Barbarians at the Gates

September 21, 2007 | 86 comments
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And who might they be, these cultural barbarians? You and me, according to the author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture (Doubleday, 2007). Will it kill the Church too?

First, the book. Here’s the book’s thesis in one sentence: By circumventing the traditional gatekeepers of culture like editors and publishers, various online forums, communities, and companies are degrading culture by letting anyone with a keyboard or a Blackberry publish their mundane posts, songs, and videos to the world. The enemies in this story are Wikipedia, YouTube, MySpace, Napster, Craigslist, TiVo, and (of course) blogs. He really hates blogs. The good guys are all those obsolescent institutions that some younger readers may never have used before or even heard of (which I’ll list in parallel with the items from the preceding list that have succeeded them): Encyclopedia Britannica, Hollywood, whatever kids did before MySpace, Tower Records, the want ads of your local newspaper, network television with commercials, and whatever adults did before blogs.

Okay, it’s obvious this guy is a dinosaur who is upset about the dawning Age of Mammals. What’s going on here is called creative destruction, and if he’d gone to a university that made undergrads read books he’d probably have run across the concept. And, sweet irony, here is the author’s entry in Wikipedia. I doubt he has an entry in Britannica.

I can’t even tell if the author believes what he’s writing or whether he’s just whoring a book to make a quick buck. He says blogs are culture poison, but, of course, he has one. And he formats the title of his book in all lowercase letters. What really irks me is the UK edition (second cover down) renders the title with proper capitalization; only the US edition used all lowercase. This from a guy complaining about the decline of culture.

But who cares about the book. The relevant question is: what effect will Real Life 2.0 — blogs and wikis and YouTube — have on the Church? Will missionaries of the future sit in front of computers running websites and trading text messages with investigators? Will they ever dispense with the live broadcast of Conference and just email audio files to everyone? Has there already been an effect on LDS culture similar to what the book claims for general culture, or has the Church so far avoided the techno-decadence that is sweeping over the West? And are LDS blogs part of the problem or just good clean fun? Are we a threat or an opportunity?

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86 Responses to Barbarians at the Gates

  1. Dan on September 21, 2007 at 6:28 am

    This guy is worse than those who rail on “illegal immigration” as a mortal threat to the very fibers of our Anglo-Saxon culture!

    Ironically, he is adding to the degradation of our culture by producing such trash.

    What effect will all this technology have on our LDS culture? Well, cell phones right now are integral for missionaries (at least here in New York). And so on. We gotta understand that these things are merely tools and while they influence which direction our society goes, it is not at the heart of the degradation of our society. That in the end always ends up being us, not the tools we use.

  2. Ardis Parshall on September 21, 2007 at 8:22 am

    Almost anybody’s written work is improved by the review and guidance of a good editor. It used to be that if you were too ego-driven or too nutty to win the attention of an editor as gateway to a legitimate press, your stuff either didn’t get published or was self-published, either at great expense with a vanity press or by grubby mimeograph. Technology has made everyone a publisher, with the explosion in the availability of anti-Mormon drek and the drek of Mormons with a loose grasp on reality or a firm seat on a hobby horse.

  3. AHLDuke on September 21, 2007 at 8:32 am

    In my experience, the blogs are clearly an opportunity for the Church. For one, the blogs appeal to a wide range of folks, in a way that the institutional Church does not always. Here, you can find the very orthodox and the very unorthodox, and all points in between. For many, it may be the only chance to associate with others of a similar mind. For me, this has been part of the reason that I keep reading. It is a chance to explore the dark corners and express the human fact of uncertainty in a (relatively) non-threatening setting. For whatever it says, it gets those of us who frequent the bloggernacle thinking about the Gospel and the Church, and in my book, that’s a good thing.

    As for the other changes you mentioned, I would hate to not have the semiannual Gen. Conference with a live broadcast. (Note: I know that some folks in more remote parts of the world get videos weeks after Conference, but I believe they are the exception rather than the rule). I think the experience of a kind of “virtual Conference” where most of the Church gets together at more or less the same time to listen is a great experience for a Church as widespread as our own.
    The Church could use all kinds of tools, whether it will or not is a different question. I could definitely see missionaries using text messaging with investigators. I could see the Church distributing videos through YouTube. (Furthermore, they ought to because there is already some anti-Mormon video up there). You might even see missionaries with profiles on MySpace or Facebook with links to Church websites. The Church could use any of these tools (none of them is inherently bad or useless), but in the end it will come down to a balancing act between their efficacy and their potential to lead astray.

