6 December 2009

J McAlpine (2009) Anthropology of the Scottish Blogosphere

Self-awareness is an existential challenge in individuals, a duty in societies. In both cases, however, the insight is hard won, difficult to attain. Distractions of all colours play about fascinatingly and our glossing accounts of ourselves frequently refract true understanding. Oftimes, the thorniest insight of all is discovering that your common sense is not so common. Less entangled in the threads of meaning we ourselves have spun, an external viewer can be a healthsome antidote to this immersion. Equally, since Malinowski and other 20th century anthropologists set to work and strove to understand, that very externality can also be problematic. What presents itself as objectivity, instead risks the twin distortions of prejudice and generalisation. As a consequence, more textured accounts of reality - subject to diversity of experience, change and development - go unexplored. Understanding suffers.

I don’t know if the Times journalist Joan McAlpine consciously had such anthropological aims in view when she decided to undertake her bit of participant observation research on the Scottish blogosphere through Go Lassie Go. She could not have anticipated the degree to which the stereotyped phenomenon of the ranting cybernat spewing ‘egregious’ profanity - prim nation that we are – would skirl onto the pages of the press. One of the main sadnesses of the Wardog et seq. phenomenon is the hasty deletion of the whole history of commentary these authors produced. Under the threatening promise of writs, I can entirely understand that hasty retreat may be the rhythm indicated. Equally, however, it robs the public (or whatever clutch might be interested) of an opportunity to read the material and think for themselves. Particularly since the more lurid elements cited in the newspaper commentary string together unconnected material – in an unhistorical and intellectually dishonest way - that turns asides (even those too spicy for most mainstream characters) into concerted campaigns in a manner which any calm read through of the whole text couldn’t support. With deletion, that corrective expedient is now impossible.

Many souls in the coalition of disunited opinion that is the SNP outhouse in the blogosphere have been chewing their nails lest they be prodded with the same jobby-stick status as ‘cybernat’. Much of this is driven by a sense of being misunderstood and misrepresented by outriders in the press who burst into view, peer about – and gallop off again, bearing away their outrageous quotations, plucking a few preparatory bantams and heating the tar to a runny, adhesive consistency. On which threatening note, lets return to our participant observer. Drawing on her encounter with the labouring common soldiers of Scottish blogging, Joan McAlpine draws a far more flattering parallel in her Sunday Times column this morning entitled ‘Cybernats are the new pamphleteers’. Lets just hope that someone, somewhere isn’t erecting a new Bastille to accommodate us, shall we?

1 comment :

  1. How long before the 'jobby-stick' of CyberNaticy finds its way out of t'internet thingy and on to the streets?
    Wonder how many (or few) of our esteemed Labour politicians and cohorting journos would balk at the creation of this new McCarthyism?