Friday 17 April 2009

Zero impact, the naked emperor, and the blogging circus of EU geeks

We are living in a little geek circus and we are blogging in there with zero impact. That is our illusion.

Our main audience are we, listening to ourselves, to some few "EU geeks" (quote from Jon) - and we know this, as Kosmopolit pointed out on Twitter and Stephen confirmed on Th!nk today.

Mostly, it feels like discussing with friends or colleagues.

But sometimes, unexpectedly, somebody listens into your discussions and takes up what you spoke about, telling it to others. Making an issue out of it. And then the "zero impact" story doesn't work anymore. Because you move from "zero" to "close to zero".

It's not that it is completely unwanted, but it's still somehow disturbing.

People use your words for science (scroll down to 23 April). Your criticism develops into constructive approaches. People get happy or angry because you write about their "babies", like a piece of legislation or a campaign.

And you start to think: Isn't that a bit too much? I just..

I mostly write as if I was writing for me, as if I was just structuring my thoughts on certain things I am interested in or passionate about and then putting them on digital paper. Without particular attention to impact.

And in a way that is what seems to unite most EU bloggers: You are passionate for something that most people don't care for, and you write as if you were among yourselves, geeks talking to geeks about geekish things.

Geeks running in circles in the geek circus.

But then, from time to time, you wake up, realising that you actually have an audience in your circus, and that the children in this audience cry:

"Look mummy, there is a geek. And he's blogging!"

And you feel naked like the emperor. With an audience that reacts to what you do. If you want it or not.

Because for those who come to the circus, how few they may be, you are still the attraction: The EU geek.


Eurocentric said...

Well, as a political blogging community we are overly obsessed with constitutional issues (though it could hardly be otherwise, given the EU's nature), so most of what you've said is unsurprising, as you've said so yourself. Constitutional discussion is hardly mainstream (unless you're in Northern Ireland).

Why the naked Emperor? Has something happened to bring this on? Do you just mean the feeling of someone else taking an interest (perhaps out of context) in what seemed almost like a private conversation?

It may be a circus of geeks, but I do think there is value in it. Though I'm personally skeptical of the internet's power to inform on a mass scale when used in isolation, I do think that it's important that there's space for this kind of political discussion, even if it's on a small scale.

Perhaps the lesson we should learn is to take our politics and voice them more in "RL" - perhaps do more of the leg-work ourselves?

Jon Worth said...

Amuses me you linked to Lars Raaum to show a 'non-geek' - he's as much of an EU geek as the rest of us! He's one of the Norwegian pro-EU crowd along with Finn and Bente.

Ralf Grahn said...


The web conveniently connects EU citizens from different locations, and as long as (even) the political parties at European level are uncommitted to the cause of EU citizens, this is the best available 'circus' in the EU.

I agree with Eurocentric that a lot of focus is on constitutional issues, for how could it be otherwise when the European Union is neither effective nor democratic enough?

One of the attractions of this 'circus' of citizen bloggers is that we are independent. We can and do speak our mind, without being hedged in by corporate correctness and interinstitutional solidarity.

I don't mind if I feel that I am reading or commenting on stuff by friends and colleagues.

I may not see it in my lifetime, but sooner or later the European Union is going to become a federal democracy if Europe wants to impact world affairs.

The EU cannot pontificate for ever about human rights and democracy without taking its own medicine.

Bruno Waterfield said...

Whilst not really being an EU geek (in public anyway) my comment may not be welcome.
I agree with Eurocentric Grahnlaw that any space for an independent (as in non-institutional) political discussion can only be a good thing.
My criticism of EU geekdom is that sometimes the politics are not teased out enough and process (including ghastly legal texts) is fetished.
It can be difficult, I have recently been wondering why I do it, though a media blog is something else altogether, far more depressing.

Josef Litobarski said...

Hi, Julien

You need a better PR department! Why a "Circus of Geeks"? Why not "Gladiators of Truth in an Arena of Lies"? :D

Hehe. We are a circus of geeks, you're quite right. But look outside the circus tent for a moment: it's planet of the Geeks out there!

The EUrophiles are geeks, the EUrosceptics are geeks, all politicians are geeks (and MEPs are MASSIVE geeks), journalists are very proud to be geeks, football fans are geeks, librarians are geeks, anyone with a passing interest in absolutely anything is a geek. They're all geeky, geeky, geeks.

