Compared to What?

by F.

I worked in a supermarket once, which was staffed with a number of characters. One old guy—I don’t remember his name—would respond the same way whenever I asked him how he was, which I did reflexively each day when I got to work. “How are you doing?” And he would say, “Compared to what?” It’s not a very clever response, and quickly got tiresome, but it’s an important point to remember in a number of contexts outside supermarkets.

For instance, Gideon Rachman notes that

It is not self-evident, however, that the blogosphere’s influence on politics is all for the good. A political consultant once complained that his bosses’ reliance on focus groups handed power to people who were prepared to sit around for hours talking about politics with strangers, in return for a free sandwich. Similarly if politics is increasingly shaped by the blogosphere, it will mean more power and influence for a sub-section of the population willing to waste hours trawling through dross on the internet.

Blogging as a medium has virtues: speed, spontaneity, interactivity and the vast array of information and expertise that millions of bloggers can bring together. But it also has its vices. The archetypal political blog favours instant response over reflection; commentary over original research; and stream-of-consciousness over structure.

Let’s see. A medium that stresses

  1. instant response over reflection;
  2. commentary over original research;
  3. and stream of consciousness over structure.

Sounds like Fox, CNN, Time, Newsweek,… In other words, is most political blogging much worse that most political reporting? I doubt it. Other than the odd Sy Hersh piece in The New Yorker, most political writing can be committed to the flames without a second thought. Ditto for political blogs, of course. But they are free.