Self-Aware Blogging?

March 1, 2005 | 21 comments
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There’s a new meme in the bloggernacle, and it’s self-awareness. The folks over at Various Stages are discussing the concept of self-consciousness (with some input from itinerant philosophers). Meanwhile, Ebenezer is wondering (in between some scandalous confessions about kissing) exactly how and why we construct our own bloggernacle identities. Finally, Geoff has a heartfelt post asserting a claim with which I wholeheartedly agree: God reads the bloggernacle.

It’s an interesting confluence of posts: Are we self-aware? Should we be self-aware as we blog? Is God watching us? Should he be? Should we be “ourselves” on our blogs? Or is that even possible?

I’m sure that there are interesting answers to these questions. However, I’m not certain that I’m self-aware enough myself to have any of those answers.

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21 Responses to Self-Aware Blogging?

  1. Rebecca on March 1, 2005 at 5:18 pm

    If God is reading my blog I really wish he’d leave a comment. I would like to know what he thinks.

  2. Christian Y. Cardall on March 1, 2005 at 6:37 pm

    What I’m wondering is if the Brethren are becoming aware. Watching the news while doing cardio at the gym this afternoon, there was some commentary about bloggers in oppressed countries being jailed, and how the Internet in general (and blogging in particular) is opening up new sources and exchanges of information, and how the leaders in those countries are scared to death.

    Anyone care to prophesy how long it will be before “blogs” carry the same stigma (or cachet, according to taste) as “symposia”? Or at least, how long it will be until there’s a warning in Conference?

  3. Christian Y. Cardall on March 1, 2005 at 6:38 pm

    Another thought: to the extent our self-awareness depends on reactions of others, this is a very imperfect medium. Many comments fall to the ground with little or no response; that might be because everyone thinks it’s totally lame, or it might be that everyone is so mesmerized they don’t know what to say. What would be cool would be to have thumbs up/thumbs down icons next to each comment that everyone could click, with running totals displayed, allowing everyone to have feedback on the interest and responses they’re generating. I myself read many things I like and don’t respond to, and I sometimes feel badly it’s not practical to smile (or frown) at everyone who’s reached me in some way.

  4. Kaimi on March 1, 2005 at 6:38 pm

    Rebecca,

    The thought briefly occurred to me on reading your comment that I ought to click over to Various Stages and drop a comment like

    “Nice blog. I like the color scheme. Keep it up.”

    And then sign it:

    “–God.”

    I do think that would be funny; however, it would also be way past my personal limit on the sacrilege-o-meter, so I’ll have to refrain.

    I do think that God is reading your blog (and mine, and keeping an eye on everything else, for that matter). But I don’t think it’s likely that he’s going to comment. It looks like you’re stuck with mere mortals for the time being (with perhaps the occasional interruption by Nate, who is actually one of the Three Nephites).

  5. john fowles on March 1, 2005 at 6:46 pm

    CYC: why the negative presumptions against the Church, assuming that as soon as the Brethren find out about blogging they are going to want to shut it right down? How about a positive presumption like the Church acts in good faith and tries to do what is right? Maybe the Brethren will be smart enough to tell the difference between transparent blog musings and furtive secret study groups. Maybe not, but why not give them the benefit of the doubt and hope for the best?

  6. Christian Y. Cardall on March 1, 2005 at 7:07 pm

    John, as my wife often reminds me, past performance is the best predictor of future behavior. It’s just a hunch that Mormons gathering and expressing themselves in noticeable numbers in unofficial ways makes them nervous—probably concerned is a better word—whether it’s in print, symposia, self-help groups, and now blogs. There have been general warnings about symposia and self-help groups, not pointers as to which are the good ones and which are bad ones; I think it’s possible the same might happen for blogs (haven’t “chat rooms” already come in for general disapproval?).

    Now, this morning I probably would have said that bloggers need not take themselves seriously, and that the Brethren would never care about such a pissant phenomenon. But seeing the discussion on the news this afternoon makes me wonder.

