick. It is like a song that you have  
listened to too often, or a commercial advertisement; you hear it, you  
can even sing the words, but they are without meaning. Mainstream media  
is starting to grasp this. They have to search for new formats in order  
to attract readers (read: advertisers)" ? and blogs are but a small  
chapter in this transformation.

A weblog is the "voice of a person" (Dave Winer). It is a digital  
extension of oral traditions more than a new form of writing.[10]  
Through blogging, news is being transformed from a lecture into a  
conversation. Blogs echo rumours and gossip, conversations in cafes and  
bars, on squares and in corridors. They record "the events of the day"  
(Jay Rosen). Today's "recordability" of situations is such that we are  
no longer upset that computers "read" all our moves and expressions  
(sound, image, text) and "write" them into strings of zeros and ones.  
In that sense, blogs fit into the wider trend in which all our  
movements and activities are being monitored and stored. In the case of  
blogs, this is carried out not by some invisible and abstract authority  
but the subjects themselves, who record their everyday lives.[11]

The blog hype cannot measure up to the dot-com hysteria of the late  
1990s. The economic and political landscape is simply too different.  
What interested me in this case was the oft-heard remark that blogs  
were cynical and nihilist. Instead of brushing off this accusation, I  
did a trial and ran both keywords through the systems to test if they  
were hardwired virtues, consolidated inside Blog Nation. Instead of  
portraying bloggers as "An Army of Davids", as Instapundit blogger  
Glenn Reynolds' book title suggests,[12] it might be better to study  
the techno-mentality of users and not presume that bloggers are  
underdogs on a mission to beat Goliath.

Historically it makes sense to see "Internet cynicism" as a response to  
millennium madness. In January 2001, the dot-com magazine Clickz wrote:  
"Among investors, consumers, and the media, there's a pervasive sense  
that all the promises about the Internet have amounted to one huge,  
bold-faced lie ? and that we're now paying for the sins of yesterday's  
over-exuberance."[13] In My First Recession (2003), I mapped the  
post-dot-com hangover. In this light, cynicism is nothing other than  
the discursive rubble of a collapsed belief system, cold turkey after  
the Market Rush, the retrospectively optimistic-innocent Clinton years  
of globalization (1993-2000), so well embodied in Hardt/Negri's Empire.

It would be ridiculous to collectively denounce bloggers as cynics.  
Cynicism, in this context, is not a character trait but a techno-social  
condition. The argument is not that bloggers are predominantly cynics  
in nature, or vulgar exhibitionists who lack understatement. It is  
important to note the Zeitgeist into which blogging as a mass practice  
emerged. Net cynicism is a cultural spin-off from blogging software,  
hardwired in a specific era and resulting from procedures such as  
login, link, edit, create, browse, read, submit, tag, and reply. Some  
would judge the mere use of the term cynicism as blog bashing. So be  
it. Again, we're not talking about an attitude here, let alone a shared  
life style. Net cynicism no longer believes in cyberculture as an  
identity provider with related entrepreneurial hallucinations. It is  
constituted by cold enlightenment as a post-political condition and by  
confession described by Michel Foucault. People are taught that their  
liberation requires them to "tell the truth", to confess it to someone  
(a priest, psychoanalyst, or weblog), and this truth telling will  
somehow set them free.[14]

There is a quest for truth in blogging. But it is a truth with a  
question mark. Truth has become an amateur project, not an absolute  
value, sanctioned by higher authorities. In lieu of a common  
definition, we could say that cynicism is the unpleasant way of  
performing the truth.[15] The Internet is not a religion or a mission  
in itself. For some it turns into an addiction, but that can be healed  
like any other medical problem. The post-dot-com/post-9/11 condition  
borders on a "passionate conservatism", but in the end rejects the  
dot-com petit bourgeois morals and their double standards of cheating  
and hiding, cooking the books and then being rewarded fat pay checks.  
The question is therefore: how much truth can a medium bear? Knowledge  
is sorrow, and the "knowledge society" propagators have not yet taken  
this into account.

Net cynicism is frank, first and foremost about itself. The blog  
application is an online commodity with a clear use-by date. Spokker  
Jones: "Forty years from now when the Internet collapses in a giant  
implosion of stupidity I want to be able to say, 'I was there'." It is  
said that Internet cynicism has given rise to sites like,  
which is dedicated to "horror stories of working the Web". It's a  
sounding board for those "burned by the incompetence, moronic planning,  
and hysterical management of new-media companies".[16] Exhibitionism  
equals empowerment. Saying aloud what you think or feel, in the legacy  
of De Sade, is not only an option ? in the liberal sense of "choice" ?  
but an obligation, an immediate impulse to respond in order to be out  
there, with everybody else.

