Oh I feel old

by John Holbo on August 30, 2018

But I was charming and non-arbitrary in my lovely youth. Buy me a drink, will you, lad?

Gone are the happy days when we dialed up to submit a comment to Salon.com, only to be abused by Glenn Greenwald or destroyed — respectfully — by the academics at Crooked Timber. Back then, we could not have imagined feeling nostalgic for the blogosphere, a term we mocked for years until we found it charming and utopian. Blogs felt like gatherings of the like-minded, or at least the not completely random. Even those who stridently disagreed shared some basic premises and context — why else would they be spending time in the comments section of a blog that looked like 1996? Today’s internet, by contrast, is arbitrary and charmless.




Zamfir 08.30.18 at 9:44 am

That has a lot of words in it, as perfect example of why we have twitter


oldster 08.30.18 at 11:27 am

And to think I knew you then, back when.


Bill Benzon 08.30.18 at 12:45 pm

“Those were the days”, in the original Russian in honor of our new overlords:


SamChevre 08.30.18 at 12:56 pm

I realized the other day that one of the bloggers I read regularly has a child looking at colleges who was a toddler when I started reading his blog.

For me personally, my oldest is 11, and I was commenting here before he was born.


Russell Arben Fox 08.30.18 at 1:53 pm

John, you haven’t changed a bit.


AcademicLurker 08.30.18 at 2:10 pm

Indeed. I still miss The Valve.


William Timberman 08.30.18 at 2:14 pm

Solipsism is probably better for an old geezer’s health than tweeting. Think of yourself as one of those ancient monks copying illuminated manuscripts by candlelight, safe as long as the vandals are given to looking elsewhere for their loot. It’s an honorable pastime, writing, even as a neo-oral culture arising out of 144 or 288 character attack vectors threatens to overwhelm us.

That said, we probably should forego prematurely dissing what we manifestly don’t understand. Maybe one day the young’uns fever for the now will produce something as substantial and marvelous as Irish conversation, or Beowulf, or the koan. Literacy, after all, has its faults. As the sheen of written language allows us so often to pretend to an erudition we haven’t earned, I’m far from certain that we should waste a lot of time bemoaning the fact that many of its practitioners will soon find themselves out of work.


LFC 08.30.18 at 2:43 pm

I think the quoted passage is peculiar to say the least. Maybe there is a “new reading environment,” but it doesn’t seem to have affected the parts of the blogosphere I look at. Don’t think I’m going to bother reading the piece from which the passage is taken.


pnee 08.30.18 at 4:09 pm

“Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.”


nastywoman 08.30.18 at 4:14 pm

”Buy me a drink, will you, lad”?

MeToo – as who wants to be reminded at a time where we still trusted bloggers like Glenn Greenwald?

Nowadays everybody on the Intertubes is ”our enemy” -(just joking) – and especially writers who complain about the NYTimes or that ”The system will not be satisfied until it has made op-ed writers of us all”.
I always complain about the NYT too – because all I want -(and have wanted) – that they once – just once headline an article about FF von Clownstick with what Robert DeNiro said…


Trevor 08.30.18 at 5:16 pm

I recently linked some Young Millenial co-workers to the this post coining the Two-Step of Terrific Triviality, describing CT as “a blog from the First Age.”


john c. halasz 08.30.18 at 5:58 pm

Bill Benson @ 3:

Thanks. The song makes much more sense Russian style. Much less like just sentimental tripe.


Neville Morley 08.30.18 at 6:06 pm

Tangential, but it’s interesting to read the article’s lament for the destruction of authorial control at the same time as James VI’s Basilikon Doron, the preface to which is entirely a response to people misquoting, misinterpreting and taking out of context what he’d written: no, I wasn’t repudiating Protestantism; no, I wasn’t dissing England; no, I wouldn’t dream of disrespecting Queen Elizabeth…


eg 08.30.18 at 7:36 pm

Reading that article it occurs to me that much of what passes for “dialogue” in many online venues is little more than the reciprocal denunciations characteristic of competing religious sects.



Heliopause 08.30.18 at 9:32 pm

Usenet from the 90s to the mid-aughts was the peak, it’s been downhill since then.


Glen Tomkins 08.31.18 at 12:30 am

The last line of the quoted article:

“The system will not be satisfied until it has made op-ed writers of us all.”

Yeah, it’s done that to me already, but I won’t be satisfied until the system starts paying me like I was some Times op-ed writer.


Dave 08.31.18 at 12:55 am


I don’t miss the Valve even a little.


Joseph Brenner 08.31.18 at 12:56 am

I ignored blogs for a long time because I didn’t see much advantage over usenet, and myself I knew how to write html (and for that matter, I could write code to autogenerate it myself, and did…).

