For example, I think Andrew Sullivan, by becoming a blogger, has completely ruined his standing as a writer of serious political and gay analysis. Now he posts 40 times a a day, and includes so many insipid or inconsequential things and meaningless pieces of campaign gossip, and very, very little (i.e. none) of what he writes changes my life in any way whatsoever. I have stopped reading him.
Or consider Matthew Yglesias. Consider his July 7th blog entry: someone named "RoboticGhost "asks:
"I wondered if you heard anything about water concerns while you were out West. I don't suspect it'd be that big of a deal in lofty Aspen, but many parts of Colorado are caught in the fight for water resources. Its town against town against farmer against industry, with some armed conflicts thrown in for good measure."
I didn't hear anything about that when I was in Colorado, but I did hear a lot about water last year when I was in Southern California and New Mexico. I'm far from an expert in this, but normally when you see shortages you're looking at an effort to allocate a valuable resource by regulatory fiat (and therefore special interest political clout) rather than price. Thus, I was strongly predisposed to favor this proposal for tradeable water rights from Michael Greenstone at Brookings when I read it months ago and reading it again it still seems right.
Stop and consider this in detail: someone afraid to even use their real name asks for an analysis of an extremely complex situation, decades in development, merely because Yglesias spent a few days in the west -- and in airy Aspen, at that.
RoboticGhost doesn't ask any journalist in the southwest who covers the water beat 40 hours a week, or any of a half-dozen writers who have written detailed and thoughtful books about the west and its water, or a thousand administrators whose job it is to ensure as smooth a water flow in the sw as possible. He asks a casual traveler.And this casual traveler, who has spent his entire life living in apartments on the eastern seaboard, actually thinks he has something valuable to say, because a year ago he spent a few days in a Best Western somewhere in the southwestern US.
With no evident local knowledge whatsoever -- even admitting as much -- Yglesias nevertheless offers a solution to this enormous, complex problem, a solution based purely on some political theory he read in a magazine somewhere last year and which has absolutely no naunced understanding of the complexity of the true situation on the group or its many years worth of layered complexity or what privatizing water supplies would mean for hundreds of thousands of southwestern ranchers or the million living there facing ever rising water bills.
Who is this brilliant detailed analysis supposed to convince? Anyone? Anyone whatsoever? Yglesias's blog post is so extremely brief and vapid, so without context or insight or passion or concern, that it's just a complete waste of everyone's fucking time. Yglesias is only writing it so he can get on to his next post, which will mean just as little as this one, and only written because his employer requires 20 posts/day of semi-intelligent prose that appears to intelligent but which conveys nothing at all.
Why am I wasting my time reading this? Nothing Yglesias wrote there matters to me in the least. Nothing about it teaches me even the slightest thing, offers the slightest insight, solves even the smallest problem. I would be far better off reading anything by John Fleck or Charles Bowden or Colin Fletcher or or even Edward Abbey. It's only designed to get him some hits and maybe an appearance on MSNBC some night, and then tomorrow it's off to stories he'll cover equally vapidly.
And anymore I'm finding the entire blogosphere like this. Even what I write. It takes weeks and months and years to understand situations, to write from anything like a position of expertise. You don't get it by quickly flying out to Aspen and back, or by reading an article from the Brookings Institute or from Harvard's 321 course on Environmental Philosophy. It takes blood, sweat, and tears, it takes going out and looking at rivers, pouring over government reports and spreadsheets, hiking to the tops of mountains for the big picture, calling 25 people a day -- precisely the thing the blogosphere does least of.
So I am wondering why I am reading it any more, or why I am even writing meaningless tidbits in this blog (and that's all they are). Or why anyone is reading. Is this seriously the future of this magnificent medium? It would be a full-time job to really blog about a few serious issues on a particular beat, and who can possibly attract 125,000 readers a day and support yourself doing that?
So more and more I am focusing on real writing, detailed reporting for magazines where you can do some real investigation and reporting and your audience isn't just people reading over their calzone at lunch. I don't want to end up some vapid blogger who tries to say everything and so who says nothing whatsoever. Life is too short. I'm really not sure what the solution is.