Is blogging online masturbation, or can it really bring about change?

March 17, 2009

ipod_book_coverThe real question is not whether blogging can change the world; but rather is it supposed too? To be perfectly honest with you – I dunno –

I don’t have a claim on internet history and I don’t think anyone has either; it’s a geography that’s simply to big to squeeze into one head. All I can really draw on is my own humble personal account of what blogging really is – I remember (violin plays in the background), it was the summer of 1999 when I first blogged and like many who had stumbled on the internet. I didn’t really have anything significant to say; yet I distinctly recalled that I desperately yearned for an online persona.

I realize this sounds terribly petulant; the idea of not having the faintest idea of why one should even project online except the merest wisp of a fancy to be part of a revolution that one doesn’t know anything about; but I guess, if I had to sum up all the feelings of the online revolution that once swept the world by storm it would have to be those clueless few minutes when I first started to write something like ‘hello’ or ‘is anybody there?’

It was obvious from even these baby beginnings that what I was dabbling with was revolutionary. No sooner had I discovered this sudden power to publish my thoughts, in no time my baby gugu mama postings began attracting a slew of brutish comments (this could probably explain why all your comments here will be permanently held in queue). They were more direct than anything that I had ever experienced before, more persnickety than any arm chair pontificator with a grudge to bear against the world, and more dangerous than the average psycho one is likely to come across in a lifetime.

None the less like many of my generation; I took to this new medium like fish to water and soon even develop a rhino hide to find the mythical line. At first my motivations can only be described as something closer to fuzzy pretense; I remember telling myself, it was healthy to nurture such a thing called an inner voice (that could explain why I wasn’t very hot with the girls; it gets a bit crowded with your imaginary inner voice friends and pets running around): hence the will to record indelibly, to set down even the merest thoughts into permanent words seem akin to the conviction I was somehow larger than the community, state and broader universe. Sounds like a great trip on magic mushrooms right?

In the years that followed much of the initial euphoria levelled out; the blog still remained the blog; it didn’t change the world; the world didn’t get smaller, it still took the same number of hours to reach London or Tokyo by plane; the internet was a superficial medium.

By superficial, I mean its  allure relies on a kind of delusion or suspension of disbelief that blogging can change the world and will make it a better place; though I never got around to questioning how this change might actually come about; besides I was too busy validating my dysfunction self; for one I especially liked the way blogging made dyslexia respectable; as blogging surreptitiously rewards brevity and immediacy. And since I had roughly the attention span of a housefly – that just fitted me well down to a tee.

It was only somewhere around 2004, when I had written my sixth online novel. That I realized, instead of changing the world; the internet was actually some sort of giant Smithsonian institute; in this sudden reversal of logic; I realized blogging wasn’t  supposed to change as much as preserve against change; that thing being threatened could well be the idea of statistical insignificant ‘me’ against the greater ‘we.’ A critical way of viewing the world outside the cloistered cosy insiderism of group think.  Or even something as trivial as the right to ride my bicycle on the road without getting flattened into roti prata; reading back on many of my writings during that period; I realized the key to understanding a blog is to grasp that it’s a stab at the moment, a blot of ink and should never be equated with a publication. At best, an idiom of our times that allows millions of people to express themselves at their own speed, time and style – that could explain why any attempt to make a blog conform to any prescribed corsetted form or symmetry is just an act of futility – it cannot and will not – you cannot gut out the condition of human spontaniety that makes a blog, a blog.

But despite the seeming superficiality this doesn’t detract from its depth—greater depth than even what the traditional media could even be expected to capture in some cases. As not only does it capture the personalised version of the unvarnished truth, but it also provides writers and readers alike with an emotional black box to log how society once reacted, reasoned and dedicated itself to a path of beliefs, ethos and values to their objects of interest.


By this period somewhere in 2005.  I had noticed, the world had also begun to change inexorably (I don’t get out much); from my room with a view; I didn’t like very much what I was seeing. I am not saying I am anti-globalisation fundamentalist. Or that we should undo the internet and hammer our keyboards into ploughshares and return back to the days of the cottage industry.


Only it would not be too far off to say. I  saw globalization with a heavy dose of askance very much like  some pernicious evil weed taking hold; something even akin to a super invader that had the capacity to overreach threatening to leach out everything that’s real, valuable and authentic.


It stands to reason globalization promotes the idea of one worldness; the greater ‘we’ at the expense of the individual ‘I.’ In the years that followed, I sought out the merest hint of this global decay and with each passing affirmation where I saw the world barreling mindlessly into the end times of the age when the ‘I’ gave ground to the faceless ‘we’– I reached a realization, blogging was hardly a matter of choice, it was a matter of necessity – we have to write; if we are to stand a chance of preserving that which we hold dear and worth handing over one day to our children.


Though somewhere in this great narrative to save the people and planet; I hadn’t got around to figuring out exactly what it was which was so important that needed preserving, besides maybe my Bavarian cuckoo clock and overpriced Italian racing bicycle; the act of blogging it seemed was always more important than the pesky philosophy; its hard to describe in precise terms the feeling of being assaulted, except to say deep down; some of in the mess of my confused self. I must have rued an age of mass consumerism and the mono culture brought forth by globalization and everything that came with it – to me it was a form of McDonalization that even threatened to reduce the field of possibilities to a cinder. Against that belief, one takes up arms against the homogeneity of mass culture. One doesn’t want to be swept away. And writing and managing a blog, I guess offers the illusion of ”choice” in a “choiceless” world;  it’s a sanctuary against that scouring tide. A refuge even against the chastening passage of time.


