DO YOU REMEMBER STARTING your first blog (or maybe it was your mother’s, or your girlfriend’s, or your dog’s)? Were you hawking a hobby, angling for authorship, or looking for love? In choosing a platform, did you tarry with Xanga or settle for Blogger? How did you manage the temptations and letdowns of vanity-Googling? Did blogging ameliorate your loneliness, or amplify it? And, when the end finally came, did Ye Old Blogge dwindle away from malnutrition and amnesia, or did you finish it off with a swift and deliberate declaration of disengagement?
In Blog Theory, political scientist and media critic Jodi Dean argues that reports of the death of blogging have been greatly exaggerated. When personal web logs failed to deliver love, fame, and reliable income streams, blogging didn’t disappear so much as migrate into newer social media and information technologies such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and word clouds. Although the word “blogging” has begun to be eclipsed by new brands, platforms, and assorted neologisms, Dean notes that blogs have regrouped as marketing tools on corporate sites, in the form of both user-generated content streams and editorial boosterism. On the home front, mommy-bloggers and teen fashion consultants use WordPress and YouTube to rezone their kitchens and closets into intimate retail showrooms, adapting the mass media techniques of product placement and celebrity endorsement to the theater of daily life and the cultivation of niche communities.
Dean analyzes blogging as a feature of “communicative capitalism,” a term she develops from thinkers associated with the Autonomia movement, like Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, and Tiziana Terranova. The Autonomists, whose origins date to the late 1960s, were Italian Marxists who wanted to disassociate social transformation from official organs like trade unions and political parties in order to grant more agency and inventiveness to informally organized workers, artists, and unpaid laborers. Heirs of and respondants to the Autonomists, including Jodi Dean, use the term “communicative capitalism,” to designate the replacement of industrial labor by service economies that manufacture experience, trade in entertainment, and thrive on data (examples include theme parks, brand hubs, and junk bonds). But while Autonomist-inspired thinkers like Terranova see at least some locally transformative (or “autonomist”) potential in internet communication, Dean argues that our online activity almost always ends up sustaining an information and marketing network. “Communicative capitalism,” she writes, “is that economic-ideological form wherein reflexivity captures creativity and resistance so as to enrich the few as it placates and diverts the many.” In Dean’s account, the internet is an affect machine that feeds on both the steady pulse and the emotional spikes of our online fidelities. With every digital communication we offer ourselves up to the web-crawling, content-scraping marketing gods. Our search is their find.
Dean calls the world created by all this communicative chatter a “blogipelago,” a term she prefers to the more widespread “blogosphere”:
“Blogipelago,” like archipelago, reminds us of separateness, disconnection, and the immense effort it can take to move from one isla...