To What End Blogging?

April 3, 2004 | 22 comments
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I’m curious about the function that blogging serves for you. The blog is such an interesting, borderland genre. (And I will candidly admit here that the bulk of my personal experience with blogs and blogging has turned on a certain motherly voyeurism of my very verbal, bright, and prolific son.) A really great blog can read, it seems, like a well-honed, mini essay. A continuing interchange can take on the shape and the heat of a spirited conversation, or an argument. I’m often impressed with the quality of the writing and thinking I see. (And sometimes, of course, blogging is far less than this.) Also there’s a continuing quality to a blog that is closer to a journal or diary, or soap opera, as it charts the ins and outs of personal and communal experiences.

The energy I see Nate expending on his blogging comes closest, I suspect, to energy that I expended in my twenties and thirties on journal writing. I know the value of journal writing to history. I also understand what I think of sometimes as the underside of journaling. Wondering what the parallels might be with the blog.

The earliest journal I have dates back to the fifth grade. I became a serious journal keeper when I went away to college. I have boxes full of notebooks and endless files on my computer filled with personal ruminations. The longer I keep a journal, the more it bores and annoys me. I’ve tried multiple times in my life to kill it off. I’m in one of those phases of the moon now. I know how a wonderful diary reads. And mine is no wonderful diary. For me journal writing has always been a coping tool. I write when I’m sad or angry or frustrated. A sad, angry, frustrated person is a repetitious, boring person—these emotions send me, at least, round and round in circles. I work my way forward inch by inch through an endless round of repeitition. Since I’m basically a rather optimistic, bouyant person, it’s painful to encounter myself in these pages. The disclosures in these pages mask, obliterate much of what matters to me looking back.

And I sometimes wonder what I could have done if that writing energy had been channeled in a different direction. Maybe my son trods a better way. . . .

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22 Responses to To What End Blogging?

  1. nate on April 3, 2004 at 1:08 pm

    link bug.

  2. Julie in Austin on April 3, 2004 at 3:03 pm

    With the exception of my husband, I don’t have anyone locally with whom I can discuss the kinds of issues about the Church that interest me and are often covered here. My husband and I have many interesting discussions based on topics started here.

    And, the reality is, that even if every last one of you lived in Austin, we wouldn’t get together often, because I’d have to find a night to have you over for dinner, which means that my house would have to be presentable and it never is.

    I have two young children, I homeschool, I write and teach, and my ‘free’ time tends to come in five minute intervals. Blogging is perfect for that.

  3. Julie in Austin on April 3, 2004 at 3:04 pm

    Oh yeah, and I have enjoyed auditioning ideas here that have been floating around in my mind for awhile (like the big fat bad analogy and the talk I’ve never given).

  4. Ethesis on April 3, 2004 at 3:08 pm

    Just a side comment.

    I’d really like it if you would change the defaults so that when a link is clicked on it changes color.

    It would let me keep track of where I’ve been and which of the linked to sites here are ones I’ve visited without forcing me to keep a pen and paper list.

  5. Kristine on April 3, 2004 at 3:22 pm

    What Julie said.

  6. Nate Oman on April 3, 2004 at 4:09 pm

    I would like to become a real scholar someday and I like to write and publish. The problem, of course, is that “real” writing is hard, takes time, and requires that one carefully work out ones ideas, have sources, etc.

    Blogging, by contrast, provides instant gratification and has virtually no quality controls!

    Also, it is a way of linking to a fairly large group of interesting people, very easily.

    That said, I often think that I spend WAY too much time blogging, and that I would be a far more productive person if I was not afflicted by this particular disease.

  7. Clark Goble on April 3, 2004 at 4:12 pm

    My own reason was simply that I never saw a lot of ideas anywhere in print that I’d heard over and over again. A lot of people don’t really read discussion groups, mailing lists or the like. But they do occasionally google for topics. I thought it would be nice to at least have some analysis of some of the more technical topics to get people talking about them.

    Admittedly it is a rather small “market” being aimed at. (Those interested in technical science or philosophy and how it relates to Mormonism) But I’ve been rather surprised at the positive feedback. I have perhaps 20 – 25 regular readers (admittedly not a lot) and then perhaps about that same amount who come in from elsewhere. (Probably mainly google although I’m not saving that information)

  8. Susan on April 3, 2004 at 4:42 pm

    I’m also curious who blogs. I work at Adobe, a software company, in the group that creates Help systems, tutorials, support knowledgebase content, etc. We write about new technologies, the Web, etc. And yet when I ask the basically thirty-somethings I work with, none of them blog. And few seem all that aware of the phenomenon. These are smart, educated, opinionated people. So I ask myself, what slice of the world blogs. How much of the phenomenon is connected to academia? Other domains?

