Wednesday, September 22, 2010

History of blogging

Blog, and you take your life in your hands?

This is about as unconfessional a blog as you are likely to find. But I have been impressed recently by the experience of a blogger who managed to antagonize the blogosphere.

Todd Henderson, a law professor in Chicago and contributor to the blog "Truth on the Market" (mostly about economics from a conservative, free-markets point of view) recently posted the argument that although he is a a law professor and his wife is a doctor and they earn maybe $400,000, they really do not have a penny to spare and simply cannot afford to have President Obama discontinue the Republicans' special tax concessions for people earning over $250,000.

The thing went viral. Economist and blogger Brad DeLong tore the arguments to shreds (one of his posts is here), and the post became widely cited as evidence of the delusional self-entitlement of the powerful and well-to-do. Henderson began to be deluged with hostile commentary and, he says, personal attacks, both in blogs and emails. (And back home his wife told him he shouldn't have been exposing their life online anyway.) Apparently terrified by the response he had provoked, trying to get away from the whole thing, the professor removed the controversial post from the blog.

But the blogosphere doesn't like being denied the material it is engaged with. DeLong retrieved and posted the original Henderson post here.

Now Henderson has announced he cannot take it anymore and has abandoned blogging altogether. ("I was a fool, and I didn’t anticipate how this kind of thing could happen.")

Lessons for bloggers? It is true that having Professor Henderson present his views and having them exposed to critical scrutiny has been a small but useful contribution to the debate on an important matter of public policy -- just what blogging is good at. But any blogger may have that chilly sensation: what if the blogosphere rose up and came after me for something I innocently posted, on the assumption that only my usual three like-minded readers would ever see it.

Seems to me, however, Professor Henderson needs to carry on. His pain is as nothing compared to those who antagonize the mullahs or blog in China. If you can't stand by what you say, in the end you cannot say anything. I find myself thinking along the lines of "if you can't stand the heat..."

Peripherally related: yesterday I heard a digital marketing consultant's story. His CEO client tells him, "Look at what young people put on Facebook! Who is ever going to hire them?" Consultant: "It's the other way round. If all the young people are doing that on Facebook, who are you going to hire? Or does your company want to be the one that hires the only kid in Canada not on Facebook?"  One way or another, you are out there. Get used to it.

Update Sept 23: University Diaries has the last word:
In a dark and drear room on the quad
Sits a man quite abandoned by God:
“We make half a million
But not a gazillion.
Dear Lord, can you hear me? It’s Todd.”
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