“What is history, but a fable agreed upon?” Napoleon
“I really enjoy your blog,” someone had the temerity to say to me the other day. I suppose it’s slightly preferable to the hordes who tell me they like my ‘newsletter’, as if I wrote the guide to local jam making contests in the Little Gidding Bugle and Informer (come on readers; how about “I really love your cascading torrents of bubbling prose”, or simply: “You’re the most talented person I know”?).
I might have reacted a little more graciously had I understood exactly what a ‘blog’ is. The image I have is of some friendless self-obsessed individual sitting in their bedroom sharing their diary and opinions with others. OK, sounds a bit like this column, I admit. Perhaps a kindly pedant will write in and enlighten me as to whether I fit the technical definition.
The advantage of being a blogger (I don’t know, it just sounds so unsavoury as a reply to the drinks party question “and what do you do?”) is I wouldn’t have to think very hard about what to write, and could just tell you what I’ve been doing recently. Ironically this would be a very good fortnight to do that; I might actually sound for once like a jetsetting international consultant. I am, after all, writing this at 5am in a hotel room in Houston, towards the tail end of a fortnight during which I have experienced two work trips to the US, the designing of a ‘leading edge’ new workshop, a Buddhist men’s convention, seeing an old friend in a West End musical, and a gay wedding.
But what is there to tell? I could rant about the misery of contemporary business travel: queuing for hours at the enticingly named ‘fast bag drop’; being trapped in an aluminium cylinder for seven hours with cabin crew who hide in the galley and appear every four hours like zoo keepers to throw you some food; the nightmare that is the execrable Holiday Inn, Naperville (go ahead, sue me, I’ve got witnesses) with staff called things like Duchess and Charity who put me through surreal exchanges:
“Hi, I’m running the workshop in Conference Room A; I wanted to talk to someone about the timing of the coffee breaks.”
“So you wanna book Conference A for a workshop?”
“No, I’m already in Conference A; I wanted to talk to someone about the time of the coffee breaks.”
“So you wanna order some coffee?”
“No, I just want to talk to someone about it.”
“Who d’ya wanna talk to?”
You get the idea. But who wants to read about my problems? Well, given the current blog mania, apparently quite a few people. The same ‘famous for 15 minutes’ zeitgeist that put ‘Nutcase Nikki’ from Big Brother on the cover of half the publications on your local newsstand has engendered a reverence for the lives and views of ‘ordinary people’ placed on a global stage with a potential readership of billions. It has some powerful side effects: a friend of mine who works for a news organisation tells me that they regularly have to fend off accusations of content manipulation which, upon investigation, stem from one blogger posting a conspiracy theory; the theory then takes hold, gets repeated on others’ blogs, and finally gets accepted as ‘fact’. It’s the cyber equivalent of gossiping over the garden fence.
The other side of the coin, though, is that blogs are a symbol of the meritocratic, egalitarian nature of the internet (although I read in a blog somewhere that the big corporations are going to fund a ‘super internet’ which the public can’t use – so I suppose it must be true). In this spirit, how about corporate websites allowing public access to employees’ blogs? If you were interested in working for a particular company, you could read the blogs to get a feel for how it feels to work there. This would be a useful alternative to the sanitised method employed by most company intranets (“Wow, their Corporate Communications department says they’re a really good company to work for – I guess it must be true.”).
Perhaps organisations should be required to print the blog of their most disgruntled employee on their home page so readers can take the average of both versions of reality; like the surreal adverts I’ve been watching on US television for prescription drugs. By law, they have to give equal airtime to listing the side effects, which makes for edgy viewing (soothing music playing, shot of healthy elderly couple running through field, Hollywood-style gravely voice-over saying: “Some users may experience headaches, nausea, blindness or acute liver failure.”).
Well, that’s enough subjective opinion for one day. Perhaps someone could nominate me for The Guardian’s Blog of the Day – then suddenly everything I say will be true.
© Phil Lowe, 2006. All rights reserved.