* But for which Neal Pollack would be told to go pound salt.
On Friday, April 16, 2004, I traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend the BloggerCon lectures at Harvard Law School. I was in attendance because of my interest in Jay Rosen’s piece on weblogs and journalism, and also because of my interest in seeing some sort of social commentary develop regarding weblogs. Normally, after attending a program like BloggerCon, I would have based an essay of this sort on the notes I took during the seminars. Unfortunately, the only note I made at BloggerCon was the hastily-scribbled “That is the weirdest receding hairline I have ever seen.”
The Part of The Post In Which I Comment On BloggerCon In a Manner That Indicates That I Think This Joke Could Work.
I left for BloggerCon at 7:45 PM on Friday. I had intended to leave at 5:00 PM, but I had forgotten to pack on Thursday night, and then I was forced to stay at work later than I intended and then I got home and my next door neighbor was talking to my mother and Flounder (home from college on “sabbatical,” which is a thinly-veiled euphemism for “I have a sibling who likes cheap lager more than attending classes”). My next door neighbor is a materials engineer for Lucent Technologies, which means that he does things that I don’t understand and has no compunction about saying things to or about people that have extremely negative ramifications after drinking a few vodka and club sodas. On one occasion, he told me that he thought my mother looked like Sigourney Weaver and was probably “a real piece.” I told him that I thought I might have to put his fucking head through a fucking tree if he said something like that again. He and I don’t talk much.
My neighbor and his wife were telling my mother and Flounder about vacationing on Nantucket. In particular, he was describing the assless chaps worn by a denizen of Provincetown. “Yeah,” my neighbor said, “they were pretty nice.” I asked my neighbor whether the tree he had planted in his front yard was hard wood or soft wood. He became very quiet, so I went inside. I went up to my office and began to pack for a while but then got distracted by an HBO film about Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. After that, I stopped and had a glass of coke.
I didn’t make it to my hotel – the “Hotel @ MIT” (and, yes, they did put the ampersand on the marquee and had an extraordinary amount of internet… stuff… in the hotel room and/or lobby. I think. I don’t really recall getting to flex my internet muscles on the lobby computers because the hotel has an annoyingly puritanical “no donkey porn” policy with regard to public computers) - until 12:45 AM on Saturday. I dropped my bags off in the room and went back down to the Asgard, which was an Irish pub. Why an Irish pub would be named after the Norse Vale of Warriors was somewhat beyond me, and why a place named Asgard would fail to serve mead seems like false advertising to me, but I was able to order three gin-and-tonics in rapid succession without having to talk to people more than twice (and for only twenty seconds on the first occasion), which was a good thing.
I awoke at 7:30 AM the next morning (Saturday), and discovered that, while drunk, I had ordered room service. I ate the hotel’s “Buttermilk BBS” pancakes and what probably should have been called “Carotid Artery Denial of Service Attack” greasy bacon. I took a long shower, during which I fell asleep again, and then shaved and got dressed. I discovered that I had forgotten to pack deodorant. I panicked, realizing that I had the potential to smell particularly bad during a very long day of lectures, and began spitting out curses that oozed with self-loathing. I grabbed my messenger/camera bag and a moleskine notebook and headed down to the street.
I made it to the BloggerCon at 09:30 AM, having stopped to purchase deodorant. I wandered around Harvard Yard for a while, trying to figure out where the law school was, until a very tall woman with masculine features directed me past the science building and to Pound Hall, the site of the convention. Once inside Pound Hall, I slipped into the men’s room and unbuttoned my shirt so that I could put on the deodorant. A man walked in and paused, staring at me as I was in mid-pit-swipe. After a beat he told me that vagrants weren’t allowed to use the Harvard bathrooms and that there was a shelter nearby. I thanked him, finished up with the deodorant, buttoned up, and made my way to the convention registration table.