  9. Arwyn on April 3, 2004 at 5:15 pm

    I started blogging as a way of communicating with family and friends when I studied for a semester in St. Petersburg, Russia. I’m a horrible corespondent — if I’m not in immediate contact with someone for a certain amount of time, I’m more likely to NOT email/call/write than to do so. It’s a fault, I know, but we all have our vices.

    When I went abroad, I started blogging so that I could keep them all updated on what I was doing/reading/thinking, etc. I did a fair amount of thinking while there, too, as the semester was relatively unstructured and I did a lot of work outside my courses — as well as a lot of observing Russian people/culture/history, etc.

    On coming home, my blog has lost a lot of its purpose, but I know that certain people still read it (friends from school, my dad, my siblings, and especially my grandparents). If I didn’t think I had an audience at all, I’d have stopped writing a long time ago.

    Sometimes I think it’s a self-gratifying sort of thing. Even though I know there are people who read, there’s no guarantee they’re interested in what I post. Blogs like this one (and other political/legal blogs I read), on the other hand, serve a lot more as a gathering place for people to dicuss issues that we might not necessarily with those around us (with the main posters acting, in a way, as discussion group moderators by bringing up topics they find interesting) because it’s a lot easier to search the ‘net for a blog that has an interesting topic than to search our communities for a similar group of people — I’m not saying it’s better, just that it takes less energy.

    As for who blogs…I attend a liberal arts college in New England, and am taking a seminar this semester on Kant and Hegel as political philosophers. I brought up something I’d read on a blog that was pertinent to a group discussion, and it was interesting to hear the reactions. Two people in the class had ever heard of ‘blogging'; the others (though aware, politically active, and otherwise intelligent folk) didn’t have a clue what the word meant.

    I can’t, of course, speak for the world at large, but that’s my experience. :) The blogs that I read tend to be kept by graduate students and lawyers. Those that aren’t — I couldn’t name exactly who they are, other than technical/web saavy types who have interesting things to say and the willingness to say them.

  10. Bob Caswell on April 3, 2004 at 5:47 pm

    Susan, thanks for the post. To answer your original question, “to what end blogging?”; I’m not sure. I feel like I’ve been doing it for years now when in reality it’s been just over three months.

    I have to mention that I’ve met some of the most fascinating, well-versed, intelligent, witty people I’ve ever known including your son, Nate, also Kristine, Gordon, Jim, and Grasshopper are among the others (of which I could mention more) I admire greatly.

  11. cooper on April 3, 2004 at 7:03 pm

    Susan – I have a domain, I have not yet begun blogging – later this month once I master html. However as to who and why – I began as a “crafty blogger”. Many of my blog world connections are thru creative arts not academia. Why will I? because the world is too anonymous. I hope to bring voice to the anonymous masses and their silent contributions.

  12. Cath on April 3, 2004 at 8:56 pm

    I read blogs because 1) I want to hear other intelligent LDS people now that I’m no longer a graduate student at BYU and 2) I want to read a take on controversial subjects that is not the prevailing media one, which on many topics I find distasteful.
    I don’t write comments usually unless I feel I have something important and helpful to add. I’m always concerned that what I say will start some sort of fight, and since I abhor the spirit of contention, I find it easier to just read most of the time. I enjoy the fact that on this blog both bloggers and comment-adders try to be respectful of each other.

  13. Ethesis on April 4, 2004 at 10:04 am

    Blogs remind me of the old, self-published, APAs that were followed by bbs systems, then by fidonet and now span between usenet and a number of listserves.

    The APAs are a great analogy as they has publication schedules and core groups of writers (often being limited in who could contribute) with subscribers.

    I’m really curious to see how self-limiting blogs are.

    For example, http://invisibleadjunct.com/ has finally run through to the end of the cycle.

    On the other hand, I can see blogs such as this one competing with Sunstone for viewers.

    The third generation, or group blogging movement, is the most interesting.

    (1st, blogs as mere annotated lists of interesting places on the web one has been recently. 2nd, an individual writing minieditorials and commentary on a topic or two, with links, often on-line journals, especially of law students. 3rd, group blogs that are often fairly link free. Content originators rather than content linkers, and group discussions rather than individual posters — kind of on-line discussion groups with an editorial core).

    There is a long way to go, but an interesting one.

  14. Susan on April 4, 2004 at 1:11 pm

    Ethesis,
    This mini-history is interesting. I do find the structure of the group blog interesting. There is a certain continuity and structure, somewhat parallel to a magazine. With conversation added.