In the Internet context, it is not evil, as Rüdiger Safranski  
suggested, but instead triviality which is the "drama of freedom". As  
Baudrillard states: "All of our values are simulated. What is freedom?  
We have a choice between buying one car or buying another car?"[17] And  
to follow Baudrillard, we could say that blogs are a gift to humankind  
that no one needs. This is the true shock. Did anyone order the  
development of blogs? There is no possibility to simply ignore blogs  
and live the comfortable lifestyle of a twentieth-century "public  
intellectual". Like Michel Houellebecq, bloggers are trapped by their  
own inner contradictions in the Land of No Choice. The London Times  
noted that Houellebecq "writes from inside alienation. His bruised male  
heroes, neglected by their parents, cope by depriving themselves of  
loving interactions; they project their coldness and loneliness on to  
the world." Blogs are perfect projection fields for such an  

Italian theorist Paulo Virno provides clues to how we could use the  
term cynicism in a non-derogative manner. Virno sees cynicism as  
connected to the "chronic instability of forms of life and linguistic  
games". At the base of contemporary cynicism Virno sees the fact that  
men and women first experience rules, far more often than "facts", and  
far earlier than they experience concrete events. Virno: "But to  
experience rules directly means also to recognize their conventionality  
and groundlessness. Thus, one is no longer immersed in a predefined  
'game', participating therein with true allegiance. Instead, one  
catches a glimpse of oneself in individual 'games' which are destitute  
of all seriousness and obviousness, having become nothing more than a  
place for immediate self-affirmation ? a self-affirmation which is all  
the more brutal and arrogant, in short, cynical, the more it draws  
upon, without illusions but with perfect momentary allegiance, those  
same rules which characterize conventionality and mutability."[18]

How is cynical reason connected to criticism? Is cynical media culture  
a critical practice? So far it has not proven useful to interpret blogs  
as a new form of literary criticism. Such an undertaking is bound to  
fail. The "crisis of criticism" has been announced time and again and  
blog culture has simply ignored this dead-end street. There is no need  
for a "new-media" clone of Terry Eagleton. We live long after the Fall  
of Theory. Criticism has become a conservative and affirmative  
activity, in which the critic alternates between losses of value while  
celebrating the spectacle of the marketplace. It would be interesting  
to investigate why criticism has not become popular, and aligned itself  
with such new-media practices as blogging, as cultural studies  
popularized everything except theory. Let's not blame the Blogging  
Other for the moral bankruptcy of the postmodern critic. Instead of  
conceptual depth we get broad associations, a people's hermeneutics of  
news events.[19] The computable comments of the millions can be made  
searchable and visually displayed, for instance, as buzz clouds.  
Whether these maps provide us with any knowledge or not is another  
matter. It is easy to judge the rise of comments as regressive compared  
to the clear-cut authority of the critic. Insularity and provincialism  
have taken their toll. The panic and obsession around the professional  
status of the critic has been such that the created void has now been  
filled by passionate amateur bloggers. One thing is sure: blogs do not  
shut down thought.

Wikipedia amateur encyclopedians describe cynics as "those inclined to  
disbelieve in human sincerity, in virtue, or in altruism: individuals  
who maintain that only self-interest motivates human behaviour. A  
modern cynic typically has a highly contemptuous attitude towards  
social norms, especially those which serve more of a ritualistic  
purpose than a practical one, and will tend to dismiss a substantial  
proportion of popular beliefs, conventional morality, and accepted  
wisdom as irrelevant or obsolete nonsense." In a networked environment,  
such a definition becomes problematic as it portrays the user as an  
isolated subject, opposed to groups or society as a whole. Net cynicism  
is not a gateway to drugs or anything nasty. To talk about "evil" as an  
abstract category is irrelevant in this context. There is no immediate  
danger. It's all fine. The idea is not to create a dialectical  
situation. There is only a feeling of stagnation amidst constant  
change. We could call it "romanticism of the open eyes". According to  
Peter Sloterdijk, cynicism is "enlightened false consciousness".[20] A  
cynic, so Sloterdijk says, is someone who is part of an institution or  
group whose existence and values he himself can no longer see as  
absolute, necessary, and unconditional, and who is miserable due to  
this enlightenment, because he or she sticks to principles he or she  
does not believe in.

The only knowledge left for a cynic is trust in reason, which, however,  
cannot provide him (or her) with a firm basis for action, yet another  
reason for being miserable.[21] Following Sloterdijk, cynicism is a  
common problem. The question of whether it is universal or limited to  
Western societies is too big to be discussed here, but most certainly  
we see it on a global scale in knowledge-intensive sectors.

