Many of you know I use Twitter. It’s replaced a lot of the “link posts” I might have done in the early 2000s or so. Some have argued that Twitter cannibalized a lot of blogging, and that seems true. And that hasn’t always been for the good…there are some arguments and discussions which don’t work well on Twitter. There have been many Twitter misunderstandings which simply wouldn’t have happened in the blogging format, because of the artificiality of Twitter strips context.
Until recently I didn’t much pay attention to YouTube except for movie trailers and Games of Thrones stuff. Oh, and How it Should Have Ended. Any other YouTube I probably just found via a share on Facebook and Twitter.
But of late I have been watching some YouTube channels. I was prompted partly by the fact that after the hit piece came out on me about my incredible influence on the alt-right someone emailed me to explain that in fact the most influential people on the alt-right were on YouTube, where they spread interpretations of genetics congenial to their racialist worldview. Honestly I didn’t watch these channels for very long because:
1) I don’t need genetics lectures.
2) I don’t need primers on Western history.
3) I am not concerned about white genocide, I am white genocide.
Rather, I found a channel called The Rubin Report, which had come recommended to me by my friend Sarah Haider. I agreed with the host, Dave Rubin, on most issues, and often disagreed with his guests. It made for reasonably compelling listening (I rarely watch really, but treat this stuff like a podcast). He also introduced me to a lot of different vloggers. Among the people he interviewed was someone called Roaming Millennial, an early 20s Eurasian Canadian woman with broadly center-right/classical liberal views.
I don’t mean to spotlight her, but her channel illustrates three facts:
1) Relatively short, pithy, commentaries.
2) A huge number of views.
3) Many of these vloggers are “TV-friendly” in their appearance.
Comparing traffic can be hard across years and platforms, so I’ll focus on the first and last issue. When it comes to the early generation of bloggers there are plenty who became famous on pithy quick links. But there were also long-form essayists and commenters. To give one example, Cosma Shalizi’s posts on IQ were extensively linked for many years because of their thoroughness and depth (obviously few people read everything or understood much, but the posts were there, and many at least skimmed a fair amount).
These sorts of discursive commentaries are not really possible on YouTube. From what I can tell when vloggers allow themselves to go more than 20 minutes on a single topic they start to ramble, repeat themselves, and get boring. You can’t engage in extemporaneous speaking for too long and sound like you have your shit together. The data density of blogging is potentially much higher than vlogging.
The third issue…. Many bloggers had a face for radio, and a voice for silent film. The extremely popular liberal blogger Steve Gilliard was morbidly obese, and died of illnesses related to his weight issues. But his appearance was not a big deal when he began blogging. Many of the early bloggers concealed many details of their private life, let alone their image. Similarly, a lion of the warblogging cohort, Steve Den Beste, looked to be out of central casting for “middle aged software/anime nerd.” But Den Beste became hugely influential before his retirement from blogging, which was partly triggered by health issues.
Obviously things aren’t that different. There was television in the 2000s. And many webforums existed which had a Twitter-like feel. But they are different nevertheless. Someone like Roaming Millennial could have made it on TV, but there are only so many spots for non-blondes at Fox, and in any case she speaks at a higher level of analysis than what you see in talking heads. There are many more of these vloggers than there would ever have been slots on television. This is a whole new information universe, and it’s different.
A the end of the day it makes me appreciate text, and blogging. There are newer technologies, but they aren’t better.