There's lots of talk about addictions people get to blogging and the ways that can be harmful (embarrassing pictures, stories, the whole deal). Then there's the impulse to blog instead of interacting with humans. I realized I might have this problem a few years ago when I was visiting at the University of Hawaii. Why was I ever blogging when I could have been sitting here? I guess this is the adult version of imaginary friends.
I want to focus on something that I've noticed among law bloggers in particular, something I've taken to calling "blogger's disease." First, though, a story about how I first began to realize the problems law bloggers get ourselves into. I was talking with a non-blogging friend about a mutual friend, who's a blogger. (Got to be really vague here to preserve everyone else's anonymity.) Non-blogger says to me, "wow, been reading blogger's posts. I had no idea how extreme he is." (I thought about making the blogger's gender ambiguous, but gave up when I remembered that the majority of bloggers are men. That gender imbalance needs some serious scrutiny at some point.)
I rarely read the blogger's posts, so I didn't have a good sense of how his personality was coming across--but I realized in that conversation that other people were reading his stuff and finding it like nails on a chalk board. Yet, when I spoke with the blogger about this, he didn't even understand the problem. Looking at him, he had the appearance of someone who couldn't even understand what I was talking about--not the look of someone who said, "Sure, I'm controversial and I know it and am willing to take the negatives that inevitably come along with the controversy." He had the look of someone who couldn't understand that people found him controversial. Spoke with some other bloggers about this and they also couldn't understand the problem--not just didn't think the critique applied to them, really didn't see this as a problem.
So that set me to thinking. These law bloggers--they're clueless. And thus I began thinking about defining blogger's disease.
I think one key characteristic is an obliviousness to the implications of blogging--the ways in which what we post makes people dislike us. It's our inner George Costanza. I think this definition will need a lot of refinement, but let me suggest what I see as key pieces:
(1) it's the desire to write about whatever topic comes into the bloggers' minds, whether it relates to the bloggers' expertise, and
(2) take extreme positions,
(3) with little if any sense that what they're saying makes people dislike them.
(Hmm, note to self--this is happening to me right now!)
Want to see this theme developed more fully? Check out J. Robert Brown's article "Of Blogs, Law School Rankings, and Joining the Blogosphere," over at bepress.
As with a lot of my posts, I've been thinking about this one for a long time. And every time I talk to a law blogger about this and suggest that perhaps law bloggers are hurting their careers, I hear a litany of defenses. Actually, it's almost like they're all reading off the same script. Very quickly a couple of names come up. "Hey, x and y both have gotten better jobs and they're leading bloggers! You're wrong, Al!" Well, I'm not sure that x and y wouldn't have gotten those jobs anyway. (Control group mean anything here?) And I'm not saying that everyone in the legal academic blogosphere has blogger's disease. I do think there are some people who are thoughtful enough and careful enough to emerge unscathed--even better liked. In fact, I'd go even further and say that blogging has helped the careers of a lot of bloggers more than it's hurt their careers.
Perhaps it's that blogs have the same problem as radio talk show hosts: to get an audience we need to say things that are edgy and to be edgy we take stands that are controversial. (This, by the way, is one of the reasons I really like Paul Caron's shop--the blogs stick more or less to substantive law. I'd obviously put legalhistoryblog and the Chicago Law Faculty blog in that category as well--those are some places for some serious discussion of legal subjects.) And serious discussions of law tend to be much better received than the usual law blog matter.