We're operating in a post-deconstruction world in which blogs offer a  
never-ending stream of confessions, a cosmos of micro-opinions  
attempting to interpret events beyond the well-known twentieth-century  
categories. The nihilist impulse emerges as a response to the  
increasing levels of complexity within interconnected topics. There is  
little to say if all occurrences can be explained through  
post-colonialism, class analysis, and gender perspectives. However,  
blogging arises against this kind of political analysis, through which  
a lot can no longer be said.

Blogs express personal fear, insecurity, and disillusionment, anxieties  
looking for partners in crime. We seldom find passion (except for the  
act of blogging itself). Often blogs unveil doubt and insecurity about  
what to feel, what to think, believe, and like. They carefully compare  
magazines, and review traffic signs, nightclubs, and t-shirts. This  
stylized uncertainty circles around the general assumption that blogs  
ought to be biographical while simultaneously reporting about the world  
outside. Their emotional scope is much wider than other media due to  
the informal atmosphere of blogs. Mixing public and private is  
essential here. What blogs play with is the emotional register, varying  
from hate to boredom, passionate engagement, sexual outrage, and back  
to everyday boredom.

Blogging is neither a project nor a proposal but a condition whose  
existence one must recognize. "We blog," as Kline and Bernstein say.  
It's today's a priori. Australian cultural theorist Justin Clemens  
explains: "Nihilism is not just another epoch amongst a succession of  
others: it is the finally accomplished form of a disaster that happened  
a long time ago."[22] To translate this into new-media terms: blogs are  
witnessing and documenting the diminishing power of mainstream media,  
but they have consciously not replaced its ideology with an  
alternative. Users are tired of top-down communication ? and yet have  
nowhere else to go. "There is no other world" could be read as a  
response to the anti-globalization slogan, "Another world is possible".

Caught in the daily grind of blogging, there is a sense that the  
Network is the alternative. It is not correct to judge blogs merely on  
the basis of their content. Media theory has never done this and should  
also in this case shy away from this method. Blogging is a nihilistic  
venture precisely because the ownership structure of mass media is  
questioned and then attacked. Blogging is a bleed-to-death strategy.  
Implosion is not the right word. Implosion implies a tragedy and  
spectacle that is not present here. Blogging is the opposite of the  
spectacle. It is flat (and yet meaningful). Blogging is not a digital  
clone of the "letter to the editor". Instead of complaining and  
arguing, the blogger puts him or herself in the perversely pleasurable  
position of media observer.

The commenting on mainstream culture, its values and products, should  
be read as an open withdrawal of attention. The eyeballs that once  
patiently looked at all reports and ads have gone on strike. According  
to the utopian blog philosophy, mass media are doomed. Their role will  
be taken over by "participatory media". The terminal diagnosis has been  
made and it states: closed top-down organizations no longer work,  
knowledge cannot be "managed", today's work is collaborative and  
networked. However, despite continuous warning signs, the system  
successfully continues to (dys)function. Is top-down really on its way  
out? Where does the Hegelian certainty come from that the old-media  
paradigm will be overthrown? There is little factual evidence of this.  
And it is this state of ongoing affairs that causes nihilism, and not  
revolutions, to occur.

As Justin Clemens rightly states, "nihilism often goes unremarked, not  
because it is no longer an issue of contemporary philosophy and theory,  
but ? on the contrary ? because it is just so uncircumventable and  
dominating."[23] The term has dropped almost completely out of  
establishment political discourse. The reason for this could be the  
"banalization of nihilism" (Karen Carr). Or to rephrase it: the absence  
of high art that can be labeled as such. This might have changed with  
the rise of writers such as Michel Houellebecq. Andre Gluckmann  
explained the 2005 migrant riots in the French suburbs as a "response  
to French nihilism".[24] What the revolting youth did was an "imitation  
of negation". The "problem of nihilism", as Clemens notes, is the  
complex, subtle, and self-reflexive nature of the term. To historicize  
the concept is one way out, though I will leave that to the historians.  
Another way could be to occupy the term and reload it with surprising  
energies: creative nihilism.

