Fifth Estate or Democratic Tool?


9:36 am - June 30th 2008

by Robert Sharp    


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When we think about blogging and the development of human interactions through the web, it is easy to assume some kind of historical determinism. The Internet is one huge sandbox, with new blogs and campaigning sites being launched all the time. Most peter out (I’ve been involved in a couple of those myself) but others persist, and grow. This trial-and-error approach suggests that we are at least inching towards a more sophisticated and empowering blogosphere, which exercises more influence over politics and therefore the direction this country is headed.

The Blog Nation event earlier this week raised some of the key issues that the Left needs to answer in order to become more effective online. As I crouched in the front row of the event, rubbing my temples and trying to think of answers, the following thought occurred to me: What if this is all there is? By which I mean, perhaps it is impossible to become much more organized. I refrained from articulating this thought at the time, but it did seem a deft, if nihilistic way of avoiding giving an answer to some of the questions posed, above. Perhaps there is no historical determinism to any of this, and we are not destined to develop anything significantly more efficient than what we have now.

Now I don’t know whether I really believe things to be so hopeless, but if its true it may not be such a bad thing. Rather than grandiose ideas of the blogosphere become some kind of Fifth Estate, perhaps we should aspire to nothing more than another tool for the people to use in checking the power of the elite (both elected representatives and others who hold positions of influence).

Of course we should ask how existing bloggers and activists can work better together, but that is just oiling the machine, rather than inventing a new one. A more important focus is to try to increase access to the new information and opinion that is appearing online. Just as increasing literacy strengthens democracy and promote equality, so computer literacy can strengthen it too. So, my suggestion for the next open source campaignintroduce one relative, friend or colleague to blogging each month. This need not mean forcing them to set up their own blog. Instead, just a gentle explanation of the power of RSS, and the suggestion that they bookmark one – just one – of the fine sites listed here.

Ever so slightly longer version cross posted at my own corner.

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About the author
Robert Sharp designed the Liberal Conspiracy site. He is Head of Campaigns at English PEN, a blogger, and a founder of digital design company Fifty Nine Productions. For more of this sort of thing, visit Rob's eponymous blog or follow him on Twitter @robertsharp59. All posts here are written in a personal capacity, obviously.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,E-democracy ,Liberal Conspiracy ,Technology

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Reader comments


Good piece, there is a fine line between refining our practices and navel gazing about the meaning of it all…

“Good piece, there is a fine line between refining our practices and navel gazing about the meaning of it all…”

That would be truly post-modernist.

“Every blog is a comment on blogging.”

Yeah well you know I was gonna say it’s easy to talk the talk but walking the walk is a little harder but that might have been taken the wrong way…

But it is only sustainable to the level that there is money in it, and only taken as seriously as people think it is worth the time and effort – education, information, entertainment… interactivity?

Good idea Rob.

But I don’t think this is all there will be. But we do need tools to take us forward. Over a year ago, did we even forsee the arrival of Facebook and the organising etc that is done through that? I’m sure there can be more tools to similarly take blogs forward (after wall, it is a technically standardised format).


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