The people campaigning against (or desultorily complaining about) internet comments sections should be pleased with Vox, a project of self-described “digital natives,” most of whom gained their fame blogging during the last decade.
Since we are referring to an internet project, all details are subject to change, but, as of this writing, Vox does not include reader commenting features (with the very minor exception of a few posts on its development blog). Nor does it take blog-style “pingbacks” or “trackbacks.” For anyone contemplating engagement with Vox or its content, Vox’s individual editor and author pages do sometimes include email links, but a search for a Vox editorial contact address eventually leads via Vox Media to a link that returns the user to the front page: a closed circle. In another typical absurdity, a dropdown menu invites us to “sign up,” but at no point before, during, or after provides any indication of the purpose of doing so, whether for Vox or the user or anyone else. Nor does Vox feature a masthead, and, if Vox has an ombudsperson, he or she is not identified. The site does not even provide some new-fangled version of old media “letters to the editor”: To send a message to Vox’s editors, a reader will apparently have to storm Editor-in-Chief Ezra Klein’s ca. 600k-follower Twitter feed hoping to be noticed, or, possibly a better idea, look for another address, electronic or physical, somewhere else. No doubt if a very important person somewhere says something very important about Vox, Vox will find out, and possibly explain what it means in Vox’s non-opinionated opinion, but, in sum, as a matter of self-presentation and self-constitution, or, one might say, organically, Vox has no ears to hear its populum, which, as far as Vox is concerned, has nothing to say of interest, at least to Vox or via Vox.
Not too long ago, a project like Vox would have put some kind of forum for exchange of ideas, along with other tools for user engagement on site, at the center of its mission: The void Vox offers instead marks it as truly up-to-the-moment. To the problem of community management on the internet, Vox offers the anti-solution of annihilating community pre-emptively. The site provides slickly formatted information or what its founders call “explanation,” not communication; device-responsivity, but neither authentic responsiveness nor its dependent, responsibility. Vox embodies, in sum, a social-interactive dissolution of society and negation of interaction, media unmediated – the internet version of a gated community, or maybe of one of those floating islands for super-wealthy libertarians.1
At the opposite end from Vox and other new platforms stands Twitter, where the instruction or demand “Don’t read the comments!” is usually repeated by writers who seem to enjoy reminding their followerships and themselves of their beloved position above their audience. Since “Don’t read the comments!” is itself implicitly a comment, and since Twitter is itself nothing more or less than a free-floating comments section, a vast “open thread,” the individual who tweets “Don’t read the comments!” is in effect asking not to be read, and any consequential implementation of “Don’t read the comments!” would require general abandonment of the platform.2
Twitter is still sometimes referred to as “micro-blogging,” and, along with other new social media, it has efficiently taken over many functions previously served by blogs, before them by discussion forums and chat rooms, before them by newsgroups, and so on backwards to the era when the internet was immanent in print, speech, hand-written letters, and presence face to face rather than in an electronic switching system. A general movement from blogging to new social media may also have proceeded from the discovery by bloggers of their own often economically conditioned inability to sustain a public platform responsibly and rewardingly, or to keep up with technological evolution in a changing virtual landscape. That many popular or once-popular sites even by Fall 2014 have not been adapted for smartphones and tablets, and give a not merely amateurish but careless impression on these very widely used devices, is indicative. Yet Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms may have hurt blogging in other less obvious, but possibly more damaging ways: Many formerly habitual bloggers and blog-commenters find it easier to tweet than to post, in other words than to risk coherent criticism of a carefully formed thought, perhaps while wrongly assuming that all or even many if any of their followers are paying attention (and are ready at any moment to touch-tap a sentence fragment to retweeted and favstarred glory).
A bit of reflection will reveal that a tweet on a difficult and complex topic is as pointless as it is facile, since it is tweeted in the certain knowledge that it can neither be attacked nor defended consequentially: A position that can neither be attacked nor defended consequentially is inconsequential, a pseudo-position, a position that might as well never have been articulated, for all intents and purposes never really taken. That this conclusion may apply to every thought thought today in the great networked hollow of hollows is an hypothesis invisible to Twitter and to Vox.
- The Voxists implicitly view the entirety of the internet as their comments section, but language or any information without specific context of engagement or meaning for particular people is noise. In communication, the set of all things and the empty set are the same set. Vox, which searches for the disappearance of interest in favor of an imaginary pure emergence of fact, is not boring by accident, or merely because nothing is less interesting than 10 facts that should be interesting or a virtual stack of informative “cards”: Its central and defining mission is boredom. In place of a vast proliferation of partial truths, Vox seeks to substitute a singular falsehood, the opinion of no opinion, direct contact with the thing in itself, non-subjective objectivity, but to be “interesting” is to initiate the inter(-)action of self and others in relation to an object – which interaction always involves intention or preference, and entails the risk of disagreement, conflict, frustration, and even destruction, or of tragedy rather than accounting errors. Boredom, or the felt lack of interest, is also this blog’s mission, also the anismist anti-mission, or everyone’s mission, though some may call it satisfaction or peace. The difference between it as an achievement and as a presumption is the difference between ecstasy and the Hell worse even than other people. [↩]
- As we have observed before, all posts – as by further reasonable extension all articles, essays, treatises, books, Facebook updates, multimedia Snapchat ephemera, and retweeted links to images of the more photogenic galaxies – are commentary by other means. [↩]