For Not-Columbus day

by Yule Heibel on October 13, 2003

Chris Locke recently posted a report about his participation at BloggerCon:

I was concurrently delivering a short, succinct lecture about how the indigenous peoples of Mexico welcomed the Spanish Conquistadors, and saying this was a pretty fair metaphor, I thought, for how the entire thrust of BloggerCon — which was celebrating its own success in the Great Hall from which Frank Paynter and I had briefly escaped — was to welcome with open arms those same old rigid credential-oriented semantic straightjackets from which blogging had, for a few historical moments, liberated us.

Let’s assume for a start, despite objections to the contrary, that there are conquistadors ready to pounce. (Yes, Virginia, there are always conquistadors, actually.) I asked my history-buff son what he thought of the comparison. Leave aside the “rigid credential-oriented semantic straightjackets,” which are just the guns and catechisms of the conquistador and his helper-priests, let’s think instead about what the conquistadors wanted, for their desire affected what the Aztecs had.

My son said that Cortes came looking for gold, and Moctezuma, deluded by prophecy, mistook the Spaniard for a god. Welcoming the conquistadors was the beginning of the end. But one thing is clear in the historical scenario which is not at all clear in the contemporary example. It was about gold in the first instance.

So I asked the kids, “where’s the gold in this case?” Son and daughter were quite certain that there’s no gold in blogging, but they wondered whether there’s some transmutable quality that might be gold-like. The one thing they came up with was speed. My daughter pointed out that unlike her webpages, which she has to edit manually to update, her blog (sadly neglected, as is my son’s, ahem) requires no template editing. She can speedily insert new material, no hassle: the format is there, and content changes are done at the speed of keystrokes.

We decided that it’s not just about the ideas spilling out willy-nilly in blogland. It’s the speed itself that’s the gold.

Sure, the voice, the ideas are gold-ish, but it’s the speed that’s the conquistador’s jackpot. And if that’s the case — if that’s the ephemeral quality that might be bankable after all — then that’s how blogging will be co-opted. I mean this: just as the conquistadors of old were blinded by gold at any cost, we’re blinded by speed.

Cortes, Pizarro, the criminal lot of them, melted down the beautiful golden artefacts of the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans, and turned them into ingots. They had no interest in the ideas — the art — that these 100% gold artefacts represented. The things themselves were useless, they were blinded by gold. Today’s conquistadors want speed in that same blind way. In their regime, ideas (especially ones that trade on slow exchange) will simply be elided (melted down) in favour of speed, the new gold. In that sense, what we have — voice, ideas — will be changed by what they want.

Fast food, fast life, fast consumption, fast shit (verbal diarrhea, Moctezuma’s Revenge), fast blogging, fast updating.

I can see the counter movement now, not a minute too soon: “slow blogging”.


jr October 14, 2003 at 2:29 pm

The problem is we are both the conquistadors and the innocents.

And the question is which do we value more Gold or God. How close those two words are.

Yule Heibel October 15, 2003 at 2:07 am

When I was typing this up, I had to be careful not to interchange “gold” and “god.” The two words are very close indeed. And yeah, no doubt we’re in and part of it; I just keep holding out for bits of critical distance.

Anonymous October 16, 2003 at 12:27 pm

efficiency is the business mantra for producing gold. unfortunately this speed — streamlined process — is often unhealthy for human beings and the planet. For me though, blogging tools are more about simplicity and ease of use, and the blogs I value are the one’s with thoughtful/original content, which can only be produced through those slow processes needed to cultivate an interesting individual.

brian moffatt October 16, 2003 at 2:36 pm

If speed is the gold, then I think it’s fools gold. I’ve never really worked with web pages, but I find blogging to be incredibly slow. Which is what I like about it. If the conquerors are coming to blogosphere looking for speed, I think they’ll be readily disappointed and be forced to move on. Let’s hope so. But let’s also not forget that a few of those conquistadors may choose to stay, breed and then vamoose. But though these conquerors ostensibly worked for the King or Queen or The Man – seeking gold on their behalf – their personal motivation was often simpler: exploration, adventure. The colonizers and priests are yet to show.

But getting back to Locke’s analogy. Not only were these conquerors welcomed, they were invited, recruited fr heaven’s sake. I think his was a shot at that delusional, Dave Montezuma. How willing he was to lick the boots of the conqueror. It was the one thing that surprised me about BloggerCon – how envious so many there were – with the exception of Frank Paynter!!! – of the position of the false idols and how desirous they were of their affection. It was creepy.

The one thing these conquerors may find in BlogWorld, though, is some cheap labour.

I think your kids are right Yule on first instinct. There is no gold.

BloggerCon struck me as Tijuana, the locals attempting to get across the border in the trunk of an Oldsmobile. And who can blame them. There’s bucks to be made. I don’t knock that.

As for the rest of us, we’ll head off into the mountains, found a little colony, trade paintings of SunGods for a mangoe or two, and pray that the tourists stay down in Puerta Vallarta buying t-shirts and suffering the revenge of the deluded one.

or something like that

Yule Heibel October 17, 2003 at 1:38 am

In a way then, we might be hunkering down, right? Slower, more thoughtful entries in a faster world, and colonies in the mountains (or on an Island!), saving a bit of quality of life? I worry about the little kids growing up to be big kids, but then again, it seems impossible to predict anything.

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