One might as well “blame” the decline of the conversational style of writing. Familiar essays were fundamentally, even self-consciously, conversational; it is no surprise that Swift wrote one of his best short pieces on “Hints Toward an Essay on Conversation”; that Montaigne tackled “Of the Art of Discussion”; that Addison and Steele extensively analyzed true and false wit; that Hazlitt titled his books Table Talk, Plain Speaker, and The Round Table; or that Oliver Wendell Holmes actually cast his familiar essays in the form of meal time dialogues. Why would a book like Holmes’s The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, a celebration of good talk that was so popular in its time, be so unlikely today? I cannot go along with those who say “The art of conversation has died, television killed it,” since conversation grows and changes as inevitably as language. No, what has departed is not conversation but conversation-flavored writing, which implies a speaking relationship between writer and reader. How many readers today would sit still for a direct address by the author? To be called “gentle reader” or “hypocrite lecteur,” to have one’s arm pinched while dozing off, to be called to attention, flattered, kidded like a real person instead of a privileged fly on the wall—wouldn’t most readers today find such devices archaic, intrusive, even impudent? Oh, you wouldn’t? Good, we can go back to the old style, which I much prefer.
— Phillip Lopate, “What Happened to the Personal Essay?” Against Joie de Vivre: Personal Essays
As I’ve said, one of my favorite things about blogs is the way they facilitate that same conversational familiarity. Perhaps I should phrase that in the past tense — there once was a time when the blogosphere was more like a neighborhood with community spirit. Comment sections could be left unlocked, and other bloggers and their followers could and frequently did drop in while making the rounds like daily wassailers. People made more of an effort to include other bloggers in their written conversations. Google used to have a blogsearch function which I would visit daily and use to search by topic, hoping to find some new site with an interesting voice (I even know of people who met their spouses that way). Does anyone bother keeping an updated blogroll anymore? Do people still occasionally check their site stats for the surprise of seeing who directed a burst of traffic their way? On Twitter, as I understand it, “quote-tweeting,” i.e. using someone else’s tweet as a springboard for your own, i.e. the standard conversational practice in the old blogosphere, is considered bad form, at least a nanoaggression if not an outright assault. Everyone now wants to speak and be heard, but no one wants to communicate.