There were two registration tables, I discovered. One for the BloggerCon lectures and another for a symposium on “Modern Islamic Feminist Law in Indonesia.” One of the women that was helping people register and pick up their nametags asked me which lecture I was going to and I gave her a raised eyebrow “which one do you think?” look. I signed in and picked up my nametag, emblazoned with “TPB, Esq.,” and slipped it in my pocket. I hated wearing nametags.
Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at NYU, led the discussion of whether weblogs were journalism, which seemed focused primarily on why people did not want to get sued for libel based on what they have written on their weblogs. I zoned out at this section and looked at the audience. There was an extraordinary number of people with laptops in the hot, brown-on-gray room, the majority of which were Apple “iBooks.” I had a brief twinge of envy, as though I was the only driver with a cheap domestic car on a highway full of overpriced British roadsters.
Rosen talked about whether weblogs could really be journalism, and, for the most part, I felt uncompelled with his arguments that they could not be so, that they lacked the objectivity and fact-gathering qualities that “real” journalists gave news. I knew “real” journalists. Their version of fact-gathering involved writing down whatever someone told them were the facts. I was about to comment on this, but the discussion turned into a Donahue-style comment period about everyone’s feelings about blogs. I slinked out of the session and peered into one of the other rooms, this one labeled a discussion of “Visions From Bloggers.” I couldn’t catch what the lecturer was saying, but I did note that Scheherazade Fowler was sitting in the back row. Actually, I noted that someone with a nametag that said “Scheherazade Fowler” was sitting in the back row. It could have been someone other than the actual Scheherazade Fowler, but I wasn’t interested in getting ontological. I poked her in the shoulder and waved “hello.”
Fowler sneaked out of the back of the lecture room with me and we exchanged greetings. She gave me a small gift: a toy hand grenade and survival knife. “You seem like you’d use them on someone.”
“Using the knife on me seems like a good idea right about now,” I said.
I told Fowler that I would talk to her after the lectures broke. Well, after they finished. They were already broken. I went back into Rosen’s discussion of journalism. Rosen might have been talking about how blogging and journalism were structurally and temporally different. It sounded like a bad plot to a Star Trek episode, so I zoned out and thought about what it would be like to have a law school class in a room that couldn’t seat more than 100 people.
After the first session ended, I wandered out into the hallway. My natural tendency at more formal conferences – say the ATLA or NJSBA conferences that I attend – is to avoid contact with all other attendees during breaks and find a quiet spot to read or check my phone messages. This conference seemed geared more toward meeting and greeting people, so I talked with David Cox of The National Debate. Cox had been sued by The New York Times for a parody of its Op-Ed page. We discussed how to respond to DMCA threats and ISP liability for a little while until I was distracted by the prospect that my underarm deodorant didn’t take, so I slipped back into a bathroom to check. Then I decided I wanted a cigarette, so I went outside.
I made it back in for most of the discussion of “Blogging In Business.” I stood in a corner and listened as various individuals, most of whom seemed more involved with news aggregators than blogs, discussed how blogs could be used by businesses to spread information. J. Craig Williams, of May It Please The Court, brought up the point that most legal businesses are regulated in how they can talk to the public (the policy of my firm, for example, is that it doesn’t talk to the public. Or if it does, it denies doing so and then shuffles out of the room as though it let out a silent but deadly fart). This point was largely glossed over as irrelevant, and I went back into my zone. I looked around at the people in the discussion. The population of the seminar was largely male, of the middle-aged variety. The discussion moved on to how large businesses could use blogs to improve productivity and I realized that it had, as a whole, absolutely no interest for me. I had hoped that BloggerCon would be more of a discussion of the social, political, and artistic qualities of the medium. Instead, it was a marketing meeting. I wondered if that meant that I could declare it as a business expense on my taxes.
The “Blogging In Business” lecture ended, and I met up with Fowler. She introduced me to a few other bloggers, including Jeremy Blachman and a young woman whose name I cannot recall. We discussed how the medium was interesting. I mentioned that it reminded me of the Diary of Samuel Pepys. I made the mistake of pronouncing his name “Pep-Ease,” even though I knew his name was pronounced otherwise, and the young woman smiled.
“It’s ‘Peeps,’ actually.”
