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Barnett on the Tipping Point of Blogging

Dr. Tom Barnett had an excellent WPR column on the cognitive value that blogging has had for him:

The New Rules: Strategic Thinking in 10,000 Blog Posts or Less

In the last half-decade, blogs have gone from a quirky personal sideline activity to a mainstream, almost de rigeur professional activity — following the previous trajectory of Web sites and, before them, e-mail itself. To many, this democratization of the flow of information is a distinct blessing, to others it is the epitome of data deluge. As someone who has now posted blog entries every day for six years and recently passed the 10,000-unit mark (fulfilling Malcolm Gladwell’s quota for expert practice), I wanted to take stock of what this has meant to me as a writer and thinker

….Old-timer that I am at 47 years of age, I still read many of these sources via paper subscriptions, but that habit is slipping with each passing year and each new technology. In fact, what originally attracted me to online posting was the ease it offered in terms of maintaining the resulting database, compared to the hassle of physically clipping and filing MSM articles of interest, as I did during my pre-blogging days. With the blog, I can now attach my first-impression analysis to the formal citation, with both hot-linked to the full article and stored in a content management system — the blog — that I can instantly access and search from anywhere in the world.

In this sense, generating and maintaining the blog magnificently expanded my professional “RAM,” or random-access memory storage capacity. Without that upgrade, I simply couldn’t write or think at the level I do today, nor could I cover as much of the world or so many domains. Without that reach, I couldn’t be much of an expert on globalization, which in turn would seriously curtail my ambitions as a grand strategist — because nowadays, strategic thinking requires a whole lot more breadth than merely mastering the security realm. To be credible and sustainable in this complex age, grand strategy requires a stunning breadth of vision when judged by historical standards. So as far as this one-armed paperhanger is concerned — no blog, no grand strategist.

And I have to tell you, just making that admission in 2010 stuns me. But without the blog’s organizing and storage capabilities, I’d be reduced to a parody of “A Beautiful Mind”: tacking news clippings on walls and feverishly drawing lines between them, desperately seeking patterns but constantly falling behind the data tsunami. The blog thus prevents the early onset of what I call “strategic Alzheimer’s,” which is what happens when a strategist’s growing inability to process today’s vast complexity provokes a sad retreat into the past and an overdue reliance of history-is-repeating-itself arguments. But if a strategist no longer “gets it,” it’s because they’ve stopped trying to “see it.” The blogging “lens” corrects their vision’s lack of acuity.

But my blog is also my daily workspace, and I share it with strangers — for free, mind you — because I want to pass on this largely lost skill set of strategic thinking to others. I especially hope to reach the next generation of grand strategists, who would otherwise have to rely primarily on op-ed columnists’ flavor-of-the-news-cycle habits, with new “Manhattan Projects” proposed and “Marshall Plans” demanded every other month. Consider it a one-to-many offer of virtual internship.

Read the whole column here.

I really enjoyed this one because Tom was expounding on how a social media platform – this case, his blog – altered the psychological flow and conceptual reach of his professional work. It is now standard for author/thought leader types to have a blog that relates in some way to their books or speaking gigs. Some ghost it out to their PR firm or shut off the comments or have an almost static web page with little or no personal investment or thought.

IMHO those who keep the blog as an interactive medium with their readers as Tom does, tend to be more intellectually interesting and productive figures – they “grow” and play with ideas in the scrutiny of the public eye and accept the reader’s pushback along with the accolades which makes the exchanges are very stimulating – “infocrack”, as it were. Participation in well moderated, high quality forums like the Small Wars Council have a similar effect and are good places to “test drive” your new ideas – provided you have a thick skin and a healthy ego that can stand up to constructive criticism.

Personally, I wish I had more time for blogging – I learn a great deal from the readers who take the time to contact me across various Web 2.0 sites, send me links, ask questions, challenge my assertions, suggest new books or correct my errors. While the volume of feedback from ZP readers and other bloggers is sometimes more than I can manage as a one-man band, your contributions are always appreciated.