Blogs bring on decay. Each new blog is supposed to add to the fall of  
the media system that once dominated the twentieth century. This  
process is not one of a sudden explosion. The erosion of the mass media  
cannot easily be traced in figures of stagnant sales and the declining  
readership of newspapers. In many parts of the world, television is  
still on the rise. What's declining is the Belief in the Message. That  
is the nihilist moment, and blogs facilitate this culture as no  
platform has ever done before. Sold by the positivists as citizen media  
commentary, blogs assist users in their crossing from Truth to  
Nothingness. The printed and broadcasted message has lost its aura.  
News is consumed as a commodity with entertainment value. Instead of  
lamenting the ideological color of the news, as previous generations  
have done, we blog as a sign of the regained power of the spirit. As a  
micro-heroic, Nietzschean act of the pajama people, blogging grows out  
of a nihilism of strength, not out of the weakness of pessimism.  
Instead of time and again presenting blog entries as self-promotion, we  
should interpret them as decadent artifacts that remotely dismantle the  
mighty and seductive power of the broadcast media.

Bloggers are nihilists because they are "good for nothing". They post  
into Nirvana and have turned their futility into a productive force.  
They are the nothingists who celebrate the death of the centralized  
meaning structures and ignore the accusation that they would only  
produce noise. They are disillusionists whose conduct and opinions are  
regarded worthless.[25] Justin Clemens notes that the term nihilism has  
been replaced by such appellations as "anti-democratic", "terrorist",  
and "fundamentalist". However, over the past years there has been a  
noticeable renaissance of the term, though usually not more than a  
passing remark. Significant theorization of the "condition" was done in  
the mid-twentieth century, which included reworking sources from the  
nineteenth century like Kierkegaard, Stirner, and Nietzsche.  
Existentialism after the two World Wars theorized Gulag, Auschwitz, and  
Hiroshima as manifestations of Organized Evil that resulted in an  
overall crisis of the existing belief systems. For those still  
interested in Theory, Arthur Kroker's The Will to Technology & The  
Culture of Nihilism (2004) is a must read as it puts Heidegger,  
Nietzsche, and Marx in a contemporary, techno-nihilist perspective.

We're faced with an "accomplished nihilism" (Gianni Vattimo) in that  
bloggers have understood that the fulfillment of nihilism is a  
fact.[26] Gianni Vattimo argues that nihilism is not the absence of  
meaning but a recognition of the plurality of meanings; it is not the  
end of civilization but the beginning of new social paradigms, with  
blogging being one of them. Commonly associated with the pessimistic  
belief that all of existence is meaningless, nihilism would be an  
ethical doctrine that there are no moral absolutes or infallible  
natural laws and that "truth" is inescapably subjective. In media  
terms, we see this attitude translated into a growing distrust of the  
output of large commercial news organizations and the spin that  
politicians and their advisers produce. Questioning the message is no  
longer a subversive act of engaged citizens but the a priori attitude,  
even before the TV or PC has been switched on.

Nihilism designates the impossibility of opposition ? a state of  
affairs which, unsurprisingly, generates a great deal of anxiety.  
Nihilism is not a monolithic belief system. We no longer "believe" in  
Nothing as in nineteenth-century Russia or post-war Paris. Nihilism is  
no longer a danger or problem, but the default postmodern condition. It  
is an unremarkable, even banal feature of life, as Karen Carr writes is  
and no longer related to the Religious Question. Blogs are neither  
religious nor secular. They are "post-virtue". The paradoxical  
temporality of nihilism today is that of a not-quite-already-Now.  
Following Giorgio Agamben, Justin Clements writes that "nihilism is not  
just another epoch amongst a succession of others: it is the finally  
accomplished form of a disaster that occurred long ago."[27] In the  
media context this would be the moment in which mass media lost their  
claim on the Truth and could no longer operate as authority. Let us not  
date this event in time, as such an insightful moment can be both  
personal and cultural-historical. It is the move from the festive  
McLuhan to the nihilist Baudrillard that every media user is going  
through, found in the ungroundedness of networked discourse that users  
fool around with.

Translating Karen Carr's insight to today's condition, we could say  
that the blogger is an individual "who lives in self-conscious  
confrontation with a meaningless world, refusing either to deny or  
succumb to its power."[28] Yet this does not result in a heroic  
gesture. Blogging does not grow out of boredom, nor out of some  
existential void. Carr rightly remarks that "for many postmodernists,  
the presence of nihilism evokes not terror but a yawn".[29] Compared to  
previous centuries, its crisis value has diminished. If bloggers are  
classified nihilists, it merely means that they stopped believing in  
the media.