There was an irritating tick back then for the “blogosphere” to act like they’d invented everything and they had invented computers. One thing about the present day era when more than half of the people have signed up for facebook, whatever happens next, the people involved aren’t going to think nothing like it has been done before…


floopmeister 08.31.18 at 1:10 am

That has a lot of words in it, as perfect example of why we have twitter

I like Bill Maher’s comment:

“Facebook isn’t reading… it’s what has replaced reading”


Josh 08.31.18 at 1:58 am

“Unlike the great controversialists — Hitchens, Cockburn, Paglia — her prose is outrageous only in its dreariness.” I do not trust this nostalgia . . .


arcseconds 08.31.18 at 3:13 am

“made op-ed writers of us all”

I take it that this means something like ‘write poorly-sourced opinion pieces dressing up the author’s biases as the only reasonable position’, but surely that is already true or approximately true of practically everyone who has posted online anything longer than a tweet about politics, or any one of a number of other contentious topics?

There certainly was no shortage of this back in the golden age of the blogosphere, either.

And as there have ‘always’ been politically opinionated people (the legendary uncle who won’t shut up at family gatherings) I wonder whether this is really a new phenomenon at all.

Also, isn’t this itself an op-ed piece? Perhaps my irony-detector is broken…


dr ngo 08.31.18 at 3:26 am

“Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.”

But then it never was.


John Holbo 08.31.18 at 7:26 am

“I don’t miss the Valve even a little.”

That is SO the internet of you!


Matt 08.31.18 at 11:53 am

I never could really get into The Valve, though I’ll admit I only gave it a handful of tries. Still, do come to Melbourne and I’ll buy you a drink!


Ray Vinmad 08.31.18 at 12:10 pm

I remember. I often yearn for the blogosphere of 1999. I blame Facebook for killing the blogosphere. We did it to ourselves, is the terrible part.

I thought our blogs would float forever like ghost ships in the Arctic but it appears blogger sank them beneath the sea.

UnFogged. I get nostalgic for that blog, and many others. Who were those people? I still love them in the nostalgic way you love people you didn’t ever know.

Oh, how we used to love each other.

There’s still Digby! There’s still you! I hope against hope there will always be Mimi Smartypants. But it’ll never be the same.


Maria 08.31.18 at 1:17 pm

I keep trying to click ‘like’ on the one-line comments.


engels 08.31.18 at 2:18 pm

Thing about the blogosphere and commentariat was how white, male and middle-aged it was, and how it had no real radical left. Social media is much better in those ways though doubtless worse in others. Continuity between the two lies in the ever-present entrepreneurialism, cronyism and narcissism, the carelessness of the writing and the aridity of 90% of the arguments.


John Holbo 08.31.18 at 2:49 pm

“I keep trying to click ‘like’ on the one-line comments.”



Ogden Wernstrom 08.31.18 at 3:04 pm

The flamewars on usenet should have been a warning about where we (as a society) were headed…once AOL started snail-mail-spamming floppy discs.

This is sad. Even reminiscing isn’t what it used to be.


anonymousse 08.31.18 at 3:39 pm

“As late as the 1990s, despite the lurid fan pages and dank chat rooms of the early internet, there was presumed to be a gulf between these two constituencies. Even with Fox News ascendant and internet news ever more dominant, …

mass media institutions remained monolithic enough to manufacture consent. ”

THIS is the most important statement of the article, and nobody even notices it.



nastywoman 08.31.18 at 4:53 pm

– and it’s only because Greenwald and CT missed the chance to to change into a –

”Fashion blog”

”Fashion blogs are Nr1.
2. Food blogs –
3. Travel blogs –
4. Beauty blogs –
5. Music blogs –

”Political blogs” are way down – around Nr.23 – close to Baby blogs and even way behind ”Moms blogs” – that’s why I always try to include some… Fashion and Travel Statements in my comments…


nnyhav 08.31.18 at 4:56 pm

another commentstream of the old upon the new:
Wil Wheaton’s done.


nnyhav 08.31.18 at 4:59 pm

another commentstream of the old upon the new:
Wil Wheaton’s done.


AcademicLurker 08.31.18 at 8:25 pm

Thing about the blogosphere and commentariat was how white, male and middle-aged it was

Doesn’t that rather depend on which blogs one was reading?


nastywoman 09.01.18 at 4:28 am

– and about that Will Wheaton’s done – and –
”Maybe just not fitting into whatever the social media world is. I mean, the people who are all over the various Mastodon instances made it really clear that I wasn’t welcome there (with a handful of notable, joyful, exceptions, mostly related to my first baby steps into piecofcaking), and it seems as if I was just unwelcome because … I’m me? I guess? Like, I know that I’m not a transphobe, but holy shit that lie just won’t die, and right now as I am writing this, someone at Mastodon is telling me that I am, because people said so, and I should apologize to them. I mean, how am I supposed to respond to that, when it happens over and over and over again? ‘You’ve been lied to about me. Please give me a chance’ just doesn’t seem like a viable way forward with people who are, for whatever reason, very, very angry.” – and I never tweeted and I never was on any f…books or whatever – me just trolling economix – Glenn – Paul – the NYT – Mr. Baker and CT…


Alan White 09.01.18 at 4:40 am

The movie Network is supposedly assessed now as clairvoyant about telling people to use their windows (hah–Windows) to yell about how they were mad as hell and couldn’t take it anymore.

