Freedom of expression is a right guaranteed by the U.S. constitution, but with traditional methods of protest and expression of opinion becoming more and more obsolete, it’s no wonder that many people find standing around with signs poking into the air a waste of time and symbolism. However, the first amendment is back in action and here to stay thanks to the newest way to raise your picket – the blog.
In basic terms, blogs are online diaries where the public can read individuals thoughts on particular subjects and make comments or share further information. While I have myself just recently discovered the true identity of this four-letter word, it has dawned on me that blogs serve a great purpose by allowing everyday people to share their views about the government, press, religion or MTV’s “Pimp my Ride.” Blogs are becoming popular because they extend the right of freedom of expression and give the ordinary person a voice in world events. Anyone from a twelve-year-old Eminem wannabe to a political analyst with a Ph.D. can have a blog. All they need is a bit of knowledge about the Internet and access to their local library.
Lately, blogs are being used as watchdogs of the press and government, with the ability to point out flaws in news stories or post feedback about every political ripple. They have been able to break news before the traditional media, oust one of America’s most prominent news anchors and have even gained access to White House press conferences. The recent introduction of bloggers has given many journalists a run for their money because as print and broadcast news consumers become fewer and fewer, blog users and Web site hits exponentially rise. However, no matter how popular they get, bloggers will ultimately play a different role in the media world because they are autonomous from editors, advertisers and the kind of rules journalists are bound to – forming a different type of product for the public to digest.
Here at GW, it is not obvious that everyone is as attached to a blog as they are to their Facebook profile or AIM away message. I think it is only a matter of time, however, before checking blogs becomes as generic as sending an e-mail. Two popular free blog sites are blogger.com and livejournal.com, where anyone can go start their own blog and also search through others’ by topic. A group of students began a blog for the GW community (www.livejournal.com/community/the_gw_files/) where current and prospective students have posted complaints, advice and questions about going to school here on Foggy Bottom. If the Student Association were to start a blog for students to post their immediate reactions to a professor’s final exam, give a thumbs up or down to the medical amnesty initiative or complain about poor service in J Street, they could be really effective in gauging the pulse of the student population without the use of generic online surveys. Already, GW student leaders are using the idea of an Internet marketplace to create a site similar to Craigslist.org, which will make it easier for students to swap textbooks, furniture, post jobs and look for roommates all within the GW community.
Clearly, we are a generation of the Internet and it has changed the way we socialize, the way we get to know each other and the amount of time we spend with real people versus small electronic boxes. The psychological effects of this upbringing cannot be completely understood now, but if blogs allow people to keep developing original thoughts and feel an affinity with others, then the world can’t help but move forward.
Back in January, after the inaugural parade, I was in a cab driving down Independence Avenue when my driver started laughing and pointed out the window at the overbearing, black steel barricades used for crowd and protestor control during the president’s parade. He said to me, “You know, I haven’t seen barricades like that since I left Africa.” At that moment it became frighteningly obvious that in the land of the free and the brave, our ability to physically show our opinion is now looked upon as a breach of security. However, with the use of the Internet, perhaps we can still hold onto our ideals, share our opinions and maintain our impact as citizens of the most idealistic nation in the world without steel bars stifling the ideas we have to share.
-The writer, a sophomore majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet columnist.
This article appeared in the May 5, 2005 issue of the Hatchet.