"The global always-on, always-linked, always-immediate public  
conversation" speeds up the fragmentation of the media landscape. Kline  
and Burnstein disagree here (they ain't no nihilists). "Rather than  
seeing the proliferation of specialty blogs as an indicator of the  
fragmentation of our society, we should see this trend as providing a  
way for citizen-experts to emerge and to bring together global  
constituencies in many disparate fields."[30] Seen from the political  
class perspective, hand-picked bloggers can be instrumentalized as  
"opinion indicators".[31] However, they can just as easily be dismissed  
the next day as "pajama journalists" and ignored as noise. As every  
hype necessarily has to crash, the wave of negative PR is  
pre-programmed. Bloggers might communicate what issues people tell the  
media they want to think about. But once the hotness has worn off, who  
cares? The nihilism starts there, after the fall of the blogs, the  
stolen laptop, crashed server, unreadable back-up files, disappeared  
online service provider, "comments (0)". That's when we can truly show  
off our Pathos des Umsonst, the gesture of Being in Vain.

Business writer David Kline just can't help but take up his New Age  
tone when he explains that despite all the existing nihilism, blogging  
is not in vain. "The truth is that these are not just the tiresome  
ramblings of the boring written to the bored. Though for the most part  
not professional writers, bloggers are often eloquent in the way that  
those who are not self-consciously polished often are ? raw,  
uncensored, and energized by the sound of their newly awakened voices.  
And by keeping a daily record of their rites of passage, bloggers often  
give a shape and meaning to the stages and cycles of their lives that  
would otherwise be missed in the helter-skelter of modern  
existence."[32] Foucault scholars would say something similar, namely  
that blogs are "technologies of the self".[33] But what if the "self"  
has run out of batteries? With Dominic Pettman we could say that  
blogging is a relentless pursuit in the age of exhaustion.[34] Blogs  
explore what happens once you've smashed the illusion that there is a  
"persona" behind the avalanche of similar lifestyle choices and pop  
identities within online social networks.

No matter how much talk there is of "community" and "mobs", the fact  
remains that blogs are primarily used as a tool to manage the self.  
With management I refer here as much to the need to structure one's  
life, to clear up the mess, to master the immense flows of information,  
as to PR and promotion of Ich AG, as it is called in crisis-ridden  
Germany. Blogs are part of a wider culture that fabricates celebrity on  
every possible level. Some complain that blogs are too personal, even  
egocentric, whereas most blog readers indulge in exhibitionist insights  
and can't get enough of it. Claire E. Write advises blog writers not to  
offer the possibility to leave comments. "A few bloggers maintain that  
blogs that don't allow reader comments are not 'real' blogs. Most  
bloggers don't follow that line of thinking and believe that reader  
comments turn a blog into a message board.

The essence of a blog is not the interactivity of the medium: it is the  
sharing of the thoughts and opinions of the blogger. Adding comments to  
your blog opens up a host of problems: you will spend a great deal of  
time policing the posts, weeding out spam and trolls, and answering  
endless technical questions from registrants."[35] This advice  
obviously goes against the core values of the A-list bloggers. Isn't it  
interesting that blogging services offer the possibility to swich off  
comments after all? For instance, Cluetrain Manifesto guru David  
Weinberger states that "blogs are not a new form of journalism nor do  
they primarily consist of teenagers whining about their teachers. Blogs  
are not even primarily a form of individual expression. They are better  
understood as conversations."[36]

Are bloggers risk takers? Of course blog culture is different from the  
entrepreneurial risk cult embodied by management gurus such as Tom  
Peters. Much like Ulrich Beck defined risk, bloggers deal with hazards  
and insecurities induced by never-ending waves of modernization. What  
is blogged is the relentless uncertainty of the everyday. Whereas  
entrepreneurs colonize the future, energized by collective  
hallucinations, bloggers expose the present they find themselves caught  
in. Blogging is the answer to "individualization of social inequality".  
It hits back, not so much with collective action, but with massive  
hyper-individual linking. This is the network paradox: there is  
simultaneous construction and destruction of the social at hand. The  
timid internalization ends and transforms into radical revelation. No  
website anticipated this practice better then the Fucked Company  
website,[37] a predecessor of blog culture where employees of New  
Economy firms anonymously post rumors and complaints, and even more  
interesting: internal memos. Bloggers disrupt the disrupters. They  
override the constant talk about "change". It is remarkably easy to  
attack the post-modern corporation as it solely depends on a hollow  
public image, developed by third-party consultants. Online diaries,  
rants, and comments so easily defy the manufactured harmony that  
community engineering aims at.