  7. john fowles on March 1, 2005 at 7:33 pm

    self-help groups, what an interesting way to describe them.

  8. Aimee Roo on March 1, 2005 at 7:52 pm

    First of all, I hardly catagorize a lollipop kiss as a scandalous confession… if you know what one is you understand why this really isn’t wouldn’t even score a 1 on a scandal meter.

    Secondly, I think it is an interesting topic. What is the point of blogging if you aren’t being yourself while doing it? What is the point of anything if you aren’t being yourself while doing it?

    Part of the gospel is to become our best selves, and part of that in my opinion is living authentically. I don’t know what my blogging persona is, as Ebenezer talked about, but I know that when I write I am being myself.

    I think it would be sad if the bretheren came out against blogs, it seems like a great form of self expression. It also seems like many are unable to have conversations like those in the bloggernacle in real life.

  9. Rebecca on March 1, 2005 at 8:16 pm

    I agree with Aimee that it is nice to have a forum for discussions that I might not have with friends over dinner… in fact, most likely would not have with friends over dinner. The blog world does allow me to reveal a more personal side of myself then would be appropriate in most settings, but it does also seem that they can quickly turn into a the self help group CYC described them as, which personally I would rather seek out professional help then be advised by a group of faceless individuals who spend their entire day surfing the web in an effort to avoid work (that translates to don’t take my advice because I AM one of the faceless ones).

  10. Sarah on March 1, 2005 at 9:37 pm

    I’m with Aimee — I’m myself online. I’ve been posting things online for longer than I’ve done anything else (since I was 6 or so, with my current username as of 1993) and it’d be hard to fake anything for so long. Now I’m stuck with it. There’s bad poetry I wrote 10 years ago — as a not-quite-15-year-old — that is enshrined forever on archive pages I have no access to, with my name and email address attached. To say nothing of old versions of my websites. The internet is like a small town that way — only the evidence can be accessed by anyone, and you don’t even need to know who to ask, as long as you know Google.

    However, there are a few differences between the “me” of the online world and the “me” of in-person life. I’m a lot more willing to get involved in a conversation online than I am in person. If you all came to my ward, I’d be the girl in the back row of Gospel Doctrine, making notes and never talking — or perhaps the girl who brings cookies to the ward dinner and then leaves. ^_^ The kids in my CTR-7 class know me far better than anyone else in the Church, because I actually talk to them. People who know me online know more about my daily life than most others — and my parents use my blog to make sure I’m still alive, though that’s because I hate telephones. I’m also a lot more authoritative and intimidating, I think, online. I always sound sure of myself. It’s kind of annoying.

    However, nearly all of those differences evaporate once I’m close to a person. I tend to keep strangers and acquaintances at a real distance — and the whole internet is like a pretty good friend. Not a REALLY good friend (I don’t talk about boyfriends online,) but closer than, say, most of the members of my ward, or my schoolmates. My in-person friends don’t see any differences that they’ve mentioned to me — and some of them became my friends after first “meeting” me online, through message boards or whatever.

  11. Mark N. on March 1, 2005 at 9:57 pm

    Christian: What would be cool would be to have thumbs up/thumbs down icons next to each comment that everyone could click, with running totals displayed, allowing everyone to have feedback on the interest and responses they’re generating.

    Some time back, somebody invented a “technology” (a browser “add-in”, maybe?) that enabled web-surfers to leave comments about specific items on specific web pages; it had the effect of essentially allowing people to plaster a “sticky note” on a web page, and the technology basically allowed everyone using the add-in (if that’s what it was) to see and read other people’s sticky notes. It was controversial, because while it didn’t actually modify someone’s web site, it essentially accomplished the same thing because everyone using the add-in would experience a given web-site differently from those not using the add-in.

    I wish I could remember what it was called; I had the thing set up on a browser, and it would produce little yellow squares indicating that someone else had left a note with something to say about a given web page, which would be displayed when you clicked on it.

