That’s It for Me, I Suppose

I’m seriously contemplating dropping off the blogosphere. At the very minimum, I’m going to start purging the big bloggers from my ‘roll – there’s never any good discussion on most of them anyway – and concentrate on talking to people who actually take the time to listen. Because, frankly, there’s no point.

A blogger can have forty times my traffic and still be politically irrelevant. The supposed purpose of political blogs is to exert influence; a good rule of thumb is that if your name isn’t Markos Moulitsas, Josh Marshall, Glenn Reynolds, or Michelle Malkin, you’re failing to do that.

I suspect there’s an underlying “It’s fun” reason for every blogger – it’s certainly there for me. Not being a real masochist, I can’t in good faith call the ritual that is participating in any of a number of low-grade echo chambers as fun. The people who run those echo chambers don’t want discussion; they want fellation. I can understand how the notion I’m willing to do that can arise, since after all I used to be in a fairly long-term online relationship, but I don’t do that anymore; any blogger who wants me to fellate her needs to first know me in real life fairly well.

I could write endless sarcastic posts about the rules of the echo chamber. In their most exaggerated form, they appear as radical pathologies; make no mistake about it, even echo chambers that begin as non-radical invariably radicalize, mostly due to the effect of extremism. But even in their weaker forms, they are deeply pathological, turning serious political and social discussions into exercises in hive formation. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a market for anti-blogosphere blogging. I still write to an audience.

I’m not doing this because Ilyka Damen is an ageist. I get age-bashed fairly regularly, albeit less than I used to (I attribute that to stopping reading blogs that tolerated that sort of behavior, incidentally). The reason Ilyka got a post of her own is that I decided a fair amount of time ago that I shouldn’t take shit from people just because they publish their bile on blogs I read regularly.

Nor am I doing this strictly because of traffic concerns. That my traffic’s down by a third from a month ago is immaterial; even then it was about two and a half orders of magnitude less than what I needed to make a difference.

To make an understatement, I’m behind on my reading. I should have read 19 books by now in calendar 2007 to be on track to go through 100 books this year; I’ve read 6. But even that isn’t why I’m doing this – I was horribly behind on my reading even when I was on UTI and spent maybe three hours a day on the blogosphere.

It’s not any of those; it’s that there’s no point. Amanda likes to say that she bans people who bore her. I have to take her word for it when she implies that hordes of ideologically uniform commenters don’t bore her. But they bore me. In fact, the only thing more boring than that is what passes for outreach or serious left/right debate, which typically involves regurgitating simplistic talking points or holding pissmatches about non-issues.

On to more practical concerns. I signed as the Carnival of the Godless host this April 1st; I intend to make good on that. Likewise, even if I drop off the blogosphere entirely, I’ll keep managing the Carnival of Mathematics, since if there’s one part of my blog I’m going to keep, it’s the math.

The Galois theory series has about three posts left: compound extensions, including the proof that two Galois extensions of K whose intersection is K are linearly disjoint; roots of unity and cyclotomic extensions; and the original motivation of the theory, solving polynomials by radicals. None of those is terribly important theoretically, not for the level of number theory I’ve written about.

The radical pathologies series is far more incomplete, with six more pathologies to go, including several fairly important ones (namely, paranoia, theoretical thought, and schismaticism). Fortunately, my overview post has some basic outlines on each; the individual posts flesh the arguments out more, but the overview is good enough for a lot of purposes.

I still owe Lynet a clarification on lived experience and everyone a post on Jews and oppressed groups. The latter is probably going to make my next 3QD post, regardless of whether I shut down Abstract Nonsense and withdraw from Appletree or not. The former is going to become a post here, again regardless of this blog’s fate. People who take their time to respond thoughtfully to what I say deserve at least that.

I’m going to keep fleshing out Eternal Night. I haven’t gotten any further responses to it; if it remains that way, I’ll go back and make wholesale changes based solely on the one I’ve received. I started writing it before I had a blog.

And I still have my two email addresses (plus my two university emails), of course. If you want to alert me to a post of yours, or something like that, feel free to use them.

UPDATE: it’s probably worth mentioning that you shouldn’t ask me which blogs I specifically refer to when I attack echo chambers. I’m not going to go into specifics, for reliability reasons. I can think of a few blogs that are clearly white and a few that are clearly black, but there’s a gigantic gray area of blogs I keep changing my mind about based on ephemera; all I know is that the mean remains a very dark shade of gray. But for what it’s worth, if you’re too small to maintain an echo chamber, I’m not talking about you.

21 Responses to That’s It for Me, I Suppose

  1. Tyler DiPietro says:

    This is basically the reason I’m limiting my posting on politics and moving into science and skepticism blogging. Politics on the blogosphere has evolved into little more than autoeroticism within bubbles of ideological conformity. Science, math, etc. is way more interesting than straight politics will ever be.

    So I’d suggest doing the same if you were so interested. I’ve been kicking around the idea of starting a multi-poster blog devoted to such things. It’s nebulous, but it would help to know if people are interested in co-blogging with me should I actually go for it.