In Cornel West's 2004 Democracy Matters is a chapter called "Nihilism  
in America".[38] West distinguishes between the evangelical nihilism of  
the neo-conservatives around Bush and a paternalistic version practiced  
by Democrats like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton. A third form, the  
so-called "sentimental nihilism", prefers to remain on the surface of  
problems rather than pursue their substantive depth. It pays simplistic  
lip service to issues rather than portraying their complexity."[39]  
This tendency to remain on the surface, touch a topic, point to an  
article without even giving a proper opinion about it apart from it  
being worth mentioning, is widespread and is foundational to blogging.  
How many of the postings, we can ask with Cornel West, are Socratic  
questioning? Why is the blogosphere so obsessed with measuring,  
counting, and feeding, and so little with rhetoric, aesthetics, and  
ethics? We should not end with moral questions. The wish to overcome  
nihilism goes back to Nietzsche and is also relevant in the context of  
blogging. How to overcome meaninglessness without falling back into  
centralized meaning structures is the challenge that the blogging  
millions pose.

"Try to build up yourself and you build a ruin" (Augustine). This also  
counts for blogs. What seems to be a standard yet customized,  
user-friendly medium turns out to be unreliable if you are at it over a  
longer period of time. Most blogs which users haven't touched for three  
months are wiped from the server. The liquid self may have thought to  
find refuge in providers such as or, but most  
blog services prove to be unstable when it comes to archiving the  
millions of blogs they host. The average age of a webpage is 6 months,  
so it says, and there is no reason to believe that this is not the case  
with blogs. As Alex Havias writes, "many weblogs are short-lived, and  
in any event, we can assume that all weblogs are likely to be kept in  
operation for a finite amount of time. These local archives need to be  
duplicated elsewhere. At present there is nothing as simple as RSS that  
allows for these archives to be duplicated."[40] The popular saying  
that the Internet will remember everything is turning into a myth. "If  
your website is not simple to update, you will not update it." That was  
a problem in the 1990s. The problem now is: "If you don't update your  
blog, we'll delete it." Even if the corpse of the blog can be  
reconstructed, for instance through, the problem remains of  
highly duplicated multimedia content. Alex Halavias suggests that  
instead of a centralized server, the model of a peer-to-peer archive  
could be a solution.

How can blog culture transcend the true, yet boring accusation that it  
is only interested in itself? Having a thriving scene of anonymous  
personas, like in Iran, is exciting, but not a real alternative for the  
rest of the world. Role playing is not going to provide us with a way  
out either, even though it might be interesting to investigate how  
blogs and MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games)  
relate. At the moment these are large parallel universes.[41] Instead  
we could speak, after Stephen Greenblatt, about online self-fashioning.  
The theatrical pose is made explicit in this term and brings together  
elements of the self (diary, introspection) with the spectacle of the  
blogocratic few that fight over the attention of the millions. In the  
context of blogs, Matthew Berk speaks about "digital self-fashioning".  
According to Berk, "online people constitute themselves as assemblies  
of documents and other data designed for people to read and establish  
some relationship. The more structure in and between this content, the  
greater is its action potential."[42] The self is defined in a  
normative way as the capacity to craft links between content chunks.

Nicholas Carr has called the Web 2.0 hype, blogs included,  
"amoral".[43] "Of course the mainstream media see the blogosphere as a  
competitor. It is a competitor. And, given the economics of the  
competition, it may well turn out to be a superior competitor. The  
layoffs we've recently seen at major newspapers may just be the  
beginning, and those layoffs should be cause not for self-satisfied  
snickering but for despair. Implicit in the ecstatic visions of Web 2.0  
is the hegemony of the amateur." This political empowerment move is  
captured as a computated "wisdom of crowds". What individual blog  
owners proudly see as a great post is, seen from the larger picture of  
the Internet, with its one billion users, an ever shifting collection  
of buzzword clouds, consisting of trillions of clicks and micro  
opinions. The more we know about this meta level, through sophisticated  
software tools, the more depressed one can get about the overall  
direction. Blogs do not arise from political movements or social  
concerns. They have an "obsessive focus on the realization of the self,  
" says Andrew Keen of the Weekly Standard. Keen foresees a pessimistic  
turn: "If you democratize media, then you end up democratizing talent.  
The unintended consequence of all this democratization, to misquote Web  
2.0 apologist Thomas Friedman, is cultural 'flattening'." And Nicholas  
Carr adds: "In the end we're left with nothing more than 'the flat  
noise of opinion' - Socrates's nightmare."[44] Interesting to see how  
fast the animosity inside Web 2.0 communities is changing.

George Gilder, the Carl Schmitt of new media, once stated: "As  
capitalism releases creative energies everywhere, it leads to much  
greater diversity, including diversity of media. The whole blogosphere  
is an example of how transcending the top-down hierarchical models of  
old-media technology with new-media technology releases diversity and  
new voices and creations."[45] Against this commonly held view that  
diversity is a good thing, we can hold the loss that comes with the  
disappearance of familiarity and common references. Blogging alone  
(after Robert D. Putman's Bowling Alone) is a social reality which  
cannot easily be dismissed. Most blogging is what Bernard Siegert calls  
"ghost communication". "Networking begins and ends with pure  
self-referentiality,"[46] Friedrich Kittler writes, and this  
autopoeisis is nowhere as clear as in the blogosphere. Social protocols  
of opinion, deception, and belief cannot be separated from the  
technical reality of the networks, and in the case of the blogs, this  
turns out to be a treadmill.