  4. Susan M on September 21, 2007 at 10:05 am

    I saw this guy on the Colbert Report and he just does not get it at all. Unless he’s purposely adopting a stance he doesn’t believe just to sell books. (Now that would be funny…since he was on the Colbert Report.)

    I ran into a similar form of snobbery on a photography web forum the other day. Someone posted something ridiculous about not teaching people photography, so those who are naturally gifted at it could excel and all the rest of the lousy shooters would give up. The digital age has made photography easy and widely available to a massive number of people (a lot of whom just aren’t very good), and some pro photographers are bummed about it. I think it’s wonderful. For the same reason I think the Internet and blogs are wonderful.

  5. Chino Blanco on September 21, 2007 at 10:20 am

    Although Madame Chiang developed a stellar image with the American public, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and other leaders became disillusioned with her and her husband’s despotic and corrupt practices. Eleanor Roosevelt was shocked at Madame Chiang’s answer when asked at a dinner at the White House how the Chinese Government would handle a strike by coal miners. Madame Chiang silently drew a sharp fingernail across her neck.

    “She can talk beautifully about democracy,” Mrs. Roosevelt said later. “But she does not know how to live democracy.”

  6. Steve Evans on September 21, 2007 at 10:40 am

    Is this post referring to Skadden Arps? Or to Nabisco?

  7. Mark B. on September 21, 2007 at 10:52 am

    Is it dreck, or drek? Only an editor would know for sure. :-)

    It seems that the two are variant spellings of the old Yiddish word for excrement, with the longer version appearing first in the dictionaries I found it in.

  8. Chino Blanco on September 21, 2007 at 11:05 am

    I would’ve gone with “dross” … vaguely metallurgical seems more appropriate than vaguely scatological for a Mormon blog …

  9. ungewiss on September 21, 2007 at 11:16 am

    I wouldn\’t be surprised to learn that our GA\’s share this author\’s perspective. If ever there were a group of men with an interest in controlling the flow of and access to information, it\’s these guys. Religion in general, but certainly LDS religion specifically, will have a hard time standing up against the mind-boggling array of information that is out there, both true and false, about our history and doctrine.

    In past generations, when a member of the Church had doubts or questions, he had to expend a fair amount of energy to get information from any source outside his own social circle. In other words, it was easy for any faith-challenging factoid to be dismissed as \”anti-Mormon lies.\” These days a doubter is much less likely to ask his parents or PH leaders than he is to ask Google, and that single change alone is enough to hobble retention rates in the Church.

    No doubt the Church will continue making good use of new media to promote its message, but this author is spot on: With the internet replacing faithful gatekeepers, the correlated version of our religion is quickly becoming a thing of the past. It takes an extraordinary mind coupled with extraordinary faith to overcome the pursuant onslaught of reason.

  10. Ardis Parshall on September 21, 2007 at 11:23 am

    Poppycock (check the origin on that one, Mark B.!) /g/

    I acknowledge I’m part dinosaur with my comment #2, but of course I don’t think the Internet or any other technology will destroy the Church. The barbarians are at the gates, but they weren’t brought there by technology.

    Along with the proliferation of great resources, though, comes the burden and responsibility of wading through huge amounts of material and distinguishing between what’s worthwhile and what is poppycock/dross/drek. We think we’re sophisticated enough to do that, but I wonder how capable we really are. Does blogging make it easier to whine yourself out of the church because you can find more like-minded people encouraging you online than you ever would have in real life? Can you make solid breakthroughs in research because of digital tools, whatever your field, or do you have so much more of middling quality to read that you don’t quite ever get around to original work? Not that I’m volunteering to give up any of my techie toys, but I recognize that it isn’t an unmixed blessing.

    ungewiss comes down on the bleakest possible side. I’m a sunshiny optimist compared to him.

  11. Chino Blanco on September 21, 2007 at 11:44 am

    fwiw, I would have never read Pursue, Retake & Punish if it weren’t for this blog.