    The long and the short of it is that the technological capability already exists that will accomplish what you are asking for, but it may be that it died out of lack of popularity or because of its controversial nature.

    If anybody else remembers what it was called, I could certainly use a memory jog about it, and whether or not it’s still available.

  12. Geoff Johnston on March 1, 2005 at 10:52 pm

    Christian: There have been general warnings about symposia and self-help groups… I think it’s possible the same might happen for blogs

    This depends entirely on which posts they read. If they read my latest post they might start extolling the virtues of you Bloggernackers over the pulpit or something.

  13. Shawn Bailey on March 1, 2005 at 11:16 pm

    Competitive journal-keeping. The question of self and other awareness leads me to conclude that this is an apt description for part of blogging. The self-searching and self-recording at the heart of blogging is like journal-keeping, while the writing to add something to a discussion (and hopefully not come off too badly) has a competitive feeling to it. Part of me resists this, insisting instead that this forum is much more simple (a place for friendly conversation) and much more complex (a community of saints).

    Either way, who can resist wondering how a different “self” in the future, or the regular participants, or those who may be reading but not commenting (an old friend, a respected mentor, grandma) will recieve what they write? As noted above, very often there is no acknowledgment whatsoever. This situation (silence as a response to one’s writing), I think, is not unusual. Speaking of audience, Wallace Stegner compared writing to dropping a feather off the edge of the Grand Canyon and listening for the impact. I think I prefer silence to racking up a bunch of thumbs down or frowny faces next to my comments!

  14. Kaimi on March 2, 2005 at 11:20 am

    Aimee,

    Granted, there’s an absolute minimum of scandal involved. But hey, it was a kissing phrase, wasn’t it? And it sorta _sounds_ scandalous.

    Besides, I’m sure that linking EO’s thoughts to a kissing scandal must have increased the traffic that went to look at the post.

    (Okay, those justifications are pretty lame, so I’ll just admit it. Yeah, I had no idea what the term meant. But it sounded at least moderately scandalous.

    I apologize for any scandal I’ve attached to Ebenezer’s good name due to my misunderstanding. I’m clearly not well enough versed in kissing terminology; this is doubtless a reflection of my dating years and the frequency – or lack thereof – of such activity at that time. :P ).

  15. Christian Y. Cardall on March 2, 2005 at 11:44 am

    Rebecca (#9): My intention was not to call blogs “self-help groups.” The self-help groups I referred to were self-confidence, assertiveness training phenomena like “Insight” in Utah and “Introspect” in California, programs marketed among Mormons in the 90s that led to at least two general letters of warning from the First Presidency.

    Geoff (#12): I don’t think the Brethren would deny that there are good articles and good sessions in Sunstone and Dialogue, and if they read your blog they would find it uplifting. But this didn’t stop Elder Oaks, for example, from delivering what I recall sounded like a blanket denunciation of “Alternate Voices” in Conference a few years back. They know they can’t control what outsiders say, but they seem to have (at least intermittent) concern about influential Mormon (or seemingly Mormon) venues they can’t control. Other examples I brought up on another thread were the absorption of LDS-Gems and FARMS by the Church’s website and BYU respectively.

  16. Jonathan Max Wilson on March 2, 2005 at 12:50 pm

    Kaimi,

    No need to apologize. I mentioned the lollipop-kiss precisely because it sounds scandalous when it is not. At the time, I didn’t know what a lollipop kiss was and she offered to show me. I started that evening as someone who had never kissed and I ended the evening in the same state. I still laugh about it.

  17. Aimee Roo on March 2, 2005 at 1:22 pm

    Kaimi,

    You aren’t the only one, my hubby didn’t know what a lollipop kiss was either. I had to show him…

    Now, if he had said that she gave him a “y” hug, that may have been slightly scandlous, as that actually involves kissing. ;)

    And, I think you are right, I am sure that more people did look at the post because of the talk about kissing… LOL!