Once upon a time, back in February 2004, the meme of the Internet being  
an "ego chamber" showed up. Searls, Weinberg, Ito, and Boyd... they  
were all there. Danah Boyd wrote: "One of the biggest motivators for a  
lot of people to get online in the 1990s was to find people like them.  
The goal wasn't to solidify or to diversity, but to feel validated.  
Suggesting solidification/diversification implies that the primary  
motivation behind engaging online is to participate in purposeful  
dialogue, to be educated and educate. Frankly, I don't believe this to  
be true." Shelly Parks had noted earlier about blogging: "Do you write  
to be part of a community? Or do you write to write, and the community  
part either happens, or doesn't?"[47] In this context Danah Boyd  
referred to social networks and the homophily concept (that birds of a  
feather stick together). It seems that in the blogging context,  
explicit self-referential group building is still a new concept. Blogs  
create archipelagos of inward links but these ties are very weak. On  
top of that, not only do bloggers usually refer and answer only to  
members of their online tribe, but they have no comprehensive idea of  
how it could look to include one's adversaries. Blogrolls (link lists)  
unconciously preassume that if you include a blog you agree or at least  
sympathize with its maker. We link to what's interesting and cool. This  
is a key problem in the Google and Amazon model, in which links are  
traded as recommendations.

Because of the vastness of the blog plain, it is not a contested space.  
First of all, differences of opinion have to exist already and do not  
fall out of sky. Manufacturing opinion is a fine art of ideology  
creation. Debating should not be mixed up with a netwar style of  
campaigning in which existing (political) flights are being played out  
on the Net. The pushy tone is what makes blogs so rhetorically poor.  
What lacks in the software architecture is the very existence of an  
equal dialogue partner. The result of this is a militarization,  
expressed in a term such as "blog swarm", defined by Christian  
rightwing blogger Hugh Hewitt as "an early indicator of an opinion  
storm brewing, which, when it breaks, will fundamentally alter the  
general public's understanding of a person, place, product, or  
phenomenon."[48] It is communality of bias, or let's say conviction,  
that drives the growth of blogging power and its visibility in other  

Can we talk of a "fear of media freedom"? It is too easy to say that  
there is freedom of speech and that blogs materialize this right. The  
aim of radical freedom, one could argue, is to create autonomy and  
overcome the dominance of media corporations and state control and to  
no longer be bothered by "their" channels. Most blogs show an opposite  
tendency. The obsession with news factoids borders to the extreme.  
Instead of selective appropriation, there is over-identification and  
straight out addiction, in particular to the speed of real-time  
reporting. Like Erich Fromm (author of Fear of Freedom), we could read  
this as "a psychological problem" because existing information is  
simply reproduced and in a public act of internalization. Lists of  
books that still have to be read, a common feature on blogs, lead in  
the same direction.

According to Erich Fromm, freedom has put us in an unbearable  
isolation. We thus feel anxious and powerless. Either we escape into  
new dependencies or realize a positive freedom that is based upon "the  
uniqueness and individuality of man".[49] "The right to express our  
thoughts means something only if we are able to have thoughts of our  
own."[50] The freedom from traditional media monopolies leads to new  
bondages, in this case to the blog paradigm, where there is little  
emphasis on positive freedom, on what to with the overwhelming  
functionality and the void of the empty, white entry window. We do not  
hear enough about the tension between the individual self and the  
"community", "swarms", and "mobs" that are supposed to be part of the  
online environment. What we instead see happening on the software side  
are daily improvements of ever more sophisticated (quantitive)  
measuring and manipulation tools (in terms of inbound linking, traffic,  
climbing higher on the Google ladder, etc.). Isn't the document that  
stands out the one that is not embedded in existing contexts? Doesn't  
the truthness lie in the unlinkable?


