Virtually real, spectacularly virtual?

by Yule Heibel on May 9, 2003

Last night I came upon Betsy Devine’s blog for the first time. It’s a great blog — very smart, lots of humour, too. (I also learned that she’s the mother of Amity (Nature is Profligate) Wilczek, whose blog really caught my imagination when it showed up on the Harvard weblogs. It’s rather fun to find 2 blogs I like and learn that they happen to be by a mother and daughter!) On April 30 Betsy Devine posted a link to a Jon Stewart (Daily Show) clip. Her comment: “You can see a 12.4 M version of the hilarious ‘Candidate Bush vs. President Bush’ foreign policy debate here. (Fortunately for the safety of our nation, Ashcroft has now removed candidate Bush to an undisclosed location, despite some treasonous whining by his lawyers.)” The clip seems to take forever to download, but wait for it and view it; it really is very funny. ************************* But even as I have found a new Betsy blog, I am unfortunately losing my old one. My friend Betsy Burke emailed today from Italy to say that she’s not going to continue keeping her blog after all. This means that I now don’t know anyone personally anymore who is blogging (except for my two children)…. Which makes this like a test for me: If you’re not a techie and not writing a technology-oriented blog, or you’re not sitting on some political fault-line that allows you to publish stuff that the mainstream press isn’t publicizing, what’s the point of an online journal if it’s as solitary as the old-fashioned kind? Can this virtual stuff be satisfying when you don’t actually know another single person who’s doing it, and you don’t even know if anyone is reading what you’re writing (…because you’re on an island in the Pacific and not at the Yahd, and all your “friends” in Massachusetts don’t bother to write you, the swine)? Is it in fact just an activity that lets you get off in some ill-defined way? (Dave Winer suggested somewhere it was a sex substitute for those not getting enough, but I can tell you it ain’t. So that still begs the question, what is it then?) What’s the C-factor in blogging (C for clique)? What’s the VIP-factor in blogging? Many comment boxes remain empty (mine in fact are always empty). Other comment boxes seem to be sporadically filled by friends’ comments, or else people have commented because perhaps the blogger appears to be a big mucka-muck and deserves to be taken seriously. Often a really important issue is raised, and appears to deserve a much bigger “talk-back” than a small comment. (Philip Greenspun has blogged about education a couple of times, which really touches a nerve with me because I have to homeschool two kids whose combined IQ points are about 400. Holy shit, wouldn’t I love to have a school that could work for them, and don’t I have a gazillion things to say about “school,” particularly as the first person of my generation in my family to finish high school, not to mention continue university or graduate studies, and as someone who suffered school’s insufferable boredom and inanity to the point of blotting out as much of it as possible. But in a comment box?) So what kind of “dialogue,” if any, is blogging? If it’s not a dialogue, why have the talk-back box? If it’s not a dialogue, what is it, other than a collective case of narcissism, which would explain why AOL wants to figure out how to cash in on it as the next killer app? And if blogging is going to be a phenomenon, isn’t it running mostly on the energy of the bloggers, versus the consumers (who are, however, being schooled in the protocols of narcissism)? Even though I enjoy reading Betsy Devine and Amity Wilczek, I won’t follow them obsessively. I’m as likely to read Maureen Dowd or Michele Landsberg on a regular basis. And since I don’t know any of these women personally, it again raises the question of whether blogs read regularly aren’t being read that way because the blogger has become “real” — integrated — to the reader in a personal way. And now we’re asking after realities and spectacles, virtual and otherwise. Make it dialogue, otherwise, what’s the point. There’s a cool book about the Society of the Spectacle that I absolutely need to reread….


Goyo May 11, 2003 at 1:14 pm


Don’t despair, Yule. Your journal is fascinating, and I’ll bet you have
more readers already than you might dare imagine.

Too bad about Betsy Burke’s blog becoming history. I thought it was
exciting, and wrote a comment to her.

I guess I made the mistake of mentioning some family matters that were
sensitive, and she deleted both the origianl posting and my commentary.

I hope I didn’t have that much influence on her decision to close her blog
dowm, but I am afraid that I may have…

Anyway, I will tell you from my own experience as a dilletantish journalist-
editor-publisher of my little La Rosa Revue occasional print publication: hardly anyone write letters anymore.

This is a dying art form, being kept alive somewhat artificially by the new
technologies, but essentially removed and reactionary to larger events…

But that is no reason to stop doing it.

In fact, it constitutes an ethical imperative to engage in the continued
cultivation of memory, as evidence of a civilized life well-lived.



Yule Heibel May 11, 2003 at 2:27 pm

Thank you, G., for such encouraging words. I hadn’t thought of the “cultivation of memory” issue, but I think you’re right, and perhaps some weblogging (public journaling) is akin to a human memory-imprint in the face of an information flood that has become impossible to synthesize. And I guess blogging should be fun, too: I worried mightily about whining my head off in this particular post, thinking I was really going to “get it” and be called to task for sour grapes (a legacy of my dysfunctional upbringing, no doubt). But of course this sort of thing disappears without a ripple, hooray (now there’s something good to say about social amnesia), and on we go, aiming for a better attitude (such as: I’m going to find someone who can teach me the technical ins-and-outs of this stuff — my format is blah, and as someone with some sense of style, I’m embarassed to be seen with such a boring looking page). At any rate, it all scrolls off the page at some point, and blogging is the new fountain of youth for the 15-minute moment (Andy W.)!

Betsy Burke May 13, 2003 at 1:45 pm

Hi Yule, (and GH- no it wasn’t what you thought it was, it was a technical glitch on my part- I appreciated your comments but not some others),

Yule, I continue to read your blog with great enthusiasm and have to say I haven’t ruled out blogging myself yet. I’m in the crucial stage of writing a long story (i.e. a novel) and have discovered that I’m an idiot in that respect. I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Compliments on the links – with the pics- yay!!!- even if they make me a little homesick.


Goyo May 13, 2003 at 8:07 pm


Sorry, Betsy…

Hope that you keep on

bloggin’ for you noggin




Betsy Devine May 16, 2003 at 2:13 am

Thanks, Yule! I’m glad you like my blog and I enjoy reading yours too. Just keep reading, writing, and linking and people will find you. There’s also an article on getting your blog read at
(I did like the Volokh post she linked to.)

Yule Heibel May 17, 2003 at 4:09 am

Thank you Betsy D! I just had a chance to look over the links you sent, and most of it is still opaque to me, but I’ll figure it out eventually. (Have to reread it all in daylight, though!) It’s kind of fun & strange all at the same time, this blogging business.

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