    I whined myself out of the church long before the ‘nacle appeared on the scene. Go ahead, poke fun at the nebbish, but I could never respect a club that would allow a person like me to remain a member.

  12. k l h on September 21, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    :

    Earthy Yiddishisms do come off more elevated than collaries from other languages: tush for “fanny,” pud for (…Um, oops! forget it…!), et cetera.

    Akin–to repeat the oft-cited example–to the gazillion splits in tonality now imbedded in modern English wherein Norman-French aristocratic terms such as those producing modern English beef, mutton, pork, have replaced Anglo-Saxon commoners’ terms producing ox, sheep, pig to distinguish between something the aristocracy had more association with, such as eating table meat, from what commoners did, such as herding livestock?

  13. Dave on September 21, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    Thanks for the nice comments, everyone. My own view is that the public activities of the Church have not been “degraded” by online participatory forums because the gatekeepers are still firmly in place. Who gets to speak from the pulpit on Sunday, who gets to write for the Ensign, who gets to speak at Conference — these are all still firmly gated activities. But one gets a glimpse of the future, perhaps, by looking at the type of discussion in comments to the LDS posts at the On Faith site, or the array of bizarre comments to the online articles of Utah newspapers. One vote for the gatekeepers.

    The effect of online discussion on some individuals, as opposed to the Church as an institution, is a different matter, as noted in comment #8. That’s where I think distributed information critical of LDS claims (on boards, sites, and blogs that post critical information) can and does influence some people. I don’t think LDS.org really addresses that threat, so there’s a role for pro-LDS boards, sites, and blogs to provide a different take on those issues. Not that I think that is all blogs do or even what their primary purpose is. (Purpose? Blogging?)

    Interestingly, I’ve heard lots of anecdotal accounts of those who exit the Church who relied in part on online information to move in that direction. But I’ve heard few or no accounts of those who have joined the Church relying in any measure on information or contacts gleaned online.

  14. Bald Samson on September 21, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    Does blogging make it easier to whine yourself out of the church…

    Is “whine” really the word you wanted to use, upon reflection?

  15. Sarah on September 21, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    A lot of these web 2.0 things are influencing what the Church itself decides is necessary. Without podcasting (mostly amateur, mostly independent, mostly of poor quality especially after the early adopters,) would we have MP3 format hymns and General Conference talks? The Chief Information Officer for the Church has his own blog, for crying out loud. I’m just waiting for LDS.org to support a Facebook or LiveJournal level of individualization. Or, at least, the ability to report your own callings (my ward hasn’t updated most of the callings list in over a year) and put a photo of yourself in the ward directory.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go add some news to the Ohio Mormons Facebook group. ^_^

  16. Ray on September 21, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    Who cares? The guy’s a nutcase – a whiny loser – stuck in a world where he used to be important. (Sorry, ungewiss, for the implied assumption.)

    If y’all want validation for your blogging, keep blogging. (at least most of you – grin) You’ll get all the validation you need, from yourself or others. Frankly, this development is like movable print – spreading the Gospel to the masses. Let the terminally backward rail all they want. If that’s the only way they can feed themselves – by preaching to the other terminally backward, then so be it.

  17. Mike on September 21, 2007 at 2:43 pm

    #13 Interestingly, I’ve heard lots of anecdotal accounts of those who exit the Church who relied in part on online information to move in that direction. But I’ve heard few or no accounts of those who have joined the Church relying in any measure on information or contacts gleaned online.

    I became pen-pals (does that word still exist?) online with a girl who later became a member of the church, and later my wife. I do believe God was involved to some degree to make that happen (neither of us were pre-disposed to chatting online), but I don’t know if my experience was an aberration, or a glimpse of the future of missionary work. That was before me, or my parents, or her parents for that matter, were alert to the possible dangers of such things.

    I listened to a lecture given by the head of technology for the Church a few years ago, and his statement was (almost word for word), “If you can imagine it, we have someone looking into it”. I think he was specifically talking about family history, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they also had similar efforts on the missionary front. So I think the Church is very aware of different technologies that are out there and how they can take advantage of them. That’s not to say, though, that every technology that’s out there should be used by the Church. I don’t know when, or if, missionaries will be using instant messenger or myspace.

