Sunday, April 09, 2006

I blog, therefore . . .

After a month or two of blogging, I have come to reflect upon the influence of the medium on the legal academy and society, in general. While there are many blogs and they differ in many ways, it is possible to make several generalizations about them, and to identify some discernible effects that they have had in a relatively short time. I can't make the Harvard conference on the subject (in itself a sign of blogs' growing impact), so herewith some random thoughts:

1. Community.--It's probably the most overused word in the academy, but blogs have done a great deal to restore the sense of academic community above and beyond any one institution. In this sense, they represent a significant advance over e-mail or ordinary websites, which can be used to transmit information but don't promote organized discussion in quite the same way. E-mails are like radio announcers reading their copy on television: an old way of communicating that is simply transported to a new medium. Blogs are something new.

2. Conservatism/contrarianism.--Perhaps because those already in control of institutions have less need of them, blogs tend to be counter-cyclical: mostly liberal in politics (which is controlled by conservatives), disproportionately conservative in academics (which is run by liberals). It is also perhaps no accident that many of the most successful blogs originate on the West Coast, which is far from the traditional academic centers but light years ahead in technology and the star culture. An example of blogs' power is the resistance to the ABA "diversity" standards, which would be much harder to organize in their absence.

3. Comedy.--Blogs have restored some of the humor to, well, a pretty humorless subject. Postings on Supreme Court cases are interspersed with musings about good TV shows or the latest exploits of the blogger's cat. Even the most serious bloggers are not immune.

One last thing that amazes me about blogs is how many people actually read them. I think it is fair to say that I have a fairly obscure blog, but my very first post got me a response from somebody in Houston who has clients in India, while a post about Sweden and the Holocaust netted an overnight comment from a website devoted to . . . Swedish antisemitism. The linking and cross-linking between blogs vastly enhances this effect: my post about diversity in law school hiring, which was attacked by another member of my own faculty, was soon posted on four or five different blogs, in one case including my picture (unfortunately up to date) in case anyone who saw me in a restaurant wanted to let me know how they felt. One always has to be careful what one says: even e-mails, I've been told, shouldn't say anything you wouldn't want to read in the N.Y. Times the next morning. With blogs, you don't even have to wait that long.


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