Everyone in the blogosphere seemed to have their hackles up yesterday. I got snippy with grandtextauto last night; there's a firestorm at misbehaving.net over an apparently innocent suggestion to try to meet up at a conference; and there seems to be a whole swirling maelstrom forming around the questions of whether blogs are about business or community, "publications" or "parties" in the words of David Winer.
There's a long post at EmptyBottle (found, in a roundabout way, via Jill, who, I am glad to see, is otherwise filled with joy) that documents much of the negative energy. He compares the early anarchic excitement of the blogosphere and its subsequent decline into factions and money-making schemes to a similar pattern with punk rock:
Punk got co-opted and marketed and corporatized, and it damn near died, as all Big Ideas do. That's not to say that small-p punk is not still alive. It is, down in the ditches, where the spirit that drove the rage has morphed and moved on and dropped back under the monkeymass radar. Music and community is being made now that might not fit so easily into the same easy label, but there are folks out there making stuff that builds on and extends the best of the punk alt-rock scene from 20 years ago and more. Some of 'em are more relevant than others, sure, but the passion's still out there. The anger, the love, the frustration, the woohoo. The party rolls on, even though the faces have changed.
Ultimately, the Wonderchicken's outlook for blogging, as for punk music, is optimistic:
Although its public face may suck pretty bad for a while, and you may need to dig a bit deeper to find its soul, there will always be those in the Fields of Blog who will tell you what they really think, and some of those will move you while doing it, regardless of how well they write. And they'll do it without having to look over their shoulders. 'cause it's a fucking party, pops, and you're invited.
I'm a late-comer the party, so I don't know how things now compare to the halcyon days of blogging's youth, but based on my experiences with both music and computers, I'm not sure I can share the Wonderchicken's optimism. Over and over again we have seen new movements, in both technology and music, emerge seemingly from nowhere, stir things up and promise a real upsetting of the status quo, but once The System notices such a challenge, it begins to co-opt and before too long everyone who hasn't sold out or imploded has been chased back underground. This plot fits the story of usenet and email, of "alternative" music, of the web itself. I should, I suppose, be encouraged by the fact that despite these repeated setbacks, the party rolls on, and keeps managing to stage insurrections, however brief, but instead I am discouraged by what appears to be the increasing efficiency with which these challenges are either put down or absorbed.
This all reminds me of the response I made to Mark Bernstein when Donut Age opened. Then, I similarly wanted to believe his assertions that the many-to-many possibilities of the Internet provide a viable alternative to the homogenization of broadcast and the oblivion of pristine isolation, but could not get past the historical precedents that suggest the opposite. Perhaps that's why I, finally, cannot quite agree with the "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" tone of the Wonderchicken's otherwise invigorating post (I have occasionally had similar reservations about statements Mark has made, but I can't find any examples). For me, I guess, it is not enough to have a string of periodic uprisings if they are always going to be defeated. I want the real revolution, I want it now, and I want us to win.