Sunday, 29 October 2017

Reflections on blogging, learning and managing vanity

There is an interesting book by Cass Sunstein called ' 2.0' which delves into the influences of the internet, and more specifically the blogosphere, on democracy and the spread of information. In Chapter 6 (page 150), he notes, rather interestingly:

"It is true that many people are using the blogosphere not to strengthen their antecedent convictions, and not to waste their time, but to learn about different views and new topics. The blogosphere increases the range of available information and perspectives, and this is a great virtue, above all for curious and open-minded people." 

This particular quote struck me because it touches upon what I mentioned in my last post. On Friday, I wrote:

"The blogosphere is for now an ideal platform for me because it reflects the values I place a lot of importance on: self-discovery, intellectual honesty and growth, independent thought, holding power to account and the democratisation of information."

To most, blogging will appear as a fairly mundane and ultimately ineffectual pastime. It is not new and with every passing day the number of websites which make up the worldwide web increases. The internet presents us with a huge arena from which to source our information and there is undoubtedly crowding. There is so much competition and so fine a line between accuracy and misinformation. I walk that tightrope as carefully as I can. To me, though, blogging is much more personal. It provides me with a mechanism by which I can express values that I hold dearly and in which I sincerely believe. It aids my learning and keeps my mind open.

The first thing to note here is that one of the main ways in which I learn is by writing. I think I first noticed this when I was at school. I would feel better able to grasp content in class if I committed to taking sufficient notes. Hearing things alone doesn't stimulate me, I'm not an auditory learner. I am a person who finds himself drifting in and out of a conversation. A lot of my time on the phone is spent thinking about other things entirely, as rude as that may sound. Sound to me is temporary, so my mind tends to treat it as such. Literature has a permanence; it lingers and is more reliable. At least this is how I view it. Putting pen to paper may not, in practice, seem like a useful tool for storing information, but it can also be about presentation, creating lists and associating words with abstract concepts. Words to me are doors to understanding: by writing I open them. 

But not just this. The very act of writing exposes gaps in knowledge and comprehension of issues. Often this is quite painful, as anybody involved in academic study will know well. A blog post of mine is designed to inform readers. It is why I do it and I get a real thrill from it. When writing I become more acutely aware of what I do not know. From here, urgency builds and I remind myself to elaborate or research for next time. There needs to be an element of humility to this process, otherwise the writer will go nowhere. There is nothing that encourages me more than when friends or strangers tell me that despite residual disagreement, something I have written in some way made them reconsider a viewpoint or challenge their own thinking. Compliments particularly from political opponents are refreshing and will always be helpful to me. So when I blog it is with the intention of communicating what interests me and what I think will teach others. Consider it a window not just into my thoughts, but also into my intellectual journey and personal growth. 

The point made by Sunstein about the blogosphere and expanding one's knowledge base and capacity to accommodate new ideas is extremely important. The blogosphere is effectively a web of perfectionists and obsessives. As a rule it consists of people who do not accept inaccuracy and who will try to hold a mirror up against misleading information which pours out of an ever-hurried media juggernaut. We should view blogs as a device for keeping the media honest and on its toes, just like the media does the elites (or attempts to). In this respect it could easily be argued that we are failing. But I do see glimpses of success. As more and more journalists spend their time navigating social media, blogging is becoming an ever more pertinent tool for informing the informers. 

I would love it if blogs were the wider public's primary method of information gathering, but we can only work with what we have. And the picture before us is interesting and ever changing. As conventional, mainstream media channels struggle to compete for revenue, and as individuals are able to convey their ideas in a more fragmented cyber space, the blogosphere remains on the face of things rather pivotal. We were told, back in 2009 and 2010, that blogging was dead. We were told this by a media who thought, when they created their own spin-off blogging platforms, they had finally killed off the nuisance that is the stream of independent blogs which decorate the internet. Brexit highlighted their failure and proved that when individuals with expertise apply themselves, they can lead the pack and revolutionise debate. 