  18. Christian Y. Cardall on March 5, 2005 at 1:53 pm

    I can’t believe how fast the world moves. Four days ago, in comments #2, #6, and #15 above responding to the notion in Kaimi’s post of whether God is watching us blog, I predicted that the Brethren would become concerned about the phenomenon of blogging. Two days later, Times and Seasons is noted by the Wall Street Journal, and today Feminist Mormon Housewives leads an article in the New York Times.

    I am emboldened by these developments to do what any self-respecting (or at least self-styled) scientist is supposed to do: make testable predictions. I predict that there will be a reference to blogging by the Brethren in some official venue (General Conference, leadership broacast, letter, etc.) within one year from today. They may not use the word “blog” or its derivatives, but the meaning will be plain to ‘those who have ears to hear.’ I predict the message will be more cautionary about the perils of blogosphere than enthusiastic about the evangelistic opportunities it might afford.

    I am willing to entertain wagers on this proposition. ;)

  19. Geoff Johnston on March 5, 2005 at 4:22 pm

    Your theory is an interesting one, Christian. I suspect there may indeed be at least some veiled reference to activities of the Bloggernacle by the annual conference of 2006. But the past reactions to “symposia” are not necessarily a model of what we should expect here. The symposia in question were using intellectualism as their lead angle. It was elitist in a very real sense (at least that’s my perception). As such it was a fairly contained (although potentially dangerous) group that was being addressed. The Bloggernacle certainly attracts young intellectuals but it is not exclusive or elitist. The many islands that comprise the Bloggernacle include faithful saints of all walks and backgrounds. I think it is highly unlikely that we will see a blanket condemnation of the Bloggernacle. But some warning to be wary of speaking evil of the Church in public places does not seem too unlikely. That is good advice whether we hear it over the pulpit or not.

  20. Arturo Toscanini on March 5, 2005 at 5:46 pm

    Interesting proposition, Christian. I further speculate that if you’re correct, then GAs in General Conference will continue to use code words to refer to blogging for some time before they address the issue directly. After all, it was more than 30 years after the release of “Deep Throat” before they used the term “porn queen.” My question is how many of us will ditch these blogs in the event of such counsel.

    But I think that Geoff is correct. Like scripture, movies, television, telephone and other media of communication, I think that they’ll counsel us to use blogs appropriately rather than offer a wholesale condemnation of blogs. (Interestingly, I don’t think that GAs have ever offered counsel on the appropriate use of fax machines—what’s a faithful member to do?)

    But another possibility is that (like R-Rated movies, I think) they’ll have a seventy condemn blogging, and the more senior GAs (the apostles or the first presidency) won’t touch the issue with a 10 foot pole. In the past, this has often been the way that they’ve introduced unofficial policy.

  21. Christian Y. Cardall on March 5, 2005 at 8:19 pm

    It’s possible blogs will just get lumped in with the usual warnings about media, but I was willing to go out on a limb because of the possibility that blogging may be qualitatively different. Most media are extraordinarily heavy on the consumption side; only a few elites decide what gets into magazines or on TV, and the communication is almost all one-sided. Feminist Mormon Housewives (with content like Gaia’s remarkable post) momentarily capturing the bully pulpit that is the New York Times is not in itself the thing that would be worrisome to the Brethren; they’re used to such things happening periodically (Beck’s book is a contemporaneous example—not that FMH is in that same category, I’m not saying that). What’s notable about the notice in the NYT is that it calls attention to this exploding subculture in which a post like Gaia’s is more than just one person’s view: it takes on a life of its own as a discussion among dozens, with hundreds or even thousands following along. The ease (and anonymity or pseudonymity, if desired) with which such conversations can be instigated and participated in has no precedent, and its potential impact is still hard to gauge. Talk about alternate voices!

    Having said that, I concede that the principles in Elder Oaks’ fine talk Alternate Voices still seem to apply to this new phenomenon, as it covers issues of participation (blogging’s distinctive feature). I do think that as time goes by we may see more emphasis on this aspect, with cautionary counsel regarding what we produce/host/participate in, and not just what we choose to consume.

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