All of a sudden I’m hearing a lot about “the Intellectual Dark Web,” presumably because of this New York Times piece by Bari Weiss.

Weiss defines the Intellectual Dark Web as “a collection of iconoclastic thinkers, academic renegades and media personalities who are having a rolling conversation — on podcasts, YouTube and Twitter, and in sold-out auditoriums — that sound unlike anything else happening, at least publicly, in the culture right now. Feeling largely locked out of legacy outlets, they are rapidly building their own mass media channels.”

In other words, it is really about format, not about content, even though the cited examples seem to be a) controversial and b) mostly considered “right-wing.”

Everything new is old again.

Not quite two decades ago, it was the emerging “blogosphere” that positioned itself as the alternative to establishment media.

Twenty years before that, it was amateur “zines” which became easy and cheap to print with the advent of computer printers and the mass deployment of photocopy technology (or, before that, access to a mimeograph).

And before that it was alternative newspapers and magazines of a higher order of print quality, though not necessarily by much, than the “zines” — the Berkeley Barb, for example, and I.F. Stone’s Weekly.

People seem fascinated by format, and prone to assume that new format necessarily implies new content type. I don’t think that’s the case.

Yes, format affects content. A lot of the stuff I put on this blog, I once put on “e-zines” (the intermediary step between the old print zines and the blogs). But this blog also includes a lot of short (and not so short) asides like this one that I would never have submitted to a newspaper, or a zine, or an ezine. I don’t think the substance really changed. It was just that more could be put out, more easily.

I say the same things on podcasts that I say on my blog, that I said in e-zines, that I wrote a little of (not much, I was young and busy with other stuff) in zines, and that I put in letters to the editors of regular papers.

I’m guessing the printing press inspired similar reactions. And hell, maybe the invention of decent pen and paper tools, and tablets and chisels for cuneiform, etc. Maybe among smaller populations until literacy caught on, but still.

So far as I can tell, the “Intellectual Dark Web” people aren’t saying (on e.g. YouTube) anything really different than those same people were saying in other formats before the “Intellectual Dark Web” suddenly became a name.

Imported from the original KN@PPSTER