David Andrew Johnson said that everybody tells a story, and more importantly perhaps, everybody has a story to tell. With 156,000,000 blogs around today (and 50,000 starting daily) it seems that individuals all around the world are quite quickly realizing that they are no different - we all have important stories to tell. The problem (as high blog-abandonment rates suggest) is that bloggers are frustrated that their own blogs - their own stories - don't attract enough immediate attention. Many (perhaps most) choose to stop telling their stories in that forum instead of waiting it out and hoping that others will either become more interested or that they themselves will hone their story-telling skills to the point that others come back for more.
This abandonment issue is certainly an important one for the blogosphere, but I will argue that instead of being merely the byproduct of readers too rushed to tune in, the dissipation of interest (both of the writer and the readers) is the result of downright uninteresting and unimportant stories. How many times can a reader - with limited time and interest - peruse stories about what an individual author's cat did today (or where they went for a walk, or how their classes are going...)?
As the cost of connectivity is still very high, blogs are less available to writers in the developing world - those who possibly have stories more compelling and conspicuous than your average college-educated, self-interested blogger of the developed world. As the cost is higher to access the internet in the developing world (and as Professor Colle made clear last week many in the developing world only have access to computers in telecenters and other community-based and physically finite locations) wouldn't a blogger in such an area take more care to use their internet time effectively and write in a way that cuts through a day's monotony to something truly meaningful - and hopefully universal?
S. Allan and E. Thorsen bring their readers two excellent examples of how citizen journalism and blogging can be meaningful and important - even vital. In The Case of the Wenchuan Earthquake these authors make clear that in a state like China with rigidly controlled and nationalized media (approved by a dictatorial government) not only do "citizen journalists fill the vacuum" (98) of information when emergencies such as the Wenchuan earthquake occur, but in a more generalizable sense, "It seems fair to say that the value of citizen journalism is the greatest when and where the professional media fail" (102).
This second point applies equally well to Human Rights and Wrongs: Blogging news of everyday life in Palestine, also by Allan and Thorsen. While I would never hope to simplify the situation on the ground in the Middle East to something as black-and-white as rights and wrongs, giving the formerly-voiceless a voice is always to be defended and expanded - no matter what side of a debate the reader is on. As surely as I would defend the freedom of speech (even distasteful, hateful speech) in this country, I am unable and unwilling to see in the lines delineating nation states lines of morality that should disallow an individual to express their own beliefs. As internet access has been aggressively limited by Hamas and others in the region, as well as the very real declining economic conditions in Palestine since the al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000 (85), Palestinian blogs are more necessary now than ever.
Those who speak out in regions and nations where protesters are intimidated and silenced deserve respect and defense. Disagreement with an opinion (especially a blog - written perhaps by someone without access to other forms of traditional public communication and speech) is to be equally defended, but disagreement should never result in censorship.
To pretend I could make this point better than the profound John Stuart Mill would be disingenuous and do a decided disservice to those reading - as such I will provide my point via a wordsmith much more meticulous than I am. "...the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race, posterity as well as the existing generation - those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error" (On Liberty, 1859).
As a firm believer that a two-state solution is the only possible lasting peace the Middle East will see in my lifetime, I am also quick to defend the rights of Israeli nationhood and my fellow Jews in the region. But to stop here would not be enough - for this would be to deny the basic brotherhood (and sisterhood) I share with the people of Palestine as well, and all people seeking safety, security, and a homeland. There is no one among us who is undeserving of these basic rights, and anyone who claims legitimacy based solely on religious grounds or the dictates of a book written between the 12th and 2nd centuries BCE has lost the debate before it can even begin. We are all human beings, all of us destined to enjoy and endure the same moments of happiness as well as those trials and tribulations that are the substance of life. Reading the Blogging news of everyday life in Palestine I am struck by how universal all of our human desires are, and how ludicrous it is that a piece of land (or a particular faith, or an ideology...) should be the source of such intense and continuing division between people.
To return, finally, to David Johnson should no doubt be a relief to those reading, as I fear my own preaching has replaced academic blogging for the time being. One point that he made really struck me - and gave definition to my own academic focus in a way I was previously unable to articulate. Johnson said, justifying his own tendency to offend, that "much of history is quite offensive." Finally it made sense why I've dedicated these years of my life to the study of History and the ongoing pursuit of learning - not to 'know' the facts of the past but to interpret (and reinterpret) them through a continually evolving lens. My roommate asked me today if you can ever be truly "good" at history. I told him that you can only specialize - gaining extraordinary knowledge and insight into a particular figure, or area, or period of time. But that is not my interest, and I sincerely hope never to find satisfaction in knowing even a great deal about a little thing. To be "good" at history is to be forever learning and finding new sources. This is how I should appreciate blogging (both in writing one and reading many). This is how citizen journalists and bloggers can provide meaningful stories that others will want to read - and keep on reading.
And I hope you do.