Long long ago, in a galaxy far far away, when I was still on Twitter. I was misquoted there. I’m probably still being misquoted there, but I don’t have an account any more, so I can’t be sure. Anyway: people regularly attributed to me this statement: “The internet is the friend of information but the enemy of thought.” In fact, I never said that or wrote that. (It would never have been true anyway that the internet was the friend of information.) But I did say something rather like that, though using a word that in the intervening almost-two-decades has disappeared: in an essay for the late, lamented Books & Culture, I wrote, “Right now, and for the foreseeable future, the blogosphere is the friend of information but the enemy of thought.”
Yeah. It was a word, I didn’t make it up. The blogosphere, at least as I used the term in that essay, had two major aspects. First, in those days before social media, there were bloggers – some professional, some amateur – who used their blogs the way that many people would later use Twitter: they blogged all day every day. Two of the most famous bloggers of that era were Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds (AKA Instapundit), and while Sullivan eventually took a different tack, and came to lament the effects of such constant rapid-fire posting on his mental and physical health, instapundit.com is still cranking out the posts, though not all of them are by Glenn Reynolds. I am writing these words a little after 2pm on an ordinary Monday, and a quick check informs me that there have been 52 posts so far today.
The second element of the blogosphere was: comments. Almost every big blog had a robust, not to say mob-like, comments section, and while many of us tend to think that comments were killed by social media, most of those 52 Instapundit posts from today have more than 100 comments, and an Open Thread post that went up last night has 1723 comments and counting. (“Whatever happened to Camel Jockey?” one commenter asks. “He just quit posting.” Apparently he’s one of the few.) And while many of the old-school blogs are dead and gone, a surprising number of them remain active, and still have a multitude of commenters. In turns out that social media did not kill blogs, but just co-opted the discourse about blogs. Once journalists got addicted to Twitter, they stopped paying attention to what was happening elsewhere — but that didn’t stop it from happening.
So when I wrote about the blogosphere I meant these two things: rapid-fire hour-by-hour posting coupled with lots of comments. And my point, in making that statement so often misquoted, was simply that you could get a great deal of information from those bloggers – Sullivan and Reynolds in those days rarely linked to fake news – but because the pace was so fast, because the bloggers and their commenters alike were responding so quickly to so many stories, there was no time to think.
I wrote that little essay at almost exactly the moment that Twitter went public. Soon thereafter (I signed up for Twitter in March of 2007) I learned more than I had ever thought it was possible to know about responding without thinking. The blogosphere was, though I didn’t know it in 2006, the least of our worries.
But of course, not all blogs belonged to the blogosphere, as I was using the term in that essay. The original blogs, or “web logs,” were just lists of links to interesting things a person had found on the nascent internet. But then – especially after the creation of the Movable Type web publishing software in 2001 – the blog became, for many people, especially those who didn’t aspire to journalism, a kind of online diary or journal. And while I don’t want to bring back the blogosphere, I definitely want to bring back the blog.
Now that the white-hot fire of Twitter is burning itself out, and its various alternatives (Threads, Bluesky, Mastodon) are generating merely gentle (or sputtering) flames, and TikTok (which is not a social-media site in any meaningful sense but rather a media-consumption platform) is still going nova, this is the time for people to rediscover the pleasures of blogging – of writing at whatever length you want, and posting photos, and embedding videos, and linking to music playlists, all on your little corner of the internet.
Let’s bring back the blog. And leave all the bad things spawned by the blogosphere to social media, where they belong.