If you were able to somehow “weigh,” on a daily or weekly basis, the quantity of text additions to the world wide web and group them in regard to their placement on the web, as, for example, news items, scientific papers and reports, blog posts, advertisements, commentary, what single group of web text additions would weigh the most, account for the largest number of additional words (or bytes)?
Now of course I have no idea. And I have no idea how one might begin going about doing this, weighing the additions to the web. However, if you did ask me I’d answer the “comments” or better commentary is what “weighs” the most, uses the most “bytes?” People just love to comment on what they see or read on the web. I know I do. I’m always astounded by just how much commentary one encounters when reading a news article. Where was all this commentary before the Internet’s existence?
Well, most of what is now called “comments” probably never went beyond conversations between family members and friends, if it got that far. Now our least thoughts can go world wide in a matter of instants. How many times have you read, say a report or an op-ed piece on a major internet news site and noticed that following the article there were quite often hundreds of comments, and, to excite you, to push you on to read them, the Times even places a number of the comments within the article text itself.
I used to be one of these people, commenting on the latest op-ed piece, say of Tom Friedman, Peggy Noonan, or Martin Wolf, adding my literally two cents worth to the comments of hundreds of others. But perhaps because the comments come so fast and furiously most news publications seem now to use some restraint and close off further comments after a day or two at the most. And there are those publications who may not even allow comments. So for a given article you may see hundreds of published comments, but not yet thousands.
I don’t comment any more myself, well almost anyway, but instead do my commenting on my Blog. But, regardless of the few of us, actually probably hundreds of thousands of us (how many bloggers are there?) whose commentary is now in Blog form, commentary itself is everywhere on the rise. I continue to be astounded by how many people actually take the time to write down their thoughts on what they’ve read. And I’m even more astounded by the quality of thought that goes into their comments, or at least into a good number of them. Now I’ve known for a long time just how different people are, how rarely they agree about anything at all, and the commentary more than anything else reflects and confirms the differences among us.
Are there conclusions to be drawn from any of this? Well yes, the main conclusion being just how different we are. The writer or reporter will be making a point, but that point will rarely survive, be left still standing following the barrage of comments thrown at it by the readers, by us. What I will call the Commentariat, or the mountain of commentary to be found every day on the Web, shows us, although all of the same race, or species, that our opinions about a given subject matter, or issue will have little in common.
Now wouldn’t you think that the politicians who obtain their livelihood by the opinions of the voters would have understood this, would have somehow taken into account not only just how different people are, but also just how valid are people’s widely differing views of a single issue? Wouldn’t you think that the politicians would speak not as if their own view on a particular issue were the last word (it never is) but only the first tentative formulation of a not yet fully formed position of their own?
To really know and to have recognized the legitimate differences among us ought to humble us in respect to the validity of our own positions, ought to have fostered real dialogue between us. But instead of dialogue we go on talking at rather than talking with one another, oblivious as a rule to the validity of the opinions of others.
An example. This particular subject of commentary is not an article but a picture. It is Steven Senne’s picture of a smiling President in a golf cart while vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard.
The picture was taken shortly after the President had been talking on the telephone with the devastated parents of the horribly and brutally murdered American journalist, James Foley. The president had declared himself “heartbroken” and vowed to go after the Jihadists who had carried out this awful action, but here he was in his golf cart, looking and acting much like his predecessor, George Bush, who in the course of one day in 2002 delivered a tough-worded statement denouncing a suicide bombing in Israel and then, barely missing a beat, told reporters to “watch this drive.”
Now you’d probably love to see the commentary following the appearance of this picture. I Know I would. What to think of the President in a golf cart at this moment? But there wasn’t any, and I don’t know why. Perhaps to have allowed it would have been, like the picture itself, in bad taste, given the terrible brutality of what had happened? But it doesn’t take much to imagine a range of possible commentary, one that would have certainly reflected the full range and more of opinion, such as that separating the left from the right in our domestic politics.
First I would ask would anyone have supported the President in this situation? Well, certainly not the Right, And probably not even the Left in this instance. But couldn’t his smiling position in the golf cart be understood as making an important statement, clearly telling ISIL that they, no matter what they did, could never reach the essentials of our spirit (summer golf in Martha’s Vineyard being a part, if only a small part of that spirit).
Then, I would ask would anyone have condemned the President for his behavior? Well yes, of course. Both the Right and the Left might say that his smiling position in the golf cart just after the brutal murder of James Foley was in terrible taste, unfeeling, setting a bad example, and so forth. And on Twitter and elsewhere on the Web we did encounter these two positions. And there is of course a full gamut of positions in between.
Is there a right position? Is there any one golf cart comment more valid than the others? Probably not. But my own two cents might go something like the following. The President hears about, more or less directly, horrible things happening in the world everyday, every hour, perhaps every minute. He knows that brutality is not confined to a particular time or moment. People being what they are he knows it’s everywhere, always there. And he probably knows this better than any of us.
So what side of life does he want most to communicate to us, to the public? He doesn’t say, but he doesn’t try to hide or reject the happy image of a golf vacation on the Vineyard. And furthermore why would he want to hide this positive picture and instead permit the negative picture of a president’s spirit brought down by the evil actions of a few? By not allowing that, thereby contributing to the real impact of the evil few, isn’t he just doing his job? (George Bush has defended Obama’s fondness for golf.)