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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Book #4
Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation that is changing your world by Hugh Hewitt

I am cordially interested more really about the phenomenon of blogging than blogging myself, so I was always going to read this book, even though it is not really aimed at me, and this book is definitely aimed. In particular it is aimed at people who don't really know much about blogs - perhaps they heard of them in connection with Dan Rather, but not really anything else. So a great deal of it is basically covering ground I already knew. For all that Hugh Hewitt does trace a very good history through four important moments of the blogosphere: Trent Lott, Jayson Blair, the Swift Vets, and (of course) Dan Rather. He also delves into the nitty-gritty - how the blogosphere is currently structured, some of the major sites, the mechanics, how to respond, and so on and so forth. Of course he does write from a conservative angle, which will probably annoy some people.

His main argument however is linking the events of 2004 to the invention of printing and the Reformation. I basically agree that the development of the internet is analogous to the development of printing. However, when he comes to making the case that the taking down of Dan Rather is like Luther nailing up his theses I think he demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of the Reformation, and in the process ignores a far more important and relevant analogy: the pamphleteer. Admittedly what I know of pamphleteering mostly comes from studying the French Revolution at A-Level, but just reading about the early pamphlets and newspapers and the comparisons leap out: operations of one man or a small group, plucky and partisan, and out of 'mainstream' control.

My problem with the Reformation analogy is this sentence from p59

Luther's democratisation of the Bible led, through Calvin, to the democratisation of the Church.

The main problem is that Luther was violently intolerant of any who disagreed with him, and the Reformation resulted in nearly over a century of rabid religious intolerance and hatred, that still reverberates today. This was not democratisation in any meaning of the word I understand. It is a fundamentally pessimistic analogy and example for the blogosphere, and an example of fundamental human failure. Personally I think we can aim a little higher, and I think drawing a parallel to 18th century America is altogeher far more wholesome, and relevant.

Despite this historical quibble I liked the book. Hugh has a very engaging, conversational (sometimes exhortational) style that is a welcome change in a 'serious' book.

Finally, it got me thinking. There are aspects of what some mediavel English chroniclers did - especially the ones that wrote contemporaneously with the events they described - that are very similar to what bloggers do now.

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