This is just a sneak peek from Anne’s feature in SCENARIO 6:2013. If you are not a current subscriber to SCENARIO or a member of The Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies, then subscribe or get in touch with us here.
What role do blogs play in the media world now and in the future? Annalee Newitz provides her thoughts in this interview. She is an elite blogger and PhD and has just published a book about how mankind may survive mass extinction. Read about the unique and incredible in how several thousand people together can create and discuss the future online.
In the hindmost, shadowy café corner Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders sit surrounded by empty coffee cups. They are wearing big headphones and have their noses buried in their Macbooks. Newitz has dyed red hair in a punk style. She always wears neckties. Anders (who last year won one of the world’s most prestigious science fiction/fantasy literary awards, the Hugo Award) sports a shocking pink hairdo and wears a large, white T-shirt. The two Americans from San Francisco stand out like sore thumbs from the nice-looking Scandinavian hipster youths that otherwise are visiting the café on this late Friday afternoon.
“Are you sitting there blogging?” I ask boldly and learn the first lesson of the interview when both give a friendly laugh and explain that nobody calls it ‘blogging’ anymore. Everybody simply calls it ‘writing’.
Newitz closes her computer and keeps it in her lap during our entire interview. Unfazed, Charlie Jane Anders continues to write on the other side of the small, round table; they are busy.
Paperbacks of the new millennium
Well, it’s Annalee Newitz I’ve come to speak with. She is part of a top elite of bloggers that operate big blogs as if they were newsrooms or culture editors of major newspapers. She is an academic with a PhD in English and American Studies. She has taught at UC Berkeley and as Journalism Fellow at MIT and has just been keynote speaker at the conference Innovation in Mind at the University of Lund, Sweden. She has written and contributed to several books and is today editor in chief of the of the biggest science blogs in the United States: www.io9.com.
The blog has more than five million readers every month and was in 2010 voted the world’s best science blog by The Times. Newitz tells me that the blogosphere has evolved and expanded significantly in recent years and now fills a very special role in the media world.
“What’s interesting about blogs is that they tend to be ephemeral; oftentimes things that we write online disappear. They last for a short time in public perception; you see a story come out, it bubbles up on Facebook, a million people read it, everybody’s talking about it, and a week later it’s gone. It’s ephemeral in the way paperback books in the 1920s were, you know; they were just crappy books, dime novels, and I think of io9 (Newitz’ own blog: ed.) as being a little bit like a dime novel because I don’t know if in 50 years people will be able to find ANY of io9 online, who knows? The servers will get decommissioned; if no one else has mirrored our content, it may just disappear. I’m hoping that, just for the moment, people get some ideas, and if they can’t find that article again in 50 years, that’s okay. Blogs are doing what print mass media used to do 70 years ago,” Newitz says.
SCENARIO: So writing blogs is about the ideas, even ideas that just come into existence for a short while?
Newitz: I think they last in people’s minds and they last in the culture, but they don’t last as print objects, so as I said, we might not be able to find that original story that we read, maybe it will be gone, but the ideas will still be there, and I don’t know if that is good or bad. We’ll find out! (Newitz laughs out loud).
Blogs disseminate ideas to everybody who wants to read them. Most blogs are uncensored, and many are political. Chinese bloggers are in particular famous in the West for trying to change China’s political system from within – one small step, one small blog post at a time.
Some blog are political and provocative. Extreme opinions are often aired on the net; right-wing, left-wing or religious. Proclamations from anti-capitalists, animal rights groups and queer activists mix with football news, movie reviews, celebrity gossip, and art blogs. Only imagination limits what can be published on the internet.
Blogs have an air of spontaneity and ephemeralness. They don’t last; not physically. The important things, the ideas, stay around, lingering in people’s minds. The wild and twisted ideas that are presented and discussed on the net and are available to all with internet access. Newitz doesn’t think that the internet will replace printed media any day soon, but that it fills a niche for mass-produced provo pulp.
Everybody chats, exchange ideas and learn a lot
Blogs differ from the pulp literature of the 1920s and ‘30s by cultivating a particular dynamic between writer and reader that is without equal in literary history. The commentary spaces are often as important and interesting as the articles themselves. This is among other reasons why Newitz writes online, she says:
“I really like being in the world and talking to people. I get to chat and share ideas and get excited about the future. I think a classroom analogy is really helpful – it is the same kind of interaction. In order to make blogs really work, and awesome discussions and awesome classrooms, you have to have people who care about where the conversation is going and who coordinate the conversation. We’ve made a really big effort to do that at io9; we all participate in the discussion, and we actually just hired a community editor whose whole job is basically to go in and just talk to people, and I think that’s a big part of what makes it so fun, that you get to have really amazing conversations and feel like you’ve learned as much from the other people that have come to read the stuff as you have from the writers.”
Newitz goes on to tell how she is very keen on keeping commentary tracks anonymous. People must be able to express themselves without fear of consequences outside the internet; something that has become a characteristic of the blogging culture. It interacts with reality, but wants to remain a free parallel world.
Preparation for the future
Io9 is best known as a science blog with articles about the latest inventions and discoveries in science. However, Newitz insists on interdisciplinarity. …