Chayefsky couldn’t have known that his satire of such limited broadcast telly could be translated into then inconceivable multi-media internet blueprints that might take down the very country his work was (I hope) meant to self-criticize and save. Limbaugh was one initial catalyst ironically on old-school radio–which then Fox duplicated Network-style on the telly–which then the internet permutated via social media fixation based on the very sorts of collectively destructive economics that Network attempted to deride.

I’m mad as hell. I’m shouting though Windows. And my anger will be inevitably be turned to profit those whom I’m most angry about, by taking my anger and transmuting it into clickable info that is harmless for affecting real change, but profits themselves by merely repetitively and exhibiting it in endless exposure to encourage even more profitable reactively countered–but more importantly clickable–info.

The problem is that these multi-media interests in profits-above-all have unpredictable effects on other large social institutions like democracies. Until, of course, they affect their bottom lines. Then they get engaged only to save themselves.


bad Jim 09.01.18 at 5:23 am

Obligatory xkcd comic


engels 09.01.18 at 11:14 am

Doesn’t that rather depend on which blogs one was reading?

True, but I was thinking of the Golden Age of Blogging when there seemed to be quite a small number of widely read blogs that linked to each other


nastywoman 09.02.18 at 6:26 am

”I was thinking of the Golden Age of Blogging”

You mean… ahem…
Now?! – or as the ”101 Blogging Statistics for 2018” say:

”Your next content marketing ‘home run’ needs to be..well, literally a home run.
And you can’t do that without some factual data to back up those claims and convince people that what you’re saying matters, and that you know what the heck you’re talking about.
Throw in some of these latest blogging statistics from 2018 to make your next piece a grand slam.


nastywoman 09.02.18 at 6:58 am

”I’m mad as hell”.

As it seems to be – that a lot of blogs – and a lot of ”Engels” have turned into permanent shouters of: I’m as mad as hell and of the – one of the ”headmaster” of the temple of doom-(salon) nowadays writes:
”It illustrates the chaos and extremism that can ensue when a large sector of the population, for valid reasons, loses all faith in institutions of authority and in the political class”.
It might be worth mentioning – that losing ”all faith in institutions of authority” -(blogs included?) is NOT a good enough excuse to turn – to (into?) babbling babies.

When ”good” people ”loses all faith in institutions of authority and in the political class” – they really try to improve ”the situation” – and don’t come up with the absolute worst possible alternative.


engels 09.02.18 at 10:36 pm

It might be worth mentioning – that losing ”all faith in institutions of authority” -(blogs included?) is NOT a good enough excuse to turn – to (into?) babbling babies.

True dat


maidhc 09.03.18 at 7:16 am

It shows how far we’ve come from the days of Chayefsky, that now I turn on my TV set and I get … nothing. I live in a city of 10 million people and there’s no English-language TV. I can watch TV in Korean, Chinese or Spanish, but not English. It’s like the days of television that started back when I was a child have passed by, gone their way and come to an end. Like the end of PanAm.

I remember the Golden Age of Blogging. I don’t remember it as being “white, male and middle-aged”. Well OK, maybe the big-name blogs. I rarely read them as they were so predictable. But it wasn’t hard to find interesting blogs by women and younger people. However the underrepresentation of people of color was definitely true. There were a few non-white voices out there, but definitely in the minority.

It’s hard now to imagine how one could resurrect those few, those happy blogs for these dour despondent days.


john theibault 09.03.18 at 4:43 pm

I admit my blog nostalgia was briefly awakened when I saw “The Editors” at the top of the piece. But, Sadly, No!


CDT 09.03.18 at 5:07 pm

I miss Fafblog.


oldster 09.04.18 at 12:49 am

Funny you should mention Fafblog, because I, too, think fondly back on the days when Fafblog was the world’s only source of Fafblog.

But then something strange happened to curdle their outlook. I never paid close enough attention to understand it clearly, but it seemed to be a reaction to Obama’s election. They started getting extremely sour and unfunny.

It looked like perhaps an outbreak of purity-pony disease? I.e., because Obama was not able to fix everything instantly and avoid all compromise with the forces of evil, that meant he was no better than Bush?

