Friday, December 17, 2004


Are bloggers really bowling alone?

In his highly praised book Bowling alone, Robert Putnam makes the argument that Americans are undermining the foundation of democracy by staying away from such events that once tied people together and made strong communities in those Levittown suburbs. (There's a certain romantic flair around Putnam's description of these old images of small-town America.)

But recent studies have found that his presumtions are wrong. For example, the implications of the sprawl-commuting on today's communities. And there is more. Nick Gillespie's article in Slate points out that there have been a number of significant improvements since those memorable decades following WWII. For example - as the argument goes in John Robinson's and Geoffrey Godbey's book Time for Life: The Surprising Ways Americans Use Their Time , Americans in general now hold five more hours of leisure time, compared to the 60's.

The important theoretical measurement in Bowling Alone is the term "social capital" - the ability for humans to build strong inter-human relations. And it certainly seems as if chapter nine (in the importance of Internet) in his book holds the key to many of the improvements he is longing for (although in shapes that noone even could dream about in the 1960's).
For what it seems - the cost-efficient form of blogging seems to be promising for society - not only in terms of market relations (individual bloggers reaching a large audience), but also in more general ways of promoting democratic awareness (available information at low or non-significant cost to many readers) where established media elites are being challenged.

In this Foreign Policy article, Web of Influence, Drezner (U of Chicago) and Farrell (GWU) states their case about the importance of blogging (three famous cases where bloggers or Internet media resources have had a major impact - The Lewinsky Scandal, The CBS Memogate, The Trent Lott racial remark):

“The typical Web log is an online diary written by a teenage girl to inform her
friends, in bimonthly updates, how she has been spending her time. But a tiny
upper tier of bloggers produce daily commentary that can influence domestic
politics, set agendas for the news media, and perhaps even sway global affairs [...]"

Drezner and Farrell presented a paper, The Power and Politics of Blogs, at the 2004 APSA Convention.

Clay Shirky’s Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality

Drezner's blog (who is taking a sabbatical until January 1, 2005).
Farrell's group blog - Crooked Timber

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