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Editor’s note: William Dunk is an international business consultant based in Chapel Hill.BBC News tells us that Merriam-Webster Dictionary finds “blog” to be the most popular word of the year, based on web inquiries about its meaning.

A blog, says Merriam-Webster, is short for Weblog and is a website “that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer.”

But there’s less here than meets the eye. A firm called Technorati tells us more than 4.8 million blogs have come into existence, with a new blog bubble cropping up every 5 or 6 seconds.

The truth is that nobody reads the darn things.

Statistics by web influence ranking firm HitWise reveal that the most popular political blog racks up only 0.0051% of all net visits every day. These unstoppable, copious streams of unconsciousness run off ever so fast into a virtual sea of oblivion.

They remind one of the philosopher’s question: “If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody hears it, did the tree ever really fall?”

We ourselves have made countless efforts to read some of the more popular blogs and have found them to be a trial. Often the language and the references are esoteric, the links lead to nowhere you have to go, and the biases are epidemic. They are cultist, perhaps reminding us of the neo-Platonic period of Greece when the clear thinking of philosophers descended into mystical drivel from charlatans.

One supposes that the blogonistas demonstrate a vast need to be heard, even if nobody is listening. Blogging is just one of many addictions that have arisen with the Internet (Some Finnish soldiers have had to be drummed out of the services because of their Internet compulsions.)

Profit in Alienation?

The biggest moneymaker on the Internet is pornography. It’s a high margin sickness. It is almost axiomatic that the highest profits are wrung from products society could do without. But perhaps there is also a dollar to be made from all the blogging lonelyhearts who have scribbled their confessionals on the web, even if nobody is really listening.

Tony Perkins, creator of Red Herring, a successful magazine of the dotcom era, now failed, is starting Always On, a quarterly magazine that will take its copy from Internet blogs. Perkins already has a blog on blogs at, which is sort of a launching pad for his new fad. We wonder if this enterprise, not unlike the Herring, will have a short half life, since so many of the bloggers soon tire of shouting into the wind.

Deep breathing may not be enough after a while, and bloggermouths may move on to the next thing.

Fusillade of Words

But their babble is certainly no worse than the clatter that occurs in our traditional organs of public opinion…magazines, newspapers, TV, radio, universities, pulpits, government forums, etc. Can there be much doubt that each of these old-style marketplaces of discussion have been polluted by people with an axe to grind and a scheme to sell?


There is not the sense that reflective people are trying to search for common truths. Amidst this wasteland of word warriors, it is heartening that an Internet has come into being, at least creating the possibility of genuine conversation where nobody is obliged to flog boilerplate pre-recorded on the shallow disk recesses of the mind.

Secret Agents

It’s bad enough that canned messages are booming at us from loudspeakers, or meeting us on billboards, or slipping into our postboxes and emails, largely because of technology run amuck. There are many other forces at work that crowd out genuine dialogue. For instance, human “cookies,” people who are called agents in the parlance of the trade, now come up to us in the post office or at a barbecue at the local church to plug products.

Word-of-mouth marketing firms have huge battalions of volunteer “agents” who peddle shampoos, second rate books, and other consumer wares in settings where we think we are free of commercial hype. In a tough economy that has been rather flat for many years, desperado consumer product companies are leaving no stone unturned in their tortured quest to grind out revenue growth.

While unpaid, the “agents” generally get rewarded with free products and services based on their effectiveness. Apparently many of the volunteers don’t care about the goodies, getting plenty of gratification from their furtive careers as pitchmen. Not unlike purveyors of pyramid schemes, these agents are a step up (or down) from the Avon Ladies and Tupperware Parties where ordinary folks were enlisted to push merchandise onto their friends.

Now, with these secret agents, you usually don’t know they come bearing a pushy agenda they will paste onto the conversation that violates ordinary canons of friendship, discourse, and civility. Some call them “buzz makers,” but others may choose to call them invaders of privacy or moral lightweights.

The Big Kahuna

Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, and Peter Facinelli made The Big Kahuna in 1999, a low budget, affecting movie about authentic conversation. Hardly moving out of a hotel room in Wichita, three industrial lubricant salesmen engage each other in a round of conversation that finally pushes aside the automated, Pavlovian aspects of their personalities. As DeVito suggests at one point, the challenge is to get beyond what you are selling…be it lubricants or religion or anything else…to engage another human being with full self-awareness of the potholes in one’s own life.

You cannot have an authentic conversation with another if you cannot transcend the rehearsed character you trot out in ordinary conversation or understand the inherent contradictions in your most deeply held beliefs.

Blogs don’t achieve this liberated estate, but genuine conversations that do are happening elsewhere just offstage, in little noticed movies, marginal TV, or offhand emails.

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