The Orwellian Handout


In the recollection of his poverty in Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell ends with a beginning:

“I shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give him a penny, nor be surprised if men out of work lack energy, nor subscribe to the Salvation Army, nor pawn my clothes, nor refuse a handbill, nor enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant.”

The Orwellian Handout

Orwell would not be the friend of every blogger who is well-off, educated and energised enough to try to influence other web users, but every blogger would welcome his attitude of never refusing a flyer.

There are probably around 100 million blogs worldwide and, with nearly 2.5 billion people connected to the web, about 25 people for each one. On these numbers, bloggers really ask people to accept their ideas as if taking a pamphlet from a speaker on a Sunday soapbox.

Bloggers aren’t very reflective about what they do, at least not on-line. The Google search what is a blogger shows just one definition – a person who keeps and updates a blog – and a list of links to sites more interested in answering what is a blog?

This blunt search result suggests bloggers are more interested in the product than the activity, in what they pursue rather than why they write about it, and in their words existing rather than their consequences.

Is this circumstance created because bloggers self-publish on a special topic – often themselves – with complete editorial independence and do not need to connect with an audience to keep going? Are bloggers simply willing to speak and not be heard? If so, a blog is just a vanity, a piece of work done largely in isolation of the community into which it is published. It is an entertainment, not a tool for knowledge or understanding.

Or is it because there are as many different types of blogs as there are people, and it is not worth reflecting too much on what a blogger is, because each is as human as the next, and in the gamut of self-published ideas there will be a mix vanity and selflessness, entertainments and causes, insights and unimportant observations, and many other things as well, much as there is anywhere?

Orwell would welcome people writing independently of the institutions that control language and ideas while remaining connected to the organism of society. He would also much rather take a flyer from someone who writes and publishes with insight and purpose.

But if he were never to refuse a blogger’s handbill, then every blog could be written as indiscriminately as the next, and this would defeat not just the purpose of writing, but of thoughtfulness itself.

What is the point then? What is the value of a blog?

Each blogger begins by first working in isolation of the vast interconnected community they seek to influence. A blog begins with an author’s specific understanding about their environment – whether narrowly or broadly viewed; whether in words, images or sound – and matures when it is published and read alongside a hundred million others.

The more specific the observation, the greater the insight readers can have about a faraway place or attitude and its relevance to their own. The more specific the observation, the more likely it is that a true exchange of sophisticated ideas will occur. It is in such exchanges that the value of blogging lies, because it fulfills the Internet’s promise of using an interconnected web of communications to share ideas.

This blog began with photographs of my local neighbourhood at night. Brunswick is an inner suburb about 6km north of the centre of Melbourne, a city of just over 4 million people at the southeast tip of the Australian mainland. The stillness these photographs reveal is unchanging – each place is lit by streetlights that each night shine with a constant luminosity into the same parts of the streets – but the scenes themselves do not remain the same. Some will never recur – demolished by the developer’s wrecking ball.

Like anywhere Brunswick continues to change. Originally bush, it was settled in the mid-19th century and over time it has been a place of agriculture, quarrying and manufacturing. Now it is becoming a place devoted to residential development.

The scenes of Brunswick by Night speak of quiet suburbia lowly built on narrow streets. This quietness now is a point from which to understand the extent of change that is taking place due to construction. The photographs try to do this by using the stillness of the street-lit night to record scene that are part of the street.

A sine qua non of understanding change is seeing constancy amidst difference.

The web is an agent of change in the way people share information and do business, and bloggers use it to publish themselves. Yet because the web and people change, the only constant is that every blogger’s view of their environment is unique.

The worth of that constancy lies in the honesty with which they report it. Anyone who self-publishes with honesty does so with purpose and without losing themselves in the vast detail of the on-line world into which they do it, and that is worth a Sunday pamphlet any day of the week.

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