Saturday, February 28, 2015

Internet Discussion II

Over the last year, most of what little writing I've done has appeared on this blog. Occasionally I've posted comments on other sites, but I've come to prefer posting here because it is more peaceful and I don't get the unsettling sense of looming chaos or confrontation that I often encounter elsewhere. My posting experience goes back almost nine years to mid-2006, during which time I've posted on a wide variety of websites, and I am now inclined to restrict myself to my own. The heavily-moderated sites such as the NYRblog once seemed promising, but the fact of the matter is that most of the articles and comments there were not particularly interesting to me and the time lag between posting, moderation and appearance of the post made the process painfully slow. Moreover, the editorial policies at the NYRB encourage a special kind of pretentiousness, and they have very little going on there that captures my interest, especially since Tony Judt died. In any case, they have now completely stopped accepting comments, which means to me that they don't really care about their readers and probably don't care much about the discussion of ideas either. I am privately hoping for the imminent deaths of Robert Silvers and his publisher.

Since leaving the NYRblog, I've regularly been reading 3 Quarks Daily. This is an improvement over the NYRblog, but it has its own set of limitations. Overall I think their selection of articles from across the web is quite good, but the commenting and discussion there are not noteworthy. On Mondays they feature their own authors, who, in my opinion, are substantially less interesting than those who appear on other days. Several Monday contributors seem to be second- or third-tier academics who are attempting to use the site to advance their careers. S. Abbas Raza, the founding editor, is doing a good job, but there is a disproportional representation on the site of his friends and relatives, which makes it seem insufferably cliquish at times. Very few people comment there regularly, and the regulars each seem to have different agendas that don't complement each other. One commenter regularly attempts to lure readers to his blog with links. Another commenter always presents a formal academic facade and lists references with each post; his avatar is a photo of himself wearing a jacket and tie, as if he were on his way to a job interview. As with all websites, any discussion tends to be weak and uninteresting, often with very little real communication between participants.

Another disappointment I've had has been with The Chronicle of Higher Education website. When I first chanced upon it about a year ago I was impressed. The level of discussion was better than most. The scope of the site is constricted by its focus on academic topics, but the articles are generally of good quality, and the comments, at least initially, seemed above average. However, the site apparently has little or no moderation, and in the course of a year the comments have turned into a free-for-all. The impression I get is that at any given moment there is an enormous pack of Internet hooligans frantically searching for an outlet to vent their frustrations and inform the world of their innate superiority. The presence of shrieking brats on an education-oriented site triggers a serious case of cognitive dissonance in me, and I have no reason to put up with it.

I used to think that it would be possible to construct a widely-read website that had good articles and good comments that were posted in a timely manner. It now looks as if there are forces working against that. Predictably, capitalism, particularly in the U.S., creates products that are compromised in design from their inception when the underlying goal is profit maximization. It is difficult enough to create a website that generates profits, but practically impossible to create a website that appeals only to a few discerning, well-behaved readers and still run a profit. In this general area you have at one end the NYRblog, which has clearly indicated its complete indifference to its web readers, probably because any money spent there is not money well spent, and at the other end you have The Chronicle of Higher Education website, which has caved in to a rowdy mob of web readers rather than make an effort to maintain a minimum standard of quality. I think it would probably be possible to design and manage a very high quality website that had excellent articles and comments, but no one has much incentive to do that because it would most likely lose money.

Therefore, for the time being at least, I intend to confine my writing exclusively to this blog. If you know of or come across a site that you think I might like, please let me know, and I'll take a look. Since I will no longer be posting elsewhere using my Disqus account, which shows this blog address, not many new people will find out about this blog, and it will probably remain very cozy indeed.

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