Self-referential

The Pew Internet Life project released results on Wednesday for their survey about bloggers and blogging. You can access pdf files of the survey results and interview questions here. It’s certainly amazing to see where social networking and the internet have brought us, eh?

The survey is interesting to me for a variety of reasons. As anyone who actively blogs knows, bloggers come from all walks of life, and the Pew results confirm that. Most bloggers appear casual, picking up blogging as a hobby and not devoting that much time to it. (I’m among the 10% of bloggers that spends 10 or more hours a week working on my blog…which, by the way, costs a shocking amount of money to host annually, in part thanks to the large database.) Blogging is as much or as little as you want it to be, thanks to self publishing systems like Blogger (where I got my start), LiveJournal, and Typepad.

Bloggers are also apparently more diverse–English is the second most popular language, and only 60% of us are white. (Now, granted, that is a lot of white folks. But when 74% of internet users are white, it’s awesome to see some more minority voices there.) Blogging also seems to be evenly split between the sexes, although more than half of us are under thirty. (And, uhm, I actually do hang out in my pajamas most of the time when I’m writing. Sorry to reinforce that stereotype.)

It’s good to see blogging being treated as a serious media and source of information exchange, and gratifying to see leading groups like the Pew Foundation studying and attempting to quantify it. (Though they could have done with a much wider survey sample.) Even newspapers have blogs now–clearly it’s not a fad that’s going to go away any time soon.

There’s been a lot of buzz about blogging in the last few years, especially after the 2004 unelection. There’s something in the nature of instant publishing that can be shared with the world that appeals to me, and also terrifies me. Primarily, it’s a pain in the ass sifting through the millions of blogs out there in search of good material. It’s also sad to see a handful of heavyweights leading the blogging world–it’s why I encourage things like link exchange and the ever widening assortment of carnivals, because it gives me a chance to see what other people are writing, not just Wonkette, The Daily Kos, Dooce, and so on.

But blogging is changing the shape of our society in a lot of ways, and as a new media that’s something which should be addressed. Bloggers are lobbying for candidates. Bloggers are whistleblowing about issues in the workplace, spreading information, sharing ideas and tools for living. Bloggers write about food and share recipes, or chronicle adventures around the world–if it’s something I’m interested in, there’s a good chance that a blog on it exists somewhere. It’s a pretty neat thing. I can follow events all over the country in small towns (apparently only 13% of bloggers live in rural areas..which makes sense given the growing urban population) just like this one by hopping from blog to blog, collecting information and photographs as I go. I feel like I’m in Perils of Our Girl Reporters sometimes.

I really enjoy reading blogs written by people living in other countries, to give me an on the ground idea of what’s going on. It’s surprising how much isn’t covered in the American media, or how many facts are distorted–while blogs cannot be considered an utterly reliable source, they often provide new insight on global issues for me. It’s possible to learn a lot from the material other people provide, given that the reader is willing to sift through it all and make calculated conclusions about it.

Extensions of the blogging world like flickr (warning, graphic images) allow me to see what’s going on in other parts of the world, to bring a visceral meaning to news reports about bombings, for example. It’s like taking a little field trip to a magical land, or hell.

I also love reading about other people’s work lives. I can be a doctor for a day, or a forester, if I want to. I’d love to see more youth utilizing blogs to research potential careers. But it’s also just fun to live vicariously through someone, even if just for a little while. If I ever wondered what it would be like to be a grocer, a stunt pilot, or a blacksmith, I can read all about it.

Blogs are also constantly challenging media boundaries, and legal trouble has resulted from blogging, particularly work blogging. You might get dooced, or just get a talking to. There seems to be a constant struggle to define which forms of free speech are to be permitted in the blogosphere, and when commentary crosses the line into libel or defamation. Is it illegal to criticize a workplace? No, it’s not–but people will and have been fired for it, sadly. Sometimes the little guy wins after all, though. Issues of privacy and security have become much larger in the past few years, with bloggers in other parts of the world being imprisoned for their words.

We are fortunate in the United States in that political bloggers are still able to express their opinions. Hopefully it will always be that way–but our anonymity may be seriously at risk, given that many ISPs cave to subpoenas (or provide that kind of information to the government willingly). Offshore hosting is probably the most intelligent thing for radical bloggers if they want any sort of protections.

I suspect that blogging is the new fifth column, undermining traditional media and society. Certainly, it offers certain bonuses many newspapers take advantage of–instant reporting, for example. However, like all internet sources, blogs are not reliable and may never be, because of their open nature. Anyone can post a blog–and it sounds like a whole lot of people do–and even more read. This can be a dangerous tool, can’t it?

[blogging]