The Origins of the Blogosphere (It’s Not What you Think)

The Eighteenth CenturySo today was the last day of my first graduate course, which was based on eighteenth century literature. Now, because of this, today’s post is going to be a little different. I want to reflect a bit on the class, some ideas I had in it, etc. You will, regrettably, not learn the difference between got and gotten (because I’m still trying to figure that out) or not and knot (because that seems too easy), or anything else today. However, you will gain a little insight of who I am. So today we’re going to look at the eighteenth century and the blogosphere because–well–I want to.

Welcome to the blogosphere

If you haven’t noticed, this is a blog. I’m allowed to say and do anything I want on this site within legal practices. If I want to totally turn this site around and make it about..I don’t know…cooking, I can do that. You, my audience, may not appreciate that much, but I have that option. Some of you know who I am, but to the multitude my 100+ visitors-per-day, I’m an anonymous voice, an anonymous writer. You trust what I say, and you trust that I’m an authoritative figure. Like many bloggers, I chose what I wanted to write about–there are political bloggers, social commentators, religious bloggers, and whatever else. That’s essentially the blogosphere. People writing about whatever they want to write about and other people reading it.

So let’s go back in time…

to the eighteenth century and late seventeenth century. England was in political turmoil after the Restoration (read: after not having a king for some time, a king was reinstated, yay!) over who should be the next king. King Charles was in power, and well–let’s just say he had several illegitimate children. There was no clear inheritance for the monarchy, so people fell into one of two categories:

  • Tories, who believed Charles’s Catholic brother, James, should be the next king
  • Whigs, who believed Charles’s illegitimate Protestant child, the Duke of Monmouth, should be king

This is known as the Exclusion Crisis and took place 1679-1681. I know you guys probably don’t want to hear all the nitty gritty, but you need to understand the political fervor that was going on. It was a lot like the Obama v. McCain election–everyone had an opinion and everyone wanted a say.

Up until 1695, people didn’t really have a say. However, in 1695, the Licensing Act of 1662 lapsed and wasn’t renewed. That meant several censory measures that were in place from 1662 to 1695 were now gone. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but let me give you a couple of examples. During the Act, there was a limit of 20 publishers; afterwards, that ballooned to 75. Before, there was a limit on how many things could be published; after, a Tory could create a pamphlet and a Whig could respond by the end of that day because of the increase of booksellers and printers. There was a huge insurgence in publishing–pamphlets, newspapers, journals, letters, poems, and pretty much everything you could think of was published. Because many pieces were so politically charged, several were published anonymously.

Sound familiar?

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in England had a lot in common with what’s going on today. There’s little censorship now, things are published rapidly, frequently anonymously, and people generally believe what they read. For example, Alexander Pope–a renowned poet of the time (and also quite a jerk, but that’s neither here nor there)–frequently belittled fellow writers or satirized them. To this very day, we hardly know the authors Pope blacklisted. They were removed from literary canon. People believed him, much like people come here and believe that I actually know what I’m talking about. There was a sort of blind faith in public opinion both then and now.

Not only was there this blind faith, but there were also literary and political “cliques” much like you see online today. Come on, you can’t deny them. You have the “emo” people on myspace, “forum trollers” who just bombard every forum they can, “political junkies” who whore out every piece of political booty they can find, “gamers” who–well–game, and everything and everyone else. You had these cliques back then too–Pope lead what was known as the “Scriblerus” club and they wrote about everyone who wasn’t a part of their group. Different literary circles would go back and forth and “battle” eachother–much like we see on forum communities today.

Lastly, but most importantly, is the sense of anonymity. It doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but think about it. Ever read the comments under a political piece? Ever go on a gaming forum? The trash talk that goes on is unbelievable. Sometimes I have to stop and regain composure after reading a comment. Anonymity makes people far more brazen than they would ever be face-to-face. Remember how I said people frequently bickered through publications? Yeah, some of those pieces not only challenged the writer’s intellect, but even claimed that some *cough*Pope*cough* were impotent. Ouch!

Final thoughts

Honestly, the bones of this Web 2.0 society that we know and love were formulated in seventeenth and eighteenth century England. It was a huge cultural explosion of literacy and knowledge–much like today. The forumla was there–increased publishing, political turmoil, anonymity, cliques, and blind faith surmised to an unretractable change of society. While I know today’s post didn’t necessarily teach you those nitty gritty grammar things that drive you nuts, I hope you were able to glean something from this post. After all, history very clearly repeats itself, as I’ve illustrated, and you never know when an era like this will come again. Good luck!

Posted in Legacy.

One Comment

  1. Very interesting insight into the origins of blogging. The printing press, while it does not offer as fast of a reaction as the internet, was fuel to enable these arguments. After all, people’s attention spans are short, if you cannot get it out in a day or two, you might as well forget it and move on!

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