Uses of a blog

This is a shortened version of the essay written by Leo Babauta

The explosion of blogs throughout the world has been the biggest phenomenon since the rise of the Internet itself. Today, more people read blogs than newspapers. And yet, blogs are dismissed as rants and ego-tweakings, because so many of them are personal journals or the ravings of madmen.

But take note: bloggers will change the world, and have already begun to do so.

Blogger James McGovern talked about how bloggers could change the world if they focused on others instead of themselves:

“If every blogger reading my blog instead of choosing to exercise their right to remain silent instead decided to spend just five minutes talking about poverty to one or two other individuals, poverty would be eliminated.”

There is truth in that statement. I’d take it even further: blogs have already changed the world, or at least a part of it, in several ways. And they will continue to be a force of change as their power grows.

Blogs are just a tool, of course. It’s the bloggers behind the blogs that will make the difference. Here’s why:

1. Freedom of speech. Blogs allow ordinary citizens to exercise the power of the freedom of speech in ways that have never been possible before. Sure, we were always able to get on a soap box and spout off, but until now, there was no way to really be heard. And sure, even now it’s hard to be heard with so many blogs out there, but there’s no question that it’s much easier to be heard by a global audience now than it once was. The freedom of speech is a powerful tool, and one that is taken for granted by many people in the industrialized world. Blogs make that tool even more powerful.

2. Power of the pen. Along that vein, the pen has always been a powerful weapon (and is famously, of course, mightier than the sword). When people are silent, things stay the same. But when they wield the power of the pen, things can change. Blogs give the power of the pen to more people, and make it mightier than ever.

3. Reaching the public. There was a time when you could organize a small group of people, and come up with an agenda that could change the world … and then have it go nowhere. Why? Because there was no good way to reach a large portion of the public. People just couldn’t hear you. Newspapers and televisions would ignore you, because your agenda didn’t fit theirs. And so your ideas went nowhere. Today, all of that is still very possible. But it’s also possible to reach a much wider audience than ever before, and thus powerful ideas can actually reach a general audience.

4. Raising awareness. The main problem with trying to effect any change with any issue is that people are ignorant of the issue. With enough awareness of an issue, and the reasons that the issue is important, things will start to change. And if one blogger talks about an important issue, and other bloggers hear him, their awareness will be improved, and then if they blog about it … you can see how blogs can change the way that awareness is changed, and therefore the way the world is changed.

5. A global discussion. In no period of human history was it possible to have a discussion that reached as many people in as many parts of the world as it is today, with blogs. In even the recent past (just 10 years ago), if you had a discussion about something, even a community-wide discussion, the reach of that discussion was limited — unless you had the power to reach the global media, which is a power given to a limited few. Today, the things I write about on my blog reach dozens of countries in every continent in the world. It’s “globalization” in a positive sense of the word.

6. The power of many. One person fighting for change is like a butterfly trying to fight a windstorm. But if you get two people together, or 10, or a hundred, and soon you have a group strong enough to stand up to that windstorm. And if you can get thousands or hundreds of thousands of people together, talking about one issue, fighting for change, pretty soon they ARE the windstrom. And the power of the group becomes multiplied, and change is inevitable.

7. The speed of change. In the olden days (again, 10 years ago), an idea or a movement, if it were powerful enough, could spread like wildfire. The movement for change could spread from town to town, city to city, country to country, at a rapid speed. Today, the potential speed of an idea makes wildfire look like molasses on a cold day. Change is no longer measured in years, months, weeks or even days — it’s measured in minutes and seconds.

8. Interaction. While in the olden days (see above), the mass media could reach a wide audience quickly, it was one-way communication. Print publications or broadcast media reached the many, but the many couldn’t really talk back or interact with the news in any way. Sure, there were letters to the editor and similar features, but that was slow and extremely limited, and in effect made it a two-way street (even if one of the lanes on that street was really tiny). Today, it’s not just a two-way street — it’s a million-way street, as every person can interact with every other person directly. Bloggers can comment on other blogs, or post about things written on other blogs, or link to posts, or email each other, or IM each other, or work together on a group project. The limits of interaction between the blogging community, and the world in general, are the limits of imagination only.

