George Will

Time magazine asked a large number of people to name the Person of the Year. They were in a populist mood and named the largest possible number of Persons of the Year: Everybody.

Of course. The most capacious modern entitlement is not to Social Security but to self-esteem. So Time's cover features a mirror-like panel. The reader -- but why bother to read the magazine when merely gazing at its cover gives immediate and intense gratification? -- can gaze at the reflection of his or her favorite person. Narcissism is news? Evidently.

To the person looking at his reflection, Time's cover announces, congratulations: "You control the Information Age." By "control" Time means only that everyone is created equal -- equally entitled to create content for the World Wide Web, which is controlled by neither law nor taste.

Richard Stengel, Time's managing editor, says, "Thomas Paine was in effect the first blogger" and "Ben Franklin was essentially loading his persona into the MySpace of the 18th century, 'Poor Richard's Almanack.'" Not exactly.

Franklin's extraordinary persona informed what he wrote but was not the subject of what he wrote. Paine was perhaps history's most consequential pamphleteer. There are expected to be 100 million bloggers worldwide by the middle of 2007, which is why none will be like Franklin or Paine. Both were geniuses; genius is scarce. Both had a revolutionary civic purpose, which they accomplished by amazing exertions. Most bloggers have the private purpose of expressing themselves, for their own satisfaction. There is nothing wrong with that, but nothing demanding or especially admirable, either. They do it successfully because there is nothing singular about it, and each is the judge of his or her own success.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 76 percent of bloggers say one reason they blog is to document their personal experiences and share them with others. And 37 percent -- soon, 37 million -- say the primary topic of their blog is "my life and experiences." George III would have preferred dealing with 100 million bloggers rather than one Paine.

Stengel says that bloggers and the people who upload videos onto YouTube (65,000 new videos a day; 100 million watched each day) are bringing "events" to us in ways that are often more "authentic" than the services of traditional media. But authenticity is easy, and of no inherent value, if it is simply and necessarily the attribute of any bit of reality ("event") captured on video.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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