If "Geeky" means being passionate about a subject which is complicated and doesn't give an immediate pay-off, then this label applies to half of humanity in some way.

As for your point about the EU blogosphere being like talking to friends: I really think that's what we should be aiming for! This blogosphere is so small that there's no excuse not to form close links between bloggers.

Ralf Grahn said...


It is not EU geekdom I would question in your case, but the corporate interests of large swathes of the British press to feed the public with a pretty unbalanced diet on European affairs. Petty complaints and exaggerated scandals seem to sell, but if the result is an ill informed electorate?

More than anyone, I am guilty of presenting reams of EU legislation.

Existing and proposed legal acts are the reality, and there seems to be a constant demand for basic blog posts based on facts, among students, teachers and businesses.

But you are quite right in that much more and deeper political discussion is needed.

The structure of the EU - especially the intergovernmental dealings in the Council - require real research to pry open.

A few blogs cannot follow everything, but if more people become interested in the EU, more specialised blogs may start to fill voids.

In the long run, accountable government is the answer.

Julien Frisch said...

Just one thing to start with:

The background of writing this little piece were the combination of "geek" and "lack of interest" in specific EU affairs (including the comparatively low readership of EU blogs) I had heard over the last two days. Plus the email from the PES. (As well as the fact that I have never started a blog post with a "Z"... :-D)

But thinking about these things it was obvious that on some issues you get a larger audience, not big, but considerable, and usually from affected institutions/organisations.

So no matter whether you are a closed circle of geeks (which I don't use negatively) you are still quite responsible for what you write. And being "quite responsible" for what you write feels different than writing for yourself or discussing with friends.

This is (@eurocentric) what I mean with the naked emperor: Sometimes the truthful outside interest points at you and shows that the illusion of private geekiness is not the full reality of what you do and what you are.

@ Jon

I have seen what Lars is doing, so I didn't exclude him from the "EU geek" scheme. I included him because he was not yet one of the bloggers' circus and because, although being an EU insider, still took a critique I had (which is easy) and made it into a constructive blog post (which needs more effort).

@ Grahnlaw

I agree.

@ Bruno

Hehe, British understatement. ;-) When someone is writing on EUobserver, that is quite into the circle...

The focus on legal texts - I still usually try to point to the politics - comes from the intransparency of most of EU politics. The only things you get easily is texts, and based on the text you have to carve out the politics. That is why in this blog I am trying to argument for a more political Union, because it could help to lift the veil of ignorance and to get into political substance.

@ Josef

"The arena of lies" is rather a "darkroom", and my PR knowledge tells me that building a metaphor on this basis can be tricky. :-D

@ all

Your reactions have again surprised me in some ways. I think have to admit that I have problems to predict what is interesting for discussions and I still get surprised when they this happens.

But I suppose this fits into the argument of the post.

Josef Litobarski said...

Hi, Julien

I've posted a follow-up to this post that you might find interesting:


Jo said...

Yes the EU blogosphere is geeky - let's face it, it's online, and it covers subjects that are either passionately cared about or totally beyond the interest or possibly even comprehension of non-geeks... surely that's the definition of geekery.

If there's a place to discuss EU constitutional issues etc., float ideas, challenge misapprehensions etc. then I'm happy ;)

Bruno's right to identify the gap - where's the discussion of what 90%-odd of what the EU actually does, the technocratic detailed Directives? No, wait, if it's jam it's over there on Nosemonkey's blog.
The point is that actually the fact that technical issues are discussed at EU level does not mean that people interested in the institutional/constitutional issues are going to discuss them. For example, people interested in the environment are blogging on that elsewhere, it doesn't matter at which political level the discussion is taking place because if you're passionate about the subject you'll talk about it whether it's local riverbanks in Coughton or endocrine disruption in the Rhine.
Transport geeks might well be blogging on discussions on air policy that take place at EU level- or not, given that Council working groups are closed shops and EP discussions can be interminable. I should know.

But if you're on the outside (or at least the outskirts) like me the fact that the circus is so self-referential can be a bit off-putting.
What if you're pro-EU but think Barroso's not so bad actually?
What if you don't understand why some people capitalise the EU bit of EUrope?
And what if you blog on the EU and equally on the EU and other issues - how geeky is geeky enough?