As a laid-back proponent of the Blogger ethos it would be way uncool to get hung up on site statistics, but I confess to occasionally checking traffic to the Dowbrigade site. I have noticed that at regular, but otherwise inexplicable times, like 3 am Monday mornings, there will be a sudden spike in traffic, and every single posted article will get multiple hits, not only on my blog but on all of the blogs at the Berkman Center.
Insomniac lemmings? A Chinese wrong number? I think not. In my more paranoid midnight musings I image that at those times, multiple agents and agencies, government and corporate, foreign and domestic, are taking permanent snapshots of the web, or at least of the blogosphere, and baking them onto some high-capacity storage system for future reference and indexing.
To what end? Well, here is where it gets creepy. First of all, I am not sure I like the idea of a permanent record of the spontaneously ethereal, off-the-cuff and often tongue-in-cheek ramblings which appear in this space. Often there are errors to be corrected, changes to be made, sometimes whole posts to delete. (Opps…) The ability to write first and revise later, or post and retract, is at the core of the blogging experience. I am somewhat unnerved by the thought that everything I blog is being amended to my “permanent record”
I guess this is what Dave Winer was so upset about a few weeks back, which I didn’t understand at the time, as I had just started blogging. I think I get it now. It’s bad enough knowing that Google can dig up cached version of documents and posts which were later corrected, without worrying about an exact record of everything ever posted which could follow a blogger around for the rest of his or her days.
Furthermore, the use to which this information could be put is unsettling. It is starting to appear that we are at the dawn of the next revolution in information diffusion, and that bloggers may play a central role. The potential for blogs to offer a practical alternative to centrally-controlled mass media promises a return to a true fair and free press, one of the irreplaceable cornerstones of an open society and a necessary counterbalance to the corrupting power of the government.
The convergence of interests between the rulers in Washington and the owner of Major Media has diluted if not destroyed the ability of the mainstream press to act in this way. Sure, the press will always love exposing corruption and taking sides in minor partisan spats. But on fundamental stories concerning “national security,” or in which the validity of the system or its values is in question, when the government wants a sensitive story killed, or spun in a certain direction, a few phone calls from the president will produce the desired effect.
But how does the government kill a story appearing in the blogosphere. What weight can they throw around, what pressure can they bring to bear, what threats can they use on US?
Well, if they could dig through everything and anything that a particular individual had ever blogged, they could probably come up with a pretty definitive denunciation. The whole question of the abundance of on-line information has been beaten into the ground, but the bottom line is that in the modern world, information is power, and the government has more information than the rest of us combined.
Obviously these hidden powers do not have the time or manpower to maintain an active file on each of the million plus (and growing!) bloggers, but I am sure it comforts them to know that in the future, should the need arise, at whatever point an individual blogger or group of bloggers becomes a real threat to their information monopoly, that in addition to their usual arsenal of coercive tools (police records, tax records, past drug use, rumor and innuendo) they have a comprehensive, indexed archive of all of that person’s ramblings, venting, fantasies and idle threats. Not to mention paranoid screeds like this.
Of course, I may just need to adjust my medication.