April 28, 2008 in Opinion

Blogs trafficking in trivialities

Joel Stein The Los Angeles Times
 

The reason I wanted to be a columnist is that you don’t need complex ideas to be one. So you can imagine how jealous I was when along came bloggers, who are even more intellectually lazy than I am.

What I could not imagine – like Aristotle trying to contemplate an atom – was that ideas exist that are too small even for a blog post. Yet Web writers – like Eskimos with a whale carcass – refuse to throw away these micro-thoughts. They’re publishing them via tumblr.com, which helps you broadcast your passing observations to the world. These are the kinds of thoughts you are about to share when you open your mouth and make a little noise and then decide not to bother. Concepts so tiny and insignificant that the only person to ever put them into print before was the cartoonist for “Family Circus.” If I were tumbling, I would be done by now.

But a tumble isn’t even the smallest known unit of thought on the Web. You can Twitter, which are notes of up to 140 characters written from your computer or cell phone and sent to friends as a feed or posted as the “update status” on your Facebook page. They consist of updates about what you’re doing, thinking or feeling at that exact moment, such as “I’m watching ‘American Idol’ ” or “I’m about to go watch ‘American Idol’ ” or “I’m sort of watching ‘American Idol,’ but I’m really Twittering about watching ‘American Idol.’ ”

But what if you don’t have the energy to type a whole phrase? The quark of self-expression is the “current mood” emoticon on MySpace that says whether you’re angry, depressed, bored or embarrassed. It makes no sense to me that this system does not default to “embarrassed.”

Singer-songwriter Ryan Adams, who is clearly too busy tumbling to actually learn the word “tumble,” posted nearly 100 times this week on his Web site. Haters claimed he was overtumbling, and he responded, ” … in the words of Abraham Lincoln, ‘step off and read something else (expletive) if you don’t like it’ … he said that right? maybe he did not say that.” That is, in a way, the perfect tumble.

Paul Scheer, a comedian on the MTV sketch show “Human Giant,” also tumbles a lot. “I love Tumblr,” Sheer says. “It’s like cheating on your blog. Why do I have to write a whole blog post when I can just write down this funny thing?” On Tuesday, Scheer tumbled his list of the three most arrogant cheeses (smoked Gouda, jarlsberg and manchego).

Blogging, Scheer thinks, has developed a seriousness because bloggers hope that someone will discover their genius and buy their movie script, cookbook or essay collection. Tumblers simply hope someone will enjoy their cleverness, then look at their blog and then buy their movie script, cookbook or essay collection.

It seems like this onslaught of drivel is crowding bigger ideas out of the intellectual marketplace. But this new structure of thought categorization, I believe, actually is a form of mental rigor. Books can now be left to big thoughts instead of drawn-out ideas that are really just brilliant blog posts. And, yes, I’m talking to you, “Earth After Humans” guy. I get it: Plants will grow and animals will come. Thanks. I figured that out about a week after I bought a house.

We are now forced to determine if our idea is worth a book or an article or a Twitter – just as poets once chose between an epic, a sonnet, a haiku or that crinkled Xeroxed pamphlet that old guy tries to hand you outside the Coffee Bean. If you can’t figure it out, the market quickly will let you know if your idea should have been a film, TV show or on YouTube. If Rob Schneider had been born a decade later, he’d be our greatest YouTube star instead of a studio money pit.

Even I am learning to do it. I’ve had thoughts that weren’t complete enough for a column and ended up as my Facebook status. After the Writers Guild strike ended, I posted, “I miss having an excuse for not having a sitcom writing job.” Could I have expanded that into a tumble, maybe a blog and, if that went really well, a major motion picture about an untalented writer who organizes an anti-TV movement that cripples the networks so he can keep his excuse for not working? I’m starting to understand why I haven’t written a book.

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