I frowned. "Oh yeah. I knew that. I don’t know why I didn’t say that right.” I shook my head and slipped into a mud bath of self-loathing for a few minutes. I considered skipping the rest of the conference and heading for the bar. I then realized, unlike legal conferences, there was no bar.
I considered going home.
The Part Of The Post Wherein I Recognize That I Am Not Funny And That This Concept Is Failing Miserably.
This sucks. You’re not enjoying this at all, are you? Neither am I. I hate myself.
The Part Of The Post That Was Written After A Few Minutes of Grousing, A Cigarette Break, and A Debate Over Whether To Delete This Post That Was Resolved With A Decision To Briefly Discuss The Remainder Of The Conference With Bullet Points.
- Blachman, Fowler, Williams, and I left the conference for lunch. We stopped at a small sandwich shop in Cambridge, and then ate at a nearby park. Williams and I, being trial attorneys, talked shop for a few minutes about tactics and judges. He seemed like a nice guy. We joined Fowler and Blachman in discussing why we didn’t like the business focus of the blogging discussion.
- After lunch, we decided to skip the session on “Shirky’s Power Law,” which basically seemed to state that, as bloggers gain popularity, readers will gravitate to their blogs in greater numbers and ignore the multitude of other blogs. Blachman and Fowler went off to walk around Harvard. I went down to Harvard Square and picked up some lenses and filters at Hunt’s Camera Equipment. I wandered around the square, watching a juggler repeatedly drop the miniature scimitars he was attempting to hurl into the air. Nearby, another man played blues guitar. It struck me that I found this much more amusing in college.
- I returned at 3:00 PM, after getting lost on Harvard’s grounds for half an hour, and decided to attend the surprise session on “The Emotional Life of Blogs,” as entitled by John Perry Barlow. Barlow seemed famous, or, at the very least, he did stuff with the Grateful Dead. The alternative was a seminar on religion or a seminar on “Blogging as a Business” (which I couldn’t really distinguish from “Blogging in Business,” and thought that, at the very least, one would lead to the other).
- Barlow talked about the fact that he had blogged on the death of Spalding Gray, something that I had repeatedly discussed. It was interesting to see how many people had been struck by the suicide of the monologue artist. I thought that it may have something to do with the fact that, as a whole, those who blog on a personal or literary basis, really do so with the same intent that Gray had when he went on stage to do Monster In A Box. Barlow made the point with much more clarity.
- We discussed how blogging had a therapeutic quality. Barlow brought up how blogs have been used to help those with brain injuries engage the world. I felt that I finally understood the genesis of Unbillable Hours. I brought up the point that some had used blogging as a form of expressing their Munchausen’s Syndrome, such as the “Zander” con.
- Barlow discussed the communal quality of weblogs. I thought about how that was a paradox: the essence of community, to me, was how we learned to live with people whom we would never choose as neighbors, family, and colleagues. With weblogs, it seemed like we seek out those who are similar or complimentary and shun those who are different or contrary. I thought about the fact that I was sitting behind Joey deVilla of The Accordian Guy in the 21st Century, a popular Canadian weblog. We had emailed each other a few times over the years regarding various posts, and I introduced myself to him. He gave me a shrugged hello, and I felt bad. Then I realized that there was a distinct twinge of body odor in the air. I wondered if it was me, but I checked my pits and I didn’t smell bad. I thought it might be the guy behind me. Then I wondered if the hello was terse because I had been caught previously checking my pits. Perhaps he had seen my “hobo in a bathroom” routine. Realizing that I was entering a narcissistic feedback loop, I shrugged and started reviewing a property settlement agreement that I had brought from work. Every community, I thought, needed a misanthrope.
- After the seminar, I went with Fowler and Blachman to a local bistro. We chatted and joked, quite pleasantly. Both seemed like incredibly warm, funny people, despite being involved in the law. I had a few gins and became remarkably self-conscious of the fact that I had a few gins. I got over it, though, and only had to use the plastic knife once. On a waiter. He had offensive body odor.