At the centre of the blogosphere's use is an important point about the kind of person a blogger is. Thinking about this has actually changed the way I view myself, which is as important a contributor to growth as any (I should stress here that I am not talking about the dip-in, irregular types. I am talking about people who go the extra mile, attempting to inform and managing an engaged audience with regular and well-informed posts). Bloggers are, as I say, obsessives. They are self-righteous, self-promoters and vainglorious. You need to have at least a couple of these traits in order to be effective and play the game. To maintain a blog for a long period of time is to be committed and passionate. But it also reflects an inner craving to influence and to be at the centre of debate and intellectual gravity.  

Most blogs read this way. And I am not necessarily talking about the diary type sites, either. Any quick scanning of this blog or those on the homepage's blogroll will demonstrate the characteristics I have just outlined. This is why blogs are so often demonstrations of exhaustive research. The writer, being ever the self-promoter, will feel compelled to upstage the competition, which will often be either public figures and the mainstream media or other independent blogs. There is a certain rush to this, especially if you are (as I am) read by academics, politicians and journalists. Mistakes will be lurched upon and the stakes can be high. For me, these factors combine and I get huge satisfaction when I produce work which is praised for its grounding in fact and intellectual rigour. 

Which brings me to the point I mentioned earlier on. Blogging is a tool which helps me to manage and make use of my own, often blatant vanity. Instead of talking to others like shit, I can come here and package something constructive together so as to make me feel good about myself. I am a vain person by nature, though largely accidentally. I am not good at feigning modesty and consider being uselessly modest a waste of time. But I stop at expressing that arrogance in a way that will put others down. I stopped comparing myself to others a couple of years ago, I am genuinely inspired by the successes of others and I can admit to personal flaws and failure. But I am still a vain prick inside and have only recently accepted this. It had been said to me many times during (especially) my teen and adolescent years, but I had always brushed it off as a baseless complaint. I now realise that this isn't the case. I don't know why I am vain, or whether I can actually help it, but it's always better to confront these issues than to box them up and pretend they do not exist.  

At my previous university, during the final grading of my portfolio and reflective report, my course leader, whom I like very much, made an offhand comment about me having an arrogant writing style. I don't know if this is true and I suspect I am not best placed to determine so. Readers may have their own interpretations. I can only say that by the age of 21 I had developed quite a large readership comprising of a wide spectrum of public figures across a surprising scope of fields. A number of senior European and EU politicians read me with interest and the same applies to a few professors in the United States. This compliments the now thousands every week who arrive here from Facebook and Twitter. My style of writing, therefore, could not have been so off putting as to dissuade such people from reading and returning. I know I write very well and I know I am very good at stimulating thought in others. These things are what matter to me most. 

These are the reasons why I take involvement in the blogosphere seriously. If I appear occasionally on television or in a news publication I will ask to be introduced as a blogger, even at the risk of appearing less authoritative. Producers are sometimes taken aback by this, but I don't care. Ideas are what matter and the mainstream media does not cater to them in the way that bloggers do. Bloggers are not interested in petty triviality and personalising politics. Columnists adhere to editorial guidelines and do not benefit from a reflective thought process. The views which they pen are reactive, pressured by time constraints and a need to battle for ad revenue. A focus on growth and debate is shafted, at the cost of infantilising a public which drifts ever further from truth. There is to be seen here opportunity for the blogosphere to recapture faith in politics and in deliberative democracy more generally. Democratising the information burden is crucial; without it we are passive and intellectually stagnant.  


  1. Brexit & Beyond30 October 2017 at 08:57

    This blog together with and I visit on a daily basis to see what new insights you all have on the Brexit process.

    Just keep on writing.

    'A blog post of mine is designed to inform readers.'

    Keep informing the readers, the legacy media is failing the country and the people.

    'my course leader, whom I like very much, made an offhand comment about me having an arrogant writing style.'

    Arrogant writing style - No, passionate and informed - Yes

    Continue to write in the style you feel comfortable with. Never compromise.