I guess to know this feeling better, one needs to enter the messy mind of a blog writer as he struggles to express himself against how he sees his ever changing environment – When one writes time stops for the duration of the moment when a sentence needs to be wordsmithed, you’re acutely acute present to yourself; you step outside the unconscious forward rush of life. This is why the condemned are allowed the final cigarette, it offers release or rather the hope of it by gathering the loose threads that allows one the strength to walk through the door or cross that line. In a sense I saw it as the clearest testament against the omnipresent mechanization of mass culture.


And for a long time, I even nurtured the belief; the truth in this age can only remain the truth, providing one writes and another reads. I believed rightly or wrongly when serious writing and reading dwindles to near nothingness, it will probably mean that the thing we’re talking about when we use the word “identity” has reached a terminal end.
I guess when one sees writing in this sense; it ceases all together to be writing; and is instead closer to a form of samizdat; a mode of opposition thinking; that doesn’t necessary mean against state and authority, but rather it simply a reaction against the whole idea we may just be another faceless dot that connects to other dots – as Emerson said, “even a brick aspires to greatness,” eventually one learns to manipulate words and sentences in the way one takes pride in the god of the small even something as insignificant as tying your shoes laces or being able to make bubbles with your saliva acquires a monumental scale – one takes great pride in these small pleasures that the world hardly notices such as the art of adjusting lacing patterns to terrain – you tell yourself, those shoe manufacturers may know the foot of 99.99% of the rest of humanity, but your feet is different, you are an individual, you’re special, you’re not like the rest of those flat foots; no, for one you write, they don’t – so you develop a style of tying your laces which keeps the toe box loose and the ankle tight when climbing uphill (to prevent twisting) and on the descent you learn to reverse the pattern on the way down (to protect the Achilles tendon), using a double- twisted knot to separate the two parts of the lace – you tell yourself, few people know this trick, they don’t really know how important tying their shoe laces is, only you know it – and as you look out over the yonder, you tell yourself – I ready for the world and what it can throw as me – I can tie my shoelaces better anyone in this miserable planet.


I guess for anyone who has ever blogged before this graphic analogy which I have just shared is one that only they understand too well;  it’s easy to get caught up in the gyre, to be even swept away by it. And there lies the real danger.


It was only after the euphoria of the recent general elections in Malaysia in 2008 – when blogging was touted as the new wonder weapon of change; that I seriously began to think for the very first time about this new experimental form of writing – I vacillated and grew restive and contemplative during this time; taking off even whole weeks and months from blogging; often lapsing between hope and trepidation; struggling often against the imperfection of the results which blogging produced, vexing even with the broader constancy which I asked myself in stark terms; is this how I would like to make the world a better place? Is this how good wins over bad?

I can’t say for certain that by this period I have totally at ease with the power of blogging; unlike many of my compatriots; I realized its terrible and awesome capacity for change; but my discomfort zone was precisely because I had seen first hand the before, during and after story of how the internet could be weaponized so easily; neither was I fully convinced that the changes it wrought would be for the betterment of people or planet; during this period; my mind meandered often questioning the wisdom of how this new power could be better harnessed.

Even today I don’t have any answers to many of my questions.

But despite my initial reservations about the quality of change that blogging brought to the Malaysia political landscape – I remained hopeful, that if used wisely and responsibly (not within the definition directed by officialdom, as I don’t believe they really know what they’re doing), blogging for lack of a better word remains our best hope to make a better world.

I say this with confidence. As when we look back at history and peruse through the unresolved dialogues of Plato right up to Karl Krauss, its not too difficult to trace out the lines where a skeptic once questioned the spirit of his age to make it a better place; or an enquiring mind found a way out of the finality to the established truth to shatter the yoke of the great lie; in the scheme of things it matters little whether its disproving the theory the earth is flat; or rubbishing something as polished as the whole idea the earth is the center of the known universe. The one undeniable ever lasting legacy of the human spirit is where there is a mind who is prepared to write and defend his treatise before the world; there is hope for good to triumph over evil; and the truth can hold its own against the lie. In this regard blogging offers this tremendous opportunity for thoughts to acquire speed to bring about this type of change.

And though in this age; when blogging as a way of thinking or life may still have to compete furtively with slashing aphorisms and machine gun burst of invectives from its detractors who see it as merely a wasteful indolent pastime – I am reminded providing there is someone who writes and another who continues to read; then there may still be hope yet. For it is only when we question with a skeptical and daring mind can we change minds, acquire new knowledge, shift paradigms and grow wiser —and so this boon or bane that the world calls blogging, far from being perdition may yet hold out the promise of salvation.

I wish you all happy blogging for 2009 and may you all find your line.

Darkness 2009

(This essay was first published in PBK, The Confederation, The Strangelands, C-MOS, Just Stuff & Ekunanba / By Darkness / Reflections / Socio / Based Partially on Codex: 9926439-2006 / Revised Partially from EP edition 9926440-2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2009)

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