Blogging from 1750 to 2302

March 5, 2002 Many thanks to science fiction editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden for calling my recent enumeration of winning blog traits "the best of the many overviews of the Blog Phenom we've all been reading lately."

Patrick underscores chronological presentation in the blog's appeal:

human beings are wired for Story the way we're wired to read tiny shifts of facial muscles, and the most compelling bloggers aren't necessarily those with the most insightful analyses or even the best links (although both skills help!); the most successful are those who get the reader invested in their own ongoing story.

Speaking of stories, I saw this nugget in Robert Darnton's Euro essay in the February 28 issue of the New York Review of Books (unfortunately, the article is not free online):

After its creation in Constantinople in 1560, the coffeehouse proliferated in all European cities from the mid-seventeenth century. It first appeared in London in 1660. By 1663, London had 82 coffee houses, by 1734, 551. Because of their free talk and virtuosi, they became known as "tattling universities." They also served as centers for political cabals, for they provided pamphlets and newspapers as well as drink. The first London daily began in 1702 -- long after the first daily newspaper in Germany (Leipzig, 1660) but long before the first in France (Paris, 1777). Print, talk and coffee combined to create a powerful new force everywhere in Europe: public opinion, and public opinion took a radical turn in all the great cities.

Hearing that drip, drip, drip of happy words: coffee, free talk, virtuosi, tattling, university, print, talk, coffee, public opinion, public opinion... I couldn't help but think of the Internet, particularly the blog.

Of course, we've heard plenty of arguments that the "web culture" is both cause and effect of a "post-intellectual" society characterized by "rootlessness, mobility, a sense of impermanence, a loss of orientation." We are, critics like Donald Wood wail,

entangled in a confusing snarl of conflicting relationships, ephemeral links, impermanent ties, cyber-networks, social ambiguities, information anarchy, temporary jobs, technological domination, and diffused responsibilities.

And we've heard enough about the Internet's effects on business to accept that, at least if you are Sun Microsystems or the small B&B in Edinburgh that earns 80% of its revenues because of the Internet, the Internet is a business revolution.

But is this where we stop, or where we begin? Just as coffee-houses and newspapers underwrote modern democracy, today's new communications tools and spaces will create new thoughts, new dialogs, new relationships, new tempos, new philosophies... new societies.

Psychiatrist Eliot Gelwan said in a 2000 interview that blogging "really reinvigorated my reading the news. I think about things in a different way." What happens when one billion people "think about things in a different way?" In 2302, perhaps this will be the story that 10@robidart.com (Robert Darnton the tenth) writes:

After its creation in Settle in 1971, the Star$ proliferated in all hubs from the early 21cent. It first appeared in LondE in 1998. By 2005, LondE had 82 Star$, by 2083, 15,451. Because of their e-talk and virtuosi, they became known as "tattling universes." They also served as centers for political cabals, for they provided blogs and metafilters as well as drink. The first LondE blog began in 1997 -- not long after the first blog in Swizz (CRN, 1990) but long before the first on Mune (Narmstrong, 2075). Coming after decades of Teevee enervation, blogs and caffi combined to create a powerful new force everywire: Public Epinion, and Public Epinion took a moderate turn in all hubs...

*****

Here's evidence that a) blogging predates press-powered journalism and b) the first blogger was an eighteenth century Parisienne's servant.

You should read the whole of Darnton's March, 2000 lecture on the nascent media's role in the French Revolution. First, here's the key excerpt :

But ordinary hearsay did not satisfy Parisians with a powerful appetite for information. They needed to sift through the public noise in order to discover what was really happening. Sometimes, they pooled their information and criticized it collectively by meeting in groups such as the famous salon of Mme. M.-A. L. Doublet, known as "the parish." Twenty-nine "parishioners," many of them well connected with the Parlement of Paris or the court and all of them famished for news, gathered once a week in Mme. Doublet's apartment in the Enclos des Filles Saint-Thomas. When they entered the salon, they reportedly found two large registers on a desk near the door. One contained news reputed to be reliable, the other, gossip. Together, they constituted the menu for the day's discussion, which was prepared by one of Mme. Doublet's servants, who may qualify as the first "reporter" in the history of France. We don't know his name, but a description of him survives in the files of the police...: He was "tall and fat, a full face, round wig, and a brown outfit. Every morning he goes from house to house asking, in the name of his mistress, 'What's new?'" The servant wrote the first entries for each day's news on the registers; the "parishioners" read through them, adding whatever other information they had gathered; and, after a general vetting, the reports were copied and sent to select friends of Mme. Doublet. One of them, J.-G. Bosc du Bouchet, comtesse d'Argental, had a lackey named Gillet, who organized another copying service. When he began to make money by selling the copies—provincial subscribers gladly paid six livres a month to keep up with the latest news from Paris—some of his copyists set up shops of their own; and those shops spawned other shops, so that by 1750 multiple editions of Mme. Doublet's newsletter were flying around Paris and the provinces. The copying operations—an efficient means of diffusion long after Gutenberg and long before Xerox—had turned into a minor industry, a news service providing subscribers with manuscript gazettes, or nouvelles à la main.

Henry Copeland from Paris, France





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