A Political Theory of Blogs and Social Media

twitterswarm-featured

I’m not sure I agree with Cal Newport’s description of the difference between blogs and social media (emphasis in original):

Blogs implement a capitalist attention market. If you want attention for your blog you have to earn it through a combination of quality, in the sense that you’re producing something valuable for your readers, and trust, in the sense that you’ve produced enough good stuff over time to establish a good reputation with the fellow bloggers whose links will help grow your audience. …

Social media, by contrast, implements a collectivist attention market, where the benefits of receiving attention are redistributed more uniformly to all users.

Please consider a voluntary, tax-deductible subscription to keep the Current growing and free.

Not knowing Newport’s politics, I can’t say for sure, but I’d wager he’s pretty libertarian.  I say that because it would explain why he doesn’t see (in my opinion) that social media isn’t collectivist (in terms of distributing the currency of attention); it’s hyper-capitalist.  The owners have found a way to break down barriers so that more people can participate in the market, but one of those barriers, as Newport notes, is the requirement for quality.  A collectivist attention market would give the social media platforms’ managers the ability to distribute likes, follows, and replies as they thought justified, according to their own criteria.

This analogy actually raises important questions that conservatives strive to answer in contrast to more-thoroughgoing libertarians.  The higher quality and other benefits of blogs over social media represent a cultural good that was possible partly because they had barriers (to entry, to production, to audience building) that social media swept away.  The conservative question is: By what mechanisms we can balance those cultural goods against the also-good principle that everybody ought to have opportunities?

The (admittedly not very satisfying) answer seems to be the same for online content as for the economy and other broader social goods.  Basically, we have to remind each other of the value derived from an older way of doing things and make a deliberate effort to put aside seeming conveniences.  We should also develop tools that bridge some of the gap, like using RSS feeds for information rather than social media streams.  And of course, we have to make what we offer off the beaten path even more attractive.

Mostly, though, we just have to pray, and hope that less-healthy developments are fads that our society will self-correct.



Quantcast