I was starting to write a post about the potential for futility in the sport of blogging. The thesis was something like, “My thoughts are statistically unlikely to be unique, so what’s the point in expressing them when someone else has probably already done so?”
Then I realized that this question applies to virtually all creative human endeavors, at least in the age of the internet when all works become accessible to basically everyone. This itself is obviously not a novel thought – “there is no new thing under the sun.”
So, what exactly is the value of the rehash?
I feel like I should discuss how I think I came to this crisis. I spent years in graduate school and a postdoc to master the scope of human knowledge in a narrow field (like so). I knew what was known and a fair bit about wasn’t. And, best of all, I knew an original idea if I heard it (or had it). Why? Because I knew what there was to know in the tiny segment of inquiry in which I was engaged.
And there are few areas in which one can do that. According to Malcom Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours of effort to master a field. You’ll live for about 700,000 hours, but for half of that you are probably sleeping or fighting entropy for daily existence. So, in principle, you could master 28 things during your adultish (over 15 years old) lifetime if you did nothing else.
That actually sounds like a lot. But remember that it would take 12 hours of daily sustained effort to reach that. So, realistically, if your job isn’t super-demanding, maybe you could master 10 things in your life.
You can blog about 7 topics (when you’re 80. For now, probably fewer). Not too shabby, really. Unfortunately I’m too young at this point to have mastered that many things, and I’m interested in discussing topics beyond the narrow focus of my professional expertise – I get enough of that in my professional life.
So, to have a broader conversation I have to go beyond the limits of my expertise. Fortunately, anyone can use the internet to get up to speed on a particular issue. Unfortunately, any contribution they make afterward is potentially non-unique in two ways – one, their knowledge on that issue is predicated directly on the thoughts of others, and two, with enough people focusing on a given topic, many people will generate the same ideas in parallel. So bloggers shall bloggily blog their blogged blogs with the information they found and entering into the discussion, but, because of the reasons listed above, their contributions are redundant – they’re more often remixing than composing.
So that’s what the blogosphere is, really, The Great Mashup. We riff and rap off of one another, introducing plenty of new blood, and progress is made incrementally across the entire sea of contributors – new samples, if you will. The value of blogosphere is that incremental achievements are amplified and disseminated (though, so are competing ideas). But that’s not just the blogosphere, that there is what you call civilization.
So, that’s my answer, if I need one. I’m contributing to the Great Mashup, trying to add a little more cowbell along the way.