Monday, January 17

A REVIEW OF HUGH HEWITT'S BOOK, "BLOG"

Last night I completed reading Hugh Hewitt's newly-published book, BLOG -- Understanding The Information Reformation That's Changing Your World, a veritable 180 degrees flip on the Brave New World Aldous Huxley limned, but a brave new world nonetheless. Unlike Huxley's fictional, satirical gaze into the future, in which universal happiness of a sort (insipid happiness, really) becomes the be all and end all of human existence, with man foresaking his fundamental freedoms for what he irrationally considers to be splendid (albeit Soma-induced) contentment, the blogosphere of which Hewitt writes is anything but fiction and is, in fact, a brave new world in every sense of that expression -- an epochal paradigm shift in man's long march towards liberation. In it man's intellectual freedom may become boundless, particularly, as Hewitt contends, if "information is an essential element of freedom," which, of course, it is. For access to information via the Internet and its World Wide Web, when coupled with the concomitant ability in the blogosphere to become one's own news' filter, correspondent, commentator, even editor-in-chief, become then the quantum leap man has always sought. They fulfill his yearning to be liberated, his desire to shed the constrictive mind-control of the state or, in western democracies, those "gate-keepers" of truth known as the mainstream media.

Indeed, the blogosphere becomes for man "the marketplace of ideas," where he can buy and sell, and have an impact on the economics of the electronic information exchange. And it becomes the tool with which he can scale the ramparts and get inside the castle walls of the traditional purveyors of information to challenge their hegemony and assail their opinions. Those walls are coming down now. And I think Hewitt would agree in this regard there's a certain congruency with General George S. Patton's observation in World War II that the days of fixed fortifications are a thing of the past.

But BLOG is not so much an exegesis on the new technology of information-acquisition and information-exchange, as it is a practical, incisive guide on how to gain a foothold in the new "revolution in communications technology" that is blogging and why that is important. And he makes a convincing case why blogging is so compelling for commercial and non-commercial enterprises alike, and for the individual as well, no matter his career or avocation. The key is to board this rocket to the future -- a future whose potential impact on the human condition is barely divined by the most prescient among us. As Hewitt writes, not since the invention of movable type and the Gutenberg press in 1449 has there been such a tectonic shift in man's enlightenment and the amplification of "the human voice," a voice no longer suffering "the interference of institutional structures" or the cold-command of the traditional "hierarchies of power."

Hewitt distills his advice thus:

The advantage of blogging is that it will oblige you to live in the world of ideas and debates and to do so at the modern pace. At present no great blogger has emerged with a distinctly evangelical worldview. When one does, with humor and insight attached as well, that person (or persons) will have an enormous impact on the world.

But this lofty prospect aside for the paragon among us, who may yet emerge, there are far more mundane considerations that should draw us to blogging; and much of Mr. Hewitt's book is devoted to them and why they should gain currency in the marketplace of ideas. For here the author seems to take a page or two from two business classics of recent vintage: Brand Warfare and Career Warfare , authored by David F. D'Alessandro. Just as D'Alessandro argues convincingly in the latter that "everyone in organizational life is being watched and evaluated" and that "eventually those thousands of opinions that are created by thousands of transactions will generate a kind of consensus about you," so too does Hugh Hewitt make the point -- his essential point -- that "the blogosphere is about trust" and "if you can get this point, you will get the blogospshere." Indeed, because people no longer trust the traditional purveyors of information and opinion, the so-called mainstream media, the "MSM" has irreversibly tarnished its brand. As Hewitt observes: "People don't trust the old media with anything like the old level of confidence." If you doubt this, think of Walter Cronkite, then, versus Dan Rather, today. As D'Alessandro warns, once the professional reputations of individuals, or the products and services of companies, or even companies themselves, are compromised, or perceived as being compromised, they are hard-pressed to restore brand integrity. That's the nature of the beast.

Similarly, D'Alessandro continues, "as hard as you have to fight to build a good brand, you often have to fight even harder to keep it." Along this same vein, Hewitt succinctly cautions that "trust drives everything" in the blogosphere. He expands on this:

To build and maintain trust is a tremendously difficult thing, requiring patient attention to detail and discipline over long periods of time. Mistakes by bloggers will be forgiven, but not deception and certainly not stubborn attachment to falsehood. As you explore and perhaps enter it or assign others to do so, put the "trust" question on the table and keep it there.

And he drives that point home:

In a world changing as rapidly as ours is, only those who have earned and continue to earn trust will be in a position to influence the choices of third parties. Blogs can earn that valuable commodity.

That "valuable commodity," of course, is brand integrity. And the efficacy and attractiveness of blogging is, as Hewitt informs, that it is "a nearly cost-free opportunity to establish or defend a brand and to introduce new products or buzz, and to do so over and over again." And all the better, suggests Hewitt, if you can do this with an unmistakably "authentic voice" bolstered by "earned credibility." And these insights, says Hewitt, are as applicable to businesses and businessmen, religions and religious leaders, professions and professionals, sports and sportsmen, civic associations and civic spokesmen (and so forth and so on), as they are to individuals, like you and me. Blogging's applicability runs far and wide. And its reach appears limitless.

To blog ("short for web log -- an online site with time-dated postings, maintained by one or more posters, that features links and commentaries," as Hewitt defines the term) in the blogosphere is to set out on a playing field of one's own choosing to engage, inform, influence, persuade, disabuse, fend off, or otherwise challenge players of one's choosing, and in an arena in which talent, timeliness, integrity and quality of information will more often than not prevail and mark the winners. It is an energized medium for the exchange of ideas and opinion, fast becoming the central marketplace of thought, conviction, human insight and wisdom on this planet. For it is Hugh Hewitt's contention in BLOG that web logs and blogging have not only come of age in a very compressed timeframe, fueled by fast-paced technological advances, but they have served to knock down long-standing barriers of entry to information-gathering and information-dispensing, thereby altering inexorably the balance of power in modern day communications. It's a whole new playing field, still in its infancy, and its future is huge.

But the growing impact of blogging and the blogosphere, and their exponential growth, remain largely uncharted and undeservedly under-estimated. This new phenomena still gets scant attention (or simply mocking dismissals) from a mainstream media that thinks it all more a passing fad than an inevitability. Fact is, so little has been written about it because of its newness. But Hugh Hewitt has the journalistic credentials and firsthand insights to change all that with his new publication; and private industry, public institutions, and individuals in all walks of life, would do well to pick up this book and understand both the vitality and import of this brave new world of blogging, for it may well be a juggernaut of inestimable influence and staying power.

Hewitt calls his book a "giant flare directing your attention to the explosion of new media activity." But he's much too modest. For BLOG illuminates a remarkable and altogether new sphere for unfettered self-expression and self-creation in which this era's enlightened, newly-minted Renaissance men and women, enriched and emboldened by new sources of information, emerge empowered, leaving their imprints in countless ways on the world.

As Huxley warned us (and as Hewitt implies), freedom and truth must prevail over enervating contentment. Huxley's book was one of the seminal works of his era. If Hewitt's doesn't quite rise to that lofty acclaim, it will nonetheless be in this blogger's view the little book that could. Go out and buy it.