[1] For regular updates on this figure, go to All  
researchers involved in blog counting admit how arbitrary and  
unreliable the available statistics are as closed and abandoned blogs  
are not taken into account. Nonetheless, the tendency is clear and  
[2] See
[3] Taken from Wikipedia's blog definition (accessed 21 December 2005).
[4] Blogs!, 130.
[5] "Ten Tips for Writing a Blog Post", posted at, 30  
December 2005. 
[6] See Rebecca Blood's history of blogs, written in September 2000:
[7] Jean Baudrillard, The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact,  
Oxford/New York, 2005, 25.
[8] Adilkno, Media Archive, Brooklyn, Autonomedia, 1998. URL: "Vague  
media do not respond to success. They do not achieve their goals. Their  
models are not argumentative, but contaminative. Once you tune into  
them, you get the attitude."
[9] Ed Phillips from San Francisco reports that "unit testing is now de  
riguer in the software world and just as it would be hard to imagine a  
major software effort without unit testing, it is now hard to imagine  
big media without the blogosphere." (email, 27 March 2006).
[10] Nick Gall: "A lot of the media are thinking about blogs as a new  
form of publishing but it's really a new form of conversation and a new  
form of community." In: David Kline, Dan Burstein, Blog!, New York: CDS  
Books 2005, 150.
[11] Source: Telepolis, 27 December 2005. Wolf-Dieter Roth, "Mein blog  
liest ja sowieso kein Schwein".
[12] Glenn Reynolds, An Army of Davids, How Markets and Technology  
Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other  
Goliaths, Nashville: Nelson Current 2006.
[13] Greg Sherwin and Emily Avila in their Clickz column, 12 January  
[14] Taken from the Foucault Dictionary Project:
[17] Interview with Jean Baudrillard by Deborah Solomon, 20 November  
2005, New York, Times Magazine.
[18] Paulo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude, Semiotext(e), Cambridge,  
Massachusetts: MIT Press 2004, 86-88.
[19] As Terry Eagleton writes: "Hermeneutics, as the art of deciphering  
language, taught us to be suspicious of the glaringly self-evident."  
(After Theory, New York: Basic Books 2003, 53) This is precisely what  
bloggers do.
[20] Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason, Minneapolis:  
University of Minnesota Press, 1987, 5.
[21] See Stefan Lorenz Sorgner, "In Search of Lost Cheekiness, An  
Introduction to Peter Sloterdijk's Critique of Cynical Reason", in:  
Tabula Rasa, 20 (2003).
[22] Justin Clemens, 93.
[23] Clemens, 88.
[24] Interview with Andre Gluckmann, in: Frankfurter Rundschau, 11  
November 2005.
[25] Justin Cremers, The Romanticism of Contemporary Theory, Ashgate,  
Hants, 2003, 77.
[26] Clemens, 89.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Karen Carr, 3.
[29] Carr, 7.
[30] Kline, Burstein, xxv.
[31] A typical blogs as agenda-setting theory would be Aaron Delwiche's  
"Agenda-setting, opinion leadership and the World of Blogs", in: First  
Monday, 10/12. See also the  
work of Kaye Trammell:
[32] Kline, Burstein, 249.
[33] See Terje Rasmussen's paper "Media of the Self".
[34] See: Dominic Pettman, After the Orgy, Toward a Politics of  
Exhaustion, Albany: State University of New York Press 2002.
[35] Caire E. Write, "The Author's Dilemma: To Blog or Not to Blog",  
in: The Internet Writing Journal, November 2005. URL:
[36] Summary of David Weinberger's lecture "The Shape of Knowledge",  
Helsinki School of Economics, 1 December 2005.
[37] See:
[38] The chapter mirrors a chapter with the same name, "Nihilism in  
Black America", in Cornel West's Race Matters (Boston: Beacon Press  
1993, 11-20).
[39] Cornel West, 39.
[40] Alex Halavias, Blogs and Archiving. 16 September 2004.
[41] Of course there are blogs dedicated to MMORPGs (such as "embedded  
journalist" Wagner James Au, whose New World Notes blog reports about  
the Second Life game., but that's not the  
point. A MMORPG that feeds off the daily buzz in the blogosphere would  
perhaps be a start? Of course there are blogs dedicated to MMORPGs  
(such as "embedded journalist" Wagner James Au, whose New World Notes  
blog reports about the Second Life game.,  
but that's not the point. A MMORPG that feeds off the daily buzz in the  
blogosphere would perhaps be a start?
[42] Phil Windley blogging Matthew Berk's presentation at the 10 June  
2003 Jupitermedia ClickZ Weblog Business Strategies Conference.
[44] Nicholas Carr, "The New Narcissism", Rough Type, 17 February 2006.
[45] AlwaysOn Summit, 20 July 2005.
[46] Friedrich Kittler, "What's New about the New Media?" in: Rem  
Koolhaas et al., Mutations, Barcelona 2000, 64-65.
[48] Hewett, 1.
[49] Erich Fromm, The Fear of Freedom, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul  
1942, x.
[50] Fromm, 207.

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