  2. Tim Bailey says:

    This is an interesting, if somewhat disheartening development. I really admire your blog, Alon; I read it daily. I admit that most of the mathematics stuff is far beyond my ken, but I do read those posts too — at least to see if my minuscule understanding is up to the challenge.

    The reason I write that it’s interesting is that I made a similar kind of decision, years ago, concerning my involvement in discussion boards (back when blogs weren’t nearly as ubiquitous as they are now). I was a regular at babble.ca, a left-leaning discussion board. I realized that, although I was a regular participant in the political topics, that because I wasn’t one of the most prolific and extensive posters, I was rarely included in the discussions. And there was very little room for debate within the leftist tent, as the most strident posters would shout you down, or crowd out dissenting or reflective commentary. So, one day it just hit me: this was a waste of time. I stopped posting there and directed my efforts elsewhere – somewhere off the net entirely.

    I once read a statement somewhere by Malcolm Gladwell that described the readership/use of websites as following a power law distribution. I find this entirely believable. Sometimes it amazes me when I visit one of the big-name sites and realize that the quality of discussion doesn’t reflect the ranking of the site. Surely the commentary should improve markedly at these sites, since they should be attracting the greatest number of thoughtful, informed and intelligent writing; but instead (as you mention) the increased volume yields only several extra orders of magnitude of “me too” posts. This phenomenon has tended to confirm my suspicions regarding the impoverished state of the popular intellect and imagination.

    Anyway, I wanted to speak up as one person who will miss your writing and commentary (although I’m sure you know you will be missed). I find your blog very valuable in my own attempts to gain a broader understanding of the issues. I find it discouraging to see people with thoughtful and insightful things to say become crowded out of the Internet altogether.

  3. John Remy says:

    I feel awkward emerging from lurkdom to write a “me too” comment in response to this post, but I read this blog largely because you add a level of sophisticated nuance and careful analysis to your political posts that is rare in the old liberal Blogosphere. Especially with the advent of blog aggregators, I tend to read only the posts and to miss the comments altogether. I guess that’s how I’ve missed much of the “echo chamber” phenomenon.

    For what it’s worth, you’ve influenced me–my blog wants to be Abstract Nonsense when it grows up. If you do leave, you’ll certainly be missed. Would it be possible for you to just scale back your output on the political posts, instead of eliminating them altogether?

  4. Bruce says:

    Alon, you are interested and knowledgeable in a fairly wide variety of subjects, which fact makes me hope that you may modify or redefine your decision. The decision remains yours, obviously.

    One of the unusual side benefits of having a moderate small-l libertarian/liberal bent is that I tend both to agree and to disagree with almost everyone, which makes the accidental entry into someone else’s echo chamber both less likely to occur and more amusing to observe.

    In France, one can find some occasional strange horticultural surprises. One of them is the startling effect of a tree being cut into the shape of a cube. Some master gardener or forester decided that a deciduous tree needed to be shaped not like a tree but like a cube attached to a tree. So six perpendicular plane cuts later, a cube. All of us cut the impossible, unmanageable unruliness of life into “cube trees”; the wiser among us do so at least somewhat self-consciously and with a sense of decency and humor, which so many of these echo chambers lack.

  5. Foxy says:

    I’ll add my voice to the Levy-missing. I hardly understand your math, and I struggle to understand your politics, but I always feel improved for the attempt.

    To toss my own two cents in to the mix, the reason I write so solidly about math is that I’m afraid if I were to ever start talking about politics, I would never be able to stop, and would just depress myself with the state of things. I don’t know if I have the courage or the patience for it.

    So I admire those who do.

  6. Patness says:

    Well, I can say, with all the respect I can manage (given my short time here and incidental contact with you on other blogs) that I do like your writing. But I also understand how strongly those bubbles take shape, and I understand what’s at stake trying to be heard amidst sound and fury. I can’t say I hold it against you; for that matter, I can say no more.

  7. SLC says:

    Well, all I can say is that we defenders of the State of Israel will certainly miss Mr. Levys’ first class Israel bashing comments. It really gets our juices running in the morning when we see one of his diatribes.

  8. Lynet says:

    I’ll be sorry to see you go. You don’t owe me a post – if you’d rather just stop entirely I’ll understand – but on the other hand I am curious about your views on this one, if nothing else because, well, the first post in this blog that I saw was a feminist one, and I stayed because I found a lot that was useful in your somewhat more detached analysis. So if you do post on the subject, there will almost certainly be some useful thinking points in it for me.

    And hey, there’s a lot that’s good about this space that stops it from being an echo chamber; the smallness helps, but you’re also the only person I’ve seen who openly states an open comment policy, and I think the declaration that anyone is allowed to speak here helps to remove any sense that certain views are not welcome (the latter is pervasive on a large number of feminist blogs, and invariably ends up silencing people who might well have held no malicious intent). Remember this post? I mean, okay, so the Christian who stopped by didn’t leave saying “Hallelujah – um, I mean UnHallelujah – I don’t need religion to be moral so I don’t believe in Jesus any more,” but at least (s)he got some sense of the depth and range of atheist morality. That has to be worth something.

