Blog, Blague, Blog
By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
December 3, 2004; Page A18
No big surprise, I suppose, in Merriam-Webster's recent announcement that "blog" was the word most looked up on its Internet sites during the past year. Bloggers were much in the news; in fact, they often turned the direction of the news, and made a fair amount of news on their own. Bloggers caught up with many campaign lies during the past presidential election; by catching him out in shoddy journalistic practice, they cost Dan Rather an honorable departure from a long career.
Bloggers have become something of an auxiliary media, often doing the grubby journalistic work of picking up the essential threads left hanging by the major, or mainstream, media.
At their best, they resemble that small stockholder who ruins what was supposed to be a smooth stockholders meeting by pointing out that the company's top executives seem to have been making ungodly profits by putting asbestos in the products of corporation's baby-food company in Latin America. Politicians, journalists, public figures generally, have been served proper notice: Beware -- Little Blogger is watching you.
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A blog, for those who have not yet looked up the word, is a journal kept by a private individual and made available on the Web. The etymology of the word derives from web log. (Through available software, a blog can also send its readers to other pertinent material through hyperlinks.) Persons who keep such journals are known as bloggers, their activity as blogging. Blogs, like private journals kept in pre-computer days, tend to be updated daily.
A name for habitual readers of blogs has not, so far as I know, been invented. Blogettes wouldn't be bad, if it didn't suggest exclusive feminity. The best available for now is probably blogophiles. There must be lots of them out there, for some blogs are thought to have large followings: Andrew Sullivan's blog, for example, and that of the notorious blog gossiper Matthew Drudge used to get frequent mention.
After admitting all the successes of bloggers in politics and journalism in recent years, I myself remain a bit of a blogophobe. My problem with blogs is, to stay within computerese, a RAM problem. RAM is, of course, random access memory, denoting how much information one can store in one's computer, or, in human terms, in one's brain. Those little gray cells, as Inspector Poirot likes to call them, are dying off in impressive numbers in all of us; and do we wish to spend many of them reading blogs, in which a large percentage of the material cannot be relied upon, and lots more of which is beside any possible point? Well to remember that the French word blague, pronounced the same as blog, means to talk chaff, to hoax, to humbug.
Professional journalists may be under an obligation to check 12 or 15 blogs each morning. As an amateur, a mere kibitzer, I am not. I do not have enough RAM left in my brain to accommodate bloggers in the distant hope of gaining a bit of inside information, I cannot really accommodate them in what I think of as my intellectual hygiene. Forget inside information, it's all I can do to handle outside information.
As for my intellectual hygiene, it begins with writing in my own, private, written-in-longhand journal, which I have been keeping for some 30-odd years and which no one else has ever seen. It continues with a brisk reading of the New York Times, beginning always with its obituaries (the only news that, as Ezra Pound said about literature, stays news). The Wall Street Journal is next. After checking my e-mails, with its many fine offers of cheap Viagra and chances to meet cheating housewives, I click over to ArtsandLettersDaily.com, which reprints a good selection of recent articles on culture and intellectual life in the Anglophone world.
I also subscribe to 12 or so magazines, from the English Gramaphone to the imprecisely named GQ, standing for Gentleman's Quarterly (it comes out monthly and, with its explicit advice on sex, is decidedly not for gentleman). At night I watch "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," and try my best to steer clear of CNN or "Larry King Live," not always with success. Information overload is, decidedly, threatened.
All success to the best of the bloggers. But, as the Jews of Russia used to say about the czar, so I now find myself saying about them: May they live and be well, but not too close to me.
Mr. Epstein is the author, most recently, of "Envy" (Oxford, 2003).
I actually have many friends, including the one I live with, who esposuse many of the writer's sentiments. My own tendency is to check out a few because often the same news is repeated other places. But I enjoy blogging. It's the first time in 20 years I've been able to do some creative writing. May you live well without blogs, Mr. Epstein, but I find they will cover many stories that the mainstream media does not.