Like many modern academics, there was a time over the last decade when I got pretty excited about my colleagues both here and at other universities who were putting themselves out on the Internet, experimenting with blogs to connect their research, teaching, and service roles with their civic, consumer, and personal lives. I diligently followed the online musings of a handful of friends that I met at conferences; I furtively lurked on the blogs of a couple of authors whose books I yearned to emulate. I even started a blog of my own, full of ambition, though I soon realized that it takes a frightening amount of labor and energy to keep up even with monthly posts.
These week one of the best academic blogs out there, Old is the New New, began the process of lowering its own curtain. The proprietor, Professor Robert MacDougall, is what I like to call a “historian of new media” — someone who takes claims of transformative technology and subjects them to rigorous critique and review by placing them in historical context, whether they refer to Twitter in 2010 or the telephone in 1910. Rob’s blog actually lived up to its subtitle — “Weird history. Mad science. Occasional robots.” — and was always informative and entertaining.
Here’s a bit of what Rob wrote about the decision to wind down his blog after a decade:
My god, this thing we (unfortunately?) call blogging has changed so much in ten years. It’s enjoyed its edgy youth, its boom town gold rush days, and its decadent high baroque. Now, with the rise of blogging’s vapid, staccato children, the blog as medium seems to be settling into old, weird decrepitude. Or maybe I’m just talking about myself. We always do, don’t we, when we talk about the internet?
It is time, I think, for Old is the New New, at least in its current incarnation, to come to an end.
What I found more interesting in this post, though, were Rob’s reflections on our current view of what the Web is, and what our role in it has become — reflections that clearly come from historical practice:
Finally, I’m just a little down on the whole internet deal just now. I know that every generalization about the web is wrong, including this one. Emily Gould called the internet “a chimera that magically manifests in whatever guise its viewer expects it to.” My internet isn’t yours, and again, whenever we make hand-wavey generalizations about the web, we’re mostly just describing our own neurochemistries. So read this how you will, but when I look at the web today, I get tired. There’s great stuff out there, I know. But I can’t shake the sense that rhetorical closure is setting in, and it’s not all we thought it was going to be. Four years ago, Time‘s Person of the Year was “You,” which is to say, us, which is to say, that whole user-generated people power 2.0 schtick. Yes, it was hokey and about three years late in coming, but a worthwhile sentiment just the same. This year, of course,Time‘s Noble Personage is Mark Zuckerberg. Don’t tell me there’s not some kind of declension there.
So I’m curious. What end-of-the-first-decade-of-the-twenty-first-century reflections do Mediated Communication readers have about the state of the Web today? Have we sailed through some sort of “Golden Age of the Web” akin to the early days of radio, television, rock-n-roll, or CB radio? Or, especially as a greater proportion of the world’s voices than ever before get their first chance to wade into the Web stream, are there surprises and delights yet to come?