    I’m not trying to change your mind. I’m sure I can think of less time-consuming ways of wasting time. So I’ll say “fair enough” to your decision, and thanks for some thought-provoking writing.

  9. Ruchira Paul says:

    Alon:
    I am having similar thoughts about my own blogging. For me the single most important reason IS that my reading rate has fallen precipitously in the last one and half years. I never managed 100 books a year but the rate used to be a satisfying one book a week or close to it. Now it is shamefully lower. And it is making me unhappy.

    Strangely enough, this is happening when I seem to have cultivated a regular readership and am the recipient of several high profile links, all satisfying developments for a blogger. Traffic was never a big concern since the traffic at my site swings wildly depending on who is linking and I was realistic about how much of an effect one can have in the crowded blogosphere without being a public figure or having the momentum of an early entrant in the forum. Like Tyler, I would probably seriously consider participating on a group blog where all bloggers write on a fairly regular basis. I have four wonderful co-bloggers but they write sparsely. Their contribution has been more through their link suggestions and comments. I am finding the burden of nearly solo blogging on an all purpose blog rather draining. In other words, I am blogged out.

    I don’t want to lose everything I have written. As soon as I learn how to save my blog, I will consider either closing it down or putting it on a hiatus.

  10. Alon Levy says:

    I don’t think I’m crowded out of the internet – at least not yet. As I said, I still have email. And I’m not sure I’m going to shut down this place; it makes sense to start by striking out the most offensive echo chambers from my blogroll and starting to concentrate on better milieus.

    For example, Ezra Klein has no official everything goes comment policy, but in practice he has lively dissent, which has unfortunately degenerated into two Republican hacks regurgitating talking points and Democrats regurgitating talking points back at them. The only trick is to promote a more reasonable level of dissent (which, incidentally, does exist on Ezra Klein, only among less prolific commenters).

    So I might start small and focus more on the sort of posts I’ve written in the past that don’t involve weighing in on pointless blog wars. The idea is to tailor my writing to what my readers appear to want to see rather than to what Amanda Marcotte et al like.

    The group blog idea sounds basically good, but if we go for it, I suspect we’ll need to know exactly who’ll be writing there in the first place, in order to have a good balance of points of view. Echo chamber or not, this blog doesn’t have an especially balanced body of commenters, let’s face it. On Appletree, some of the best discussions are those where Gordo and I disagree. So it would make sense to also have someone like J4Jesus, who, as Lynet notes, has shown a very strong capability of making reasoned arguments.

  11. Ran Halprin says:

    I think the biggest problem with blogging, and the intellectual world in general, is the fact that a thinking human has many different issues they deal with, but they won’t be interested in reading other people’s array of issues – They usually want to read only thoughts of interest for a specific issue at a certain time.

    This paradox makes blogging problematic, unless u’r mind only deals with a single issue at a time, which usually means u r crazy or just a plain fanatic. Some people would use the term “professional”, but I think its not very professional to use it :)

    Eventually this paradox ends us leaving the shaping of the world intellectual resources to the select few fanatic and insane individuals who are also non-productive enough to have time to share and push forward their thoughts in a convincing manner.

  12. Ran Halprin says:

    re “this blog doesn’t have an especially balanced body of commenters, let’s face it. “ – if you write less about Galois fields and more about American Idol, u might have more opinionated commenters ;)

  13. SLC says:

    I might suggest that in Mr. Levys’ non-mathematical posts, he try to be a little less wordy and a little more focussed. Mr. Levy has a tendency to be a little long winded. Keeping short and punchy is more effective then long winded.

  14. [...] Blogging Reflections Published March 11th, 2007 Other Crap Alon has been contemplating a blog-freeze, and now considers himself fairly certain that he’s going to do it. I’m [...]

  15. Stentor says:

    Dang, I’m losing my only reader!

  16. Alon Levy says:

    You’re crazy if you think I’m going to stop reading Debitage just because I don’t feel like posting anymore.

  17. C. L. Hanson says:

    I don’t spend that much time on the very biggest blogs myself because I feel like you don’t get the same quality of back-and-forth discussion as on some of the smaller blogs. I guess I’m less frustrated by the quality of political debate out in blogspace though because I’m not much of a debater. My style is more “Hey, here’s an idea, what do you think?” than “I know the right answer.” That’s the main reason I haven’t posted many comments here: your style seems a tad more confrontational than mine. I don’t mean that as a criticism — just a stylistic difference. I think you have a lot of good insights and analysis, and I definitely spend time thinking about your posts after reading them.

  18. C. L. Hanson says:

    BTW, speaking of your math carnival, I have two posts I was thinking of submitting, but I’m not sure either one is appropriate since they’re just barely on the fringes of being about math.

    Way back in May of 2006 I wrote a post containing a little bit of knot theory (the actual math part is in the comments): celtic knotwork.

    The other one I posted just the other day on my professional blog. This one is probably not interesting to real mathematicians, it’s more of a fun little real-world application of some very simple math: a little maze algorithm.

  19. [...] also discovered that founding C of M poster Alon Levy quit doing Abstract Nonsense a couple months back. Well heck. Anyhow, congratulations on an outstanding [...]

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