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Saturday, April 15, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Blogs: Just more white noise?

Special to The Seattle Times

Personal blogs are a pretty amazing way to take the nation's cultural pulse. These postings by anyone and about anything are up-to-the-minute, lively monitors of what people think, ranging from the significant to the sublime. A politician makes a mistake and the world instantly reacts. And much of it focuses on real ephemera.

For instance, minutes after the end of last week's "The West Wing" there were probably hundreds of postings about how Jimmy Smits should make Alan Alda his vice president.

I should hate the blog world for two reasons: Blogs have the possibility of making journalists (especially columnists) superfluous, and I don't have one. But it takes a lot of guts to write explicitly and honestly to an uncertain readership.

Every day these people face a white screen to create something compelling enough to eke out a portion of a collectively minuscule attention span. It's like a video game, only with words.

Blogs couldn't exist if e-mail hadn't gotten there first, breaking down the barriers between mind and machine and then creating a terse yet informative writing style. Once you get comfortable with e-mail, however, you might seek a larger audience. It seems a shame to keep a pearl of wisdom or a pithy observation to yourself. You can just write it down and send it along to a thousand of your closest friends, but they will all hate you within a month.

Blogging improves on distribution lists because of its voluntary nature, and you aren't invading your correspondent's privacy. People read your blog because they want to, and stop five minutes later for the same reason.

With millions of blogs coming from people of all levels of literacy and imagination, it is impossible to generalize. I'd like to see blogs with the personality and directness of a personal letter, or the ability to portray a unique aspect of modern life in a well-turned paragraph.

I can say that most blogs don't measure up. Too many of them substitute a know-it-all tone for the personal touch. It's like their statements are made at a party where the purpose is to be overheard. Everyone is trying to be smarter than everyone else.

Which isn't always bad. They are at least using a portion of their minds. At the same time, blogging will infuse the language with its own idiosyncrasies. If people start sounding more superciliously unctuous, they at least know what the words mean.

As personal blogs evolve, the necessary skills will shrink to fit. Writing a blog differs from an e-mail or instant message in form and content, so the really good writers will learn the proper time and place for each speed.

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Anything that gets people writing is a good thing. At the same time, it's discouraging to see how the next step in communication's evolution is taking a less personal twist. It would be nice if blogs could take e-mail's potential for immediacy and intimacy to the next level. Instead, too many of them emulate e-mail's less attractive tendencies of bad spelling and myopic viewpoints.

One of my writing teachers recommended writing for a singular target. If you can reach an individual, it can by extension speak to the masses.

I would like to see blogs with this kind of focus and follow another wise writing technique — to write more about less. Instead, we are running toward a world where talking is more valuable than listening.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at cbermant@seattletimes.com. Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.

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