I don’t know. But I do think there was a larger pattern there, that many bloggers were at their best when in the opposition during the Bush years. And perhaps blogs themselves are best understood as an expression of that period of opposition.


engels 09.04.18 at 10:00 am

because Obama was not able to fix everything instantly and avoid all compromise with the forces of evil, that meant he was no better than Bush?

Or maybe because he carried on Bush’s agenda of endless imperialist war, ramped up extra-judicial murders and put in place a machine for mass deportations that paved the way for fascism?



AcademicLurker 09.04.18 at 4:49 pm

But then something strange happened to curdle their outlook. I never paid close enough attention to understand it clearly, but it seemed to be a reaction to Obama’s election. They started getting extremely sour and unfunny.

That’s interesting. I also have tended to date the “souring” of the blogosphere to sometime in 2008. I always blamed the increasing prominence of social media, but you have a point about the end of the Bush years being a factor.

I don’t know about blaming Obama for not fixing everything, but there had definitely been a belief that things would somehow return to “normal” once we finally got Bush II out of office, and it was a bitter awakening to learn that that wasn’t going to happen.

Also, while it’s easy to forget because 2016 put it in the shade, the 2008 Dem. primary drove a number of bloggers crazy and some never recovered.


SC 09.05.18 at 5:57 am

Fafblog! Thanks, CDT at 44 and oldster at 45! I just lost a large chunk of my evening to Giblets, Fafnir, and the Medium Lobster! All better than I remembered.

“Something strange happened to curdle their outlook . . . ” Reading over the last year or two of Fafblog posts, I did worry that Fafblog’s narrative arc might have landed, a dozen years later, at Qanon. Sigh. Yes, curdled.


nnyhav 09.05.18 at 2:39 pm

Cosma Shalizi reflects on sciblogging

one of the many voces clamantes in deserto I’ve been missing


Orange Watch 09.05.18 at 6:54 pm

Re: Fafblog “curdling” (let alone going off the deep end Qanon-style), I really didn’t see it. It seemed more like, as AcademicLurker said, there was a strong assumption that we were supposed to “go back to normal” when Obama was elected – and indeed, a fair number of people were not just hoping for “normal”, but change, which made Obama essentially telling the movement that had gathered around him during the campaign “Okay, go sit down now; your work is done, I’ll take it from here” more than a little disillusioning. But part of the “normal” that we were supposed to aspire to was ceasing to care about a fair number of troubling American foreign policy issues that had been rallying cries during the Bush years. Even if little had changed, we were supposed to bite our tongues because otherwise we’d be “giving ammunition to the enemy” by criticizing “our team”. Fafblog did not accept that, and stayed angry about what they’d been angry about before (because they were always angry, even if they layered it under wit and sarcasm), with the events (and “serious” Americans’ ambivalence WRT) Israeli actions in the Occupied Territories being a recurrent theme. Fafblog’s brief, straight-faced run on Twitter after they stopped blogging made that very clear, though I imagine a lot of old-school Fafblog readers missed that period entirely.

The biggest change I felt pre- and post-2008 was a lot of activists awakening to the fact that many of the voices that had cried angrily at their sides for 8 years had bought into the growing strict tribalist paradigm (and/or aged out of their “activist phase”), and were very eager to get on with their lives rather than remaining engaged.


oldster 09.05.18 at 9:17 pm

“Giblets, Fafnir, and the Medium Lobster! All better than I remembered.”

When they were good, they were very, very good. Sweet memories.

Also, let’s hear it for The Editors at the Poor Man blog. Another stand-out of that era.


oldster 09.05.18 at 9:19 pm

Cosma saith:

“There are, in my humble opinion, vanishingly few (though not quite zero) blogs whose comments are worth reading or participating in. I will not name them here, because I don’t want them spoiled.”

He meant us, I can tell. He just wanted to spare our blushes.


Orange Watch 09.06.18 at 12:15 pm


Whilst I did love me some Poor Man Institute for Freedom, Democracy, and a Pony, to me The Editors always felt like the best example of “okay, I’m done with this, back to normal”. It didn’t help that they started their political blogging as a bit naive-hawkish-and-left-skeptical before getting swept up into the left-blogosphere and their iconic form. But they got married, had a kid, and IIRC had a corporate IT job… with cliche results.


engels 09.06.18 at 3:24 pm

they started their political blogging as a bit naive-hawkish-and-left-skeptical

As per my comment above, this constituency seemed to me to be hugely over-represented


oldster 09.06.18 at 6:01 pm

Orange Watch–

Interesting. I did not know that back-story, and I suppose I did not follow the blog long enough to see that denouement.

Nostalgia is generally a matter of remembering the high-lights.

There was also simply so much horrible at the time. Now like nowadays.

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