If the Blogosphere is Kandor, who is Brainiac?

January 15th, 2007

Brainiac shrinks KandorNew York Times reporter David Carr has a funny and insightful article, 24-Hour Newspaper People, on blogs and traditional newspapers. Several quotes stuck me. Carr writes about how tending to his blog competes with his real work.

Sometimes I wonder whether I care to the point that I neglect other things, like, oh, my job. Tweaking the blog is seductive in a way that a print deadline never is. By the time I am done posting entries, moderating comments and making links, my, has the time flown. I probably should have made some phone calls about next week’s column, but maybe I’ll write about, ah, blogging instead.

Not that this would ever be a problem for me.

Carr has an interesting quote from Clay Shirky, one which I’ve not been able to find on the Web or Blogosphere.

“We are living through the largest expansion of expressive capability in the history of the human race,” said Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in the graduate interactive telecommunications program at New York University. “And it wouldn’t be a revolution if there were no losers. The speed of conversation is a part of what is good about it, but then some of the reflectiveness, the ability for careful summation and expression, is lost.” Even as Mr. Shirky is saying this, I peek at the comments section of my blog, and he goes on, “There is an obsessive, dollhouse pleasure in configuring and looking at it, a constant measure of social capital.” [Emphasis added]

Superman saves KandorThis seems so right. The pleasure of creating and nurturing one’s own little world underlies much of what people do with computers. An image that game to me was that of Kandor, Krypton’s capital city which was miniaturized by the evil Brainiac but rescued and lovingly kept by Superman under a bell jar in his arctic fortress. Kandor was also used as the name for a knowledge representation and reasoning system developed by Patel-Schneider and colleagues in the mid 1980s. The name was chosen because Kandor was a lightweight version of an earlier KR system, Krypton. Both systems were precursors to description logic, a family of representation formalisms that underlies the Semantic Web language OWL. Building a representation of some aspect of reality can deliver that dollhouse pleasure and also lead to obsessing over it.

Finally, Carr delivers another metaphor — blogger as day trader:

There has always been a feedback loop in journalism — letters to the editor, the phone and more recently e-mail messages. But a blog provides feedback through a fire hose. The nice thing about putting out a newspaper was that, at some point, the story was set and the writer got to go home. Now I have become a day trader, jacked in to my computer and trading by the second in my most precious commodity: me. How do they like me now? What about … now? Hmmmm … Now? [Emphasis added]

This works on many levels, but I get an immediate visual image of the lonely blogger/trader at home spending 16 hours a day staring into a computer, punctuated by bouts of frantic typing only to fall exhausted into bed at 1:00am.