Bloggers’ world of hits and missives

Web writers becoming obsessed with traffic

Almost every person I know seems to have a blog. Some are furtive about it, some are downright boastful, but here’s what they have in common: They don’t “own” their blogs, their blogs “own” them.

In fact, their blogs have changed their lives.

Forget the morning coffee. Now the first thing they do upon waking is to nervously check the blogosphere to see if someone has beaten them to a story. Then the panic really starts: What can they concoct that someone out there might pay attention to? Why was yesterday’s traffic disappointing? Surely there should have been more hits.

Before the morning starts, they’re already seized by the great paradox of blogdom. Sure, they are free to say whatever they want — no idiot editor is standing in the way. On the other hand, what if no one out there is paying attention?

Perhaps this is why my blogger friends seem ever more driven and neurotic than in their pre-blog days. They have anointed onto themselves a weird sort of stream-of-consciousness freedom, but they are always peering at their ratings like a herd of TV programmers.

Hence, the new lexicon of blogdom is all about traffic, not about ideas. Bloggers are into “tagging.” They are obsessed with “link bait.” A hot item is useless unless it can be linked and Drudgified. Any hack can blog items about all the young celebrities who are self-destructing. The first sentence, however, had better start with Lindsay Lohan climbing out of her limo without underwear.

The bloggers I know are so hungry for attention that they suffer from attention deficit syndrome. Their blogs have become a narcotic: The highs are downright beatific. Then the numbers come in and they trigger the low.

Old-fashioned columnists (even gossip columnists) could afford to be reflective. They only had to please their editors. Maureen Dowd doesn’t worry about her “unique visitors.” Hedda Hopper, in her heyday, was more obsessed with her swag than her readership.

Bloggers must be reactive, not reflective. If they have some news, they have to blast it out there. Yet while the process is instantaneous, it also becomes very personal. Hence bloggers willingly admit they missed a story because their 4-year-old was throwing up. The words-of-wisdom from Sean Penn may have been misquoted because the actor was blowing cigarette smoke into the interviewer’s face.

To be sure, the distortions or personal prejudices don’t really matter. What’s important is that it all gets out there — information pumped into the ether from semi-anonymous voices, all craving notice.

Does all this make for public enlightenment? The original oracles of the Internet age assured us that the Web would set us free. Those vast multinational media companies would no longer have a choke-hold on news and information. We would now have access — not just the voice of News Corp. or Time Warner, but the voice of the people.

Well, the people who have the voice are possessed by their power, but also threatened by it. In their quest for ubiquity they have become increasingly competitive, yet self-referential.

Thus blogdom, among other things, poses the ultimate irony: Here are all these folks sitting at home on their computers, and what’s the biggest thing on their mind? Traffic.

By the way, I don’t have a blog. Not that I know of, anyway.

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