8 Responses to “Barnett on the Tipping Point of Blogging”

  1. Schmedlap Says:

    Agree with all. I actually have been creating a new personal website (password protected and not SEO optimized) where I post class notes and can filter them. For example, anyone who went to law school no doubt remembers briefing cases in order to understand how statutes are interpreted. I’ve set up my site so that when I enter the notes for the case brief, I can also annotate what statute (or treaty or other case or concept, etc) that it relates to. Kind of like Lexis-Nexis or Westlaw, except it’s free, easily accessible, and it only deals with the material covered in class. Still somewhat of a work in progress, but thus far I’ve found it to be incredibly useful. Running queries and stored procedures is much easier than scrolling through a word document, filling a textbook full of tabs, or scribbling notes in margins.
    While my classmates fumble with highlighters and post-it tabs and a textbook and supplement (and try to fit it all on their desk with their laptops), I just select "quantitative restrictions" press "OK" and – presto – all cases that deal with quantitative restrictions on trade in the EU are listed, with the holdings; or I select an article of the EU treaty, click "OK" and the treaty opens in a new window, scrolls directly to the article, and below it are the cases that address it. I’ve also found the process of entering the information in this format forces me to think about it more critically and remember it better; tagging cases with applicable statutes, treaty articles, or concepts prompts me to think more deeply about it rather than just cranking out summaries of fact patterns and decisions. Kind of like anyone who uses tags properly and thoughtfully in their blog will find that this may help them to more easily locate an old posting.

  2. Seerov Says:

    I’ve been meaning to start a blog for a while now (for many of the reasons Barnett points out).  I just don’t want to complicate my life at this time.  I generally learn a lot from this blog(Zenpundit), TDAXP, Global Guerrillas, defense tech, Chicago Boyz, but do feel I should have my own "house."  Right now I just crash on other people’s couches.  lol

  3. onparkstreet Says:

    There are many online niches and cultures, but my favorite includes blogs dedicated to the visual arts and, in particular, the art of everyday people "doing their own thing." Forget gate-keepers. Who needs ’em? The amount of talent out there is astounding. Take a look at Urban Sketchers – one of my favorites.
    – Madhu

  4. MM Says:

    Interesting, must be the "Blue Moon"–I had a similar blog myself.  And, have been struggling to get Mil contractors to accept that it’s a new day and interconnections in the cloud and the connections to it for the soldier are the future.  You don’t need new machines and platforms, you need new ways to connect to information.  Also, the ability for that information to be self assembling and "smart."  Nothing else works in a modern war in the middle of civilian infrastructure with irregular combatants.–Here is my rambling down a similar road.–http://shootyoureyeout.net/?p=785

  5. zen Says:

    Hi Madhu,
    Ha! Long,long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…I was once an….art major! And very briefly, a political cartoonist. I’ve also been to Portland which is a very nice small city.

  6. Larry Dunbar Says:

    "I’ve also been to Portland which is a very nice small city."

    Nice enough that my mother decided to give me Portland, OR to name as my POB.

  7. Dan from Madison Says:

    I originally started blogging to improve my writing and that is still one of the major reasons that I blog.  The fringe benefits have been nothing short of staggering for me.

    I have made real world friends in my online travels and that is something you can’t buy.

    You quickly mention "well moderated".  That is key.  I can’t get into an interesting discussion when every other comment is a profanity laced rant.  Also, larger blogs turn me off as well.  My online time is rather limited, so I need to get in and get out.  If a comment thread already has 234 comments by the time I get there, I generally have no interest in plowing through that thread and trying to get in the game.  ChicagoBoyz has about a perfect amount of intelligent commenters – I tend to hang around blogs like that where the crowd is fairly intelligent and the trolls are typically short lived.

  8. zen Says:

    Hi Dan,
    "ChicagoBoyz has about a perfect amount of intelligent commenters – I tend to hang around blogs like that where the crowd is fairly intelligent and the trolls are typically short lived."
    I have observed the severe beat downs of would be trolls – I still remember the 9/11 truther guy who was permitted to continue for sheer entertainment value.

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