9. Instant news and opinions. While once upon a time, the news came out the next day (and later, the news began to come out that same evening), these days the news cannot keep up with the blogs. An event happens, or is speculated to be happening soon, and it’s blogged about instantly. The news cannot compete with that kind of speed. And while commentary would usually follow the news by a slight lag, today commentary is just as instant as the information it is commenting on. It’s in the same blog post, in fact. With that kind of instant news, and instant opinion-giving, change is not only inevitable, it is coming at you faster than you can press the “publish” button.

10. Coverups are uncovered. It used to be relatively easy to cover up a scandal or negative information. The government, or a large corporation, just had to ensure that the information didn’t reach the media — not that hard a task, as the media was made up of only a handful of people, who were already too busy trying to cover the rest of the world’s happenings. Today, bloggers have replaced the media (to some extent), and they are many. And while they are busy, they are never too busy for a good scoop. It’s much harder to cover something up these days (though not impossible), as it just takes an errant word or email or Twitter from an employee or a family member, and the blogging word has it. A politician cheating on his wife? While the media’s cameras might not have been at his motel in the olden days, the motel’s janitor could certainly be a blogger these days (or more likely, the motel’s tech guy), and he might just have a camera on his cell phone for taking juicy pictures. Coverups aren’t so easy anymore.

11. Easier to research an issue. With old media, we were told something, and unless we had inside information or detailed knowledge, it was hard to dispute the information given to us. That’s changed. Now, every fact can be verified or researched, every topic is easily accessible, and everyone can check the facts themselves. That empowers the average citizen, instead of making him a passive consumer of information. And empowerment is the first step towards change.

12. Viral ideas. This is an overused term, of course, but the term “viral idea” is in itself an example of a viral idea. It was used a few times, and the power of the idea caused it to spread rapidly among bloggers. The ability of an idea to spread throughout the blogging world depends upon its power, its usefulness. And so, one idea can change the world, if it’s the right idea and if it catches on.

13. Created a new world. Bloggers haven’t just begun to change the world — they’ve created an entirely new world. It’s often (annoyingly) called the “blogosphere”, but we’re just going to call it the blogging world, or community of bloggers. It’s a virtual world, of course, and the bloggers don’t actually physically interact (except during conferences and meet-ups), but that doesn’t make it any less of a real world than other communities. For example, in most places, physical interactions between most citizens of a city are very limited. Sure, I might interact with a dozen people today, but don’t physically interact with many more that I see on the streets, and I don’t even see most of the people in the city.

Still, we are a community, because we have similar concerns, we are affected by many of the same things, we interact with each other in many ways — physically, on the phone, through the media, and virtually, through representative government. The blogger community is just as real, and in fact we interact with each other even more than many people in the physical world do. At any rate, we have become a world of millions of people, and that world is growing, changing, forming itself, and shaping future reality.

14. Government-influenced media bypassed. In many countries, there is a nominally free press, but the media is actually greatly influenced by the government. Actually, that’s true to some extent even in countries such as the United States, Europe, Australia, Japan and other places with a supposedly free press. The government has a larger control of the media than many people realize (see Chomsky for more). But the control by government of the media is extremely strong in other countries, and it is in these countries that bloggers can have the most powerful and immediate impact. Government can control the media, but in most cases it cannot control the bloggers, and therefore the
bloggers are the instruments for getting the truth to the citizens of that country, and to the rest of the world.

15. No central control. Along those lines, besides the lack of government control, there is no central control whatsoever. One problem with the corporate model, and the model of a central government, is that it relies on central control. That inhibits the individuals who are not in control, restricts their power, stifles speech, cramps creativity and imagination, and severely limits the potential of any group.

But bloggers, on the other hand, are a community of individuals, free to do and say as they want, free to associate as they please, free to create without approval, empowered to act and to enact change.

16. It gets you thinking. Aside from lack of awareness, one of the problems that prevents positive changes is that people often don’t think about certain issues very much. They are apathetic, or they passively consume information, or they think about what’s going on in their daily lives without thinking about what’s going on in the world as a whole. But blogs get discussion going, and get people talking about issues, and get them thinking about them. And just that little act, of getting people to think about an issue for a couple of minutes, has the potential for powerful change.

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