Claire Berlinski:

… my brother asked me why I didn’t just have a newsletter, like everyone else, instead of writing whole paragraphs on Twitter—which isn’t designed for paragraph-length thoughts. I didn’t really have a good answer to that, except to say that I like Twitter. Probably because play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do. He reckoned I should start a newsletter, populate it with my random thoughts, get a bunch of subscribers, then ask people to pay. He was sure this would work.

I admit to being a bit confused about why this newsletter thing has caught on. I subscribe to Micah Mattix’s, because I like that sort of books-and-art link aggregation. I also subscribe to Alan Jacobs’s, though I don’t understand why he feels the need to separate “things that give me delight” from “analysis or critique.” Why can’t a blog do both? Why can’t it be anything and everything, from pictures to brief comments to long essays? I know WordPress makes it easy to “follow” a favorite blog and get new posts sent straight to your inbox, and I’m pretty sure Blogspot does too. And if you don’t want to hear from the rabble, you can just turn the comments off. How is that any different from a newsletter? (And whatever happened to that other recent attempt to reinvent the wheel, Tweetlonger or Tweetstorm or whatever it was called?) I guess I’m just amused by the way people seem determined to overlook a perfectly flexible, convenient platform for writing online that’s been around for twenty years now.

In Anthony Kronman’s newest book, he spends a fair amount of time writing about what he calls the “conversational ideal,” which, in his view, should be the animating spirit of academia, a golden mean between the stifling, therapeutic ideal of safe-space culture and the market-oriented rough-and-tumble free-speech culture. While reading that, it struck me that the conversational ideal is what I’ve always loved about blogs. A blog is a way for isolated individuals to connect with like-minded people over shared interests, but on a much smaller, personal scale, where actual written conversations can take place. Once Facebook and Twitter took over and leveled the landscape, communication quickly flowed down to sea level, and now you might as well be trying to have a conversation in a crowded pub, a football stadium, or a metropolitan street at rush hour. (Some junkies are honest enough to admit that the cheap thrill of “statistical dopamine” is the only reason for anyone to degrade themselves like that.) A common practice on blogs back in the day, one which I still follow, was to use an excerpt from someone else’s post, or from a book, as a springboard for one’s own thoughts. This helped maintain the sense of a blog as a record of ongoing conversation. Now it seems that “quote-tweeting” someone on Twitter is widely considered creepy, if not outright harassment. Everyone wants to speak, but no one wants to listen and respond intelligently. Conversation becomes just another zero-sum battle, as Bill Watterson foresaw.

The Lady of the House, who is much more worldly in these matters than me, says that a lot of “content creators” {shudder} prefer newsletters in order to have a captive email list for future marketing purposes. Well, I suppose that was inevitable. Again, though, I prefer the busker ethos of the old blogosphere, where a blogger could put a tip jar or an Amazon wish list in the sidebar so grateful readers could contribute if and when the spirit moved them. As for me, I have nothing to sell you, but I appreciate the fact that you voluntarily show up here, even though I question your taste.