The Blog Is Not A Diary

[Note: The following is an excerpt from my yet still untitled thesis project, which I am hopefully getting close to finishing! I think the section below is one of the stronger points made in my thesis, and I thought I would put it out in public not only to make whatever small contribution I can make to the theoretical discourse around blogs, but as a point of feedback and discussion for anyone who’s so inclined. Some of it make seem a little out of place without the context of the entire thesis, but I think you’ll get the gist of it well enough.]

There just didn’t seem to be someone. So I wrote. For the first and only time in my life, I started a diary. I placed the pages on my new personal website…I just needed to have my own say somewhere where I wouldn’t start a fight about the past. Somewhere where I had the last word. Somewhere that people, in the abstract, could listen to my side…I started Carolyn’s Diary.

Carolyn Burke, The Online Diary History Project

In the preceding sections, a genealogy of media was presented, through the perspective of medium theory. By examining these broad changes in media technology, it is clear that a “new medium is never an addition to an old one, nor does it leave the old one in peace” (McLuhan, 1964, p. 158). Print did not replace orality, and blogs do not replace the printing press. Yet as the “orality of blogging” demonstrates, there are aspects of previous media forms that can be seen in the new. The blog, in many ways, confounds categorization. It was born as a “diary,” a metaphor seated deep within the context of print media. It contains “comments,” a metaphor from speech, and orality. Users communicate through the act of typing, again a metaphor from print, and yet, unlike the book, the blog has no beginning, middle, or end.

Which category holds true? More appropriately, which category holds theoretical potential – which gets at the significance of this new media form?
The print metaphor, for the purposes of this thesis, is a theoretical dead end, certainly with respect to the notion of a blog as a diary. The diary, even if digital, is a metaphor of isolation, the thoughts of a single person posted online (even with others commenting, there is not the same sense of sociality, no shared norms, no “trusted users”; it is clearly a top-down configuration, one not nearly as participatory as a community-based blog). The blog as a diary extends the notion of a text, a progression from books written on paper, to books written online. Instead, an examination of the blog in terms of its orality provides insight about the connections created within – the community-based blog is a place of dialogue and speech, a site of interaction and expression through “comments,” a space where one extends his or her thoughts and ideas to others.

In this sense, the blogosphere is akin to what independent scholar and cultural critic Erik Davis calls “acoustic cyberspace.” Attempting to bridge the primarily visual world of the Internet with something more multi-sensory Davis (1997) looks to the auditory potential of cyberspace to create a more immersive, affective experience:

…the acoustic dimension of electronic media, and particularly of the Internet, offers an opportunity that is very different than simply providing more information, or making more web sites, or more entrancing animations. Or even making cheap phone calls…Acoustic spaces can create different subjectivities; they open possibilities and potentials—particularly on an aesthetic and informational levels—that can help us feel our way through the spaces we are opening up and moving into.

Davis’s “acoustic cyberspace” recalls Walter Benjamin’s (1936) discussion of the reception of art through “tactile appropriation.” For Benjamin, tactility is more than just touch – it is likened to the sensory experience of walking through a building. Navigating a space is a gradual process, as one learns step by step where to go. The reception of architecture, therefore, is not contemplative, but habitual:

Buildings are appropriated in a twofold manner: by use and by perception – or rather, by touch and sight. Such appropriation cannot be understood in terms of the attentive concentration of a tourist before a famous building. On the tactile side there is no counterpart to contemplation on the optical side. Tactile appropriation is accomplished not so much by attention as by habit. (p. 240)

In both these accounts, the reception and use of media falls outside visual metaphors, and is presented as something much more sensorial, something much more corporeal.

This, then, is the potential of breaking from the blog-as-text metaphor, and viewing the blog in terms of its orality, for it leads the analysis toward the particular social practices created within these virtual communities. Just as Walter Ong notes the “centering effect” of sound has on the subjectivities created within the world of orality, the blogosphere has its own kind of centering effect. It creates a subjectivity, one that is distinguished by its connectedness, one whose sociality is produced both by the medium of the blog and the social practices of the blogger – a networked configuration that Ong at least partially anticipated through his notion of “secondary orality.”

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