WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Is the Internet over?
There are troubling signs. AOL Time Warner, a company that started out scorning its Old Media side, is now looking to jettison the letters AOL. Fast Company, a hot magazine that celebrated the successes of dot-com innovators, is now relegated to eulogizing them.
Don't get me started on the Blaster virus sabotaging Microsoft systems, or the cram of spam reminding us that the average American is an impotent, insecure, overweight, tired, depressed loser desperately seeking to refinance.
The most telling sign that the Internet is no longer the cool American frontier? Blogs, which sprang up to sass the establishment, have been overrun by the establishment.
In a lame attempt to be hip, pols are posting soggy, foggy, bloggy musings on the Internet. Inspired by Howard Dean's success in fund raising and mobilizing on the Web, candidates are crowding into the blogosphere -- spewing out canned meanderings in a genre invented by unstructured exhibitionists.
It could be amusing if the pols posted unblushing, unedited diaries of what they were really thinking, as real bloggers do. John Kerry would mutter about Mr. Dean stealing his New England base, and Mr. Dean would growl about Mr. Kerry aping all his Internet gimmicks. But no such luck.
Instead, we have Travels with Tom, Tom Daschle's new blog recounting his annual August pilgrimage around South Dakota. Trying to sound uninhibited, he says he has "no schedule and no staff" and promises readers "amazing experiences" with "fascinating people."
On Aug. 7, he revealed, "I visited the Orthopedic Institute in Sioux Falls today and was given an informative tour." The next day, "I continue to be impressed with small business people who struggle to offer their employees health insurance."
Bob Graham dubs himself "the original blogger" because he has filled more than 4,000 color-coded, laconic notebooks over the last 30 years with a running diary of his every move, from ingestion of morning cereal to debarkation from a plane. (A typical Graham entry: "3:20 p.m. -- Take bus to hotel.")
His blog doesn't pick up the tempo. He offers the rhyming motto: "Hate the war? Miss your job? Don't just sit there, vote for Bob!" The Aug. 7 Des Moines posting reported, "We have had quite a full day, starting at the state fair where I saw the butter cow and butter hog (which is actually a Harley Davidson). At the pavilion I saw Holstein cows, a breed with which I have a very special relationship."
Dennis Kucinich tries to imbue his blog with a more literary bent, comparing himself to Harry Potter and the Pentagon to Lord Voldemort.
John Kerry has given more grist to critics who label him aloof and insincere by assigning staff members to write his blog. (It's like trying to prove you're a sportsman by making an aide go fishing for you.)
His spokesman, David Wade, offered this edgy report from Concord, N.H., on Aug. 8: "I'm sitting in the studio at New Hampshire NPR listening to The Exchange -- they're asking John Kerry about his life, his service in Vietnam and his fight for veterans when he came home -- it's something I forget about, working for him every day, taking for granted the quality of the person leading this campaign." In bold type, the blog breathlessly described a music store stop in Littleton, N.H., "where John Kerry treated press and customers to a couple of songs on the guitar!"
When the Kerry camp started the blog last week, rambunctious Dean supporters flooded the Kerry message boards with taunts. One Dean fan tallied all of Mr. Kerry's missed Senate votes this year.
Mr. Dean doesn't deign to write his blog, either, but at least it's fun. Mathew Gross, the Dean campaign's "head blogger" or "blogmaster" -- who got his job by blogging and who now writes most of the Dean virtual entries -- calls blogs the new town hall meetings. "They've revolutionized the way campaigns are run," he says. "It creates an equality among everybody. People are hungry for the old-fashioned discussion and debate."
Even former candidates are weighing in. Gary Hart, who began his blog in March, doesn't bother to read other digital diarists. "If you're James Joyce," he said slyly, "you don't read other authors."
Now there's a man with a future in blogging.
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.
Columnist Steve Chapman is on vacation.