    It seems to me there is an interesting shift in the history you describe–the shift from a premium on linking elsewhere to the impulse on continuing discussion right here in the group blog. There are two different metrics for success if you will–counting links and counting comments. In the business I work in (software, Web site publishing), the second we would call focusing on the “stickiness” and “community” of the site, keeping people at the site and not encouraging them to wander off into the web.

    I do wonder a bit about the focus on how many comments a discussion generates. Often discussions that generate the most comments seem rather polarized. Such discussions are also likely to be rather circular and repetitive. I do find interesting insights emerging within the repetition. But it takes a lot of patience sometimes to stick with a discussion and find them at times.

    But as I say that, I also know I’m probably mostly missing the point of a group blog. No doubt a good part of the draw is the familiarity of the back and forth of such conversations, the fun in the game of debate, the sense of being involved in a dynamic community. Participating in a debate would be torture for me, not fun (and yes, Nathan is my son). Being a rather introverted person, I tend to seek out solitude and book (these days often an audiobook).

  15. Jim F. on April 4, 2004 at 10:42 pm

    I blog because I love the idea of having people read what I write, which suggests that I blog because I have a personality problem. But I’ve always found it much easer to write what I want to say than to say it. Though I live in Provo, surrounded by LDS intellectuals at BYU, outside of classes or occasional lectures, I find more intellectual discussion on the net than I do among my colleagues. That probably says more about me than about them.

  16. lyle on April 4, 2004 at 10:52 pm

    It’s been fun folks.
    My end has expired.

  17. Bloodthirsty Warmonger on April 6, 2004 at 4:07 am

    My reasons for blogging:
    1. As an outlet for my ideas.
    2. I have enough of an ego to believe that I can influence my friends by writing.
    3. It never ceases to amaze me that after splitting my blog into two parts, “Bloodthirsty Warmonger” and “Over the Edge,” I still come up with new material for both.
    4. This is a continuation of an underground newsletter I’ve been circulating since 1970, and a form of journaling that members of the LDS Church are supposed to be engaged in (but the blogs contain little biographical information).

  18. Nate Oman on April 6, 2004 at 11:41 am

    Jim: I actually think that in some ways the internet is a better medium for intellectual discussions than is the conversation in the “real world.” It is easier to lay out somewhat complicated ideas and respond to them. At some point, the ideas get too long for email or blogging and you feel like you are simply trading badly written essays. At that point, it is probably time to sit down and write a real essay. On the other hand, you can lay out larger chunks of thought on the net than you generally can in the give and take of conversation. Obviously, this is over generalizing a bit, and there are advantages to conversation in the “real world,” but I don’t think it is an accident that you find more intellectual conversations online than in the real world.

  19. Melissa on April 6, 2004 at 11:49 am

    While my experience corresponds on this point to Jim’s, I think that it is unfortunate and wish it were different. There is something deeply important about faces, hands, and voices that we miss if/when our community is found in cyberspace.

    Julie, if I lived in your town and you felt like you had to clean your house before I could over and chat I would be offended! Where does that impulse in Mormon women come from anyway? I have a friend who tries to have dishes in her sink and a few things lying around when people come over so they will know she considers them real friends.

  20. Kristine on April 6, 2004 at 12:06 pm

    She has to “try”? Aaaaargh!!

  21. Susan on April 7, 2004 at 1:27 am

    I’m interested in Nate’s comment about the connection/continuity between blogging and the essay. I find that I don’t have very good guidelines in my mind for the blog, which seems to fall somewhere between journal and personal essay. I find that my approach to the blog is very close to what I understand about the personal essay. One thing I see is that what makes a good blog (if you consider as “success” for a blog, something that generates a lot of commenting) is not necessarily what makes for a memorable personal essay. Often the personal essay is heavy on personal color and commentary with the opening out coming later. Personal essays vary in terms of how much discursive commentary on personal experience is included. Sometimes there is very little–some much more. My own experience with the genre comes somewhere in between. I like to keep generalizations quite close to the details of the example or narrative that engenders the discussion. A point of personal style and comfort no doubt.

    I find in general that Times and Seasons tends to be pitched at a certain level of detail. (By this I’m trying to get at the level of generality versus personal detail and color at which the discussion tends to begin.) I keep wondering if this has something to do with lawyering and perhaps debate as models for discussion in in the backgrounds of a number of the core authors here.

  22. Troy on December 26, 2004 at 12:20 am

    Why blog? It is a good question. No doubt, maintaining a quality blog requires the commitment to put in the necessary time. But then, this is the case with any good writing. It takes time, time to write, time to edit, time to read.

    You are not going to burn through Shakespeare at 400 WPM…Would Shakespeare have blogged??? Does Stephen King have a blog?

    Tom Peters has a blog. What is its purpose?

    I like to think that my blog is not merely for self-promotion or self-expression.