Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Reason Number 666
Out here in the blogosphere, we feel connected to a giant, multiplying community of like-minded individuals, a community buzzing with such energy that it's got to be sweeping Americans everywhere up into its orbit. But not so fast, pixel-breath. The Pew Internet and American Life Project published the results of an exhaustive survey this week about how people use the Internet--most interestingly, about the people who contribute to it apart from simply reading their e-mail and passively absorbing content from CNN, ESPN, or porn sites. Most notable to me are the stats on bloggers. Only about two percent of web users blog, and only about a third of those update more than once every few weeks. And only about one-tenth of Internet users read blogs regularly. Of that fraction, about a third post comments on the blogs they read.

So yeah, the blogosphere is a community--but it's a tiny one. Maybe we might want to rethink this idea that we're having a vast impact on the political world, and on great masses of voters. What we may be doing, at best, is having conversations with people already disposed to have political conversations, and who are merely having them in a new way. If we're influencing opinions, they're elite, activist-type opinions. They are not necessarily Mr. and Mrs. America's opinions. (Exhibit A: the Dean campaign, which was a big hit in this world, but failed to connect with Mr. and Mrs. America when it went prime-time.) Mr. and Mrs. America, while they may be savvy enough to read and send e-mail, are still getting their news from major electronic media sources (albeit, perhaps, major media websites), newspapers, and--gasp!--from advertising. We'd do well to remember this when the Republican media shitstorm begins later this week. We'll do our damnedest to counter it here on the web, to fact-check it and debunk it--but unless we get Wolf Blitzer to help us spread the word, we're going to make a very tiny noise. The good news is that the Blitzers of the world do pay some attention, being quasi-elitists themselves. And bloggers like Josh Marshall do occasionally get on C-SPAN--although Marshall is as well known for his magazine journalism as he is for his Talking Points Memo website.

So it seems possible that as a news source and opinion maker, the blogosphere is still at a fairly primitive stage. If this were TV, maybe it would be about 1947. We're here; more people know about us than actually use us; and we're growing, but we have a long way to go.

Recommended reading: Here's another argument for giving Georgia back to the Cherokees. Of course, we've done enough to the Indians already, so it might be piling on to make them put up with a pack of superstitious, benighted dimwits forever getting their underwear in various knots over religious nonsense. For other numbers of the beast, click here.

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