  18. Jonathan Green on September 21, 2007 at 2:43 pm

    Dave, I suspect that the specific problem that The Cult of the Amateur is talking about will be mostly irrelevant to the church. I mean, with a lay ministry, haven’t we been The Cult of the Amateurs all along? As church leaders have authority without respect to their expertise, the devaluing of expertise shouldn’t make much difference. Even in the intersection of academic expertise and Mormonism in the field of Mormon Studies, it seems to me that there has always been a large degree of participation by interested amateurs and semi-professionals.

  19. Nate Oman on September 21, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    The problem with the degredation thesis is that it assumes that publication creates cultural salience. The fact that any yahoo can now publish degrades the culture. QED. The reality, however, is that publication does not equal salience and it probably never did. If anything, the lower costs of publication reduces its salience, as testified to by the millions of blogs read by no one. The real question is whether you think that competition increases or decreases quality.

  20. Bookslinger on September 21, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    1. I seriously hope that foreign-language discussions will be given over Internet 2-way video. I could bring dozens of Indianapolis investigators (at least several per month) to missionary discussions if they were given in the languages of Africa such as Amharic, Igbo, Yoruba, Shona, Wolof, Somali, Arabic. All it would take on this end is real broadband into a chapel, a computer and maybe a web-cam for 2-way. (Most Internet connections coming into our local chapels are for Family History Centers, and is “broadband wireless”, which is very slow and unreliable.)

    And more too, especially Mandarin.

    2. You can already see LDS testimonies on YouTube.

    3. Watch for foreign-language Book-of-Mormon-slinging videos coming to YouTube. (The video will be in English, though the featured books will be in a foreign language.)

    I can tell from my web-tracking service that the world, not just the US, is hungry for bilingual material. To get a book that’s both in English and another world language, call 888-537-2200. Or buy it through the distribution center, 801-240-3800, if you don’t want missionaries calling you for follow-ups.

  21. Dave on September 21, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    ‘Slinger (#21), you’re right — I wasn’t really thinking of the foreign language applications. Imagine a handheld universal translator (or just a clever cell phone) that, when spoken to in any foreign language, would respond in the appropriate langauge with: “We are LDS missionaries with an important message for you and your family. We don’t speak [insert language here], but we can link to a native speaker within 30 seconds that will answer all your questions. May we come in?” I’d let them in just to see how it works! The proliferation of languages in many US cities has become a real challenge for LDS missionary work.

  22. Matt W. on September 21, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    remember when we degraded culture by creating vaccines and and moveable type? We’re such jerks.

  23. NorthboundZax on September 21, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    “Imagine a handheld universal translator or just a clever cell phone) that, when spoken to in any foreign language, would respond in the appropriate langauge …”

    Pssst… isn’t that the gift of tongues except with batteries?

  24. cyril on September 21, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    And cars will fly, and we will have time shares on mars, and we will take all victuals in pill form.

  25. Ardis Parshall on September 21, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Does blogging make it easier to whine yourself out of the church…

    Is “whine” really the word you wanted to use, upon reflection?

    Yes, that’s precisely the word — and implication — I wanted.

  26. Nick Literski on September 21, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    Wow, Ardis. So anyone who leaves the LDS church is just some whining crybaby, eh? That is, after all, the “implication” you’ve provided.

  27. California Condor on September 21, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    The best way to steal an anti-Mormon’s thunder when they confront you with an uncomfortable fact about Church history is to say “Oh, yeah, I already read about that.”

    The Internet has put all of the cards on the table. Everything has been exposed. Information is power, and it is the currency that anti-Mormons use to build their moral authority. Now the Internet has knocked the wind out of them. With time, every active Mormon will already know all of the unflattering facts that anti-Mormons use in their attempts to tear down the Church. The anti-Mormon mini-industry will suffer as a result of the spread of knowledge.

  28. California Condor on September 21, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    “The real question is whether you think that competition increases or decreases quality.”

    Well said. Publishing used to have a high barrier to entry, which fostered monopolies for those who could afford to cross this barrier. Now that the Internet has made this barrier very low, an overwhelming rush of competition will force all publishers to compete far more than they did in 1994 or earlier.

    Imagine all of the creative talent in China and Africa that has gone to the wayside in centuries past because of lack of access to publishing. The Internet will give people in these places opportunities to leverage their talents.

  29. California Condor on September 21, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    “I could bring dozens of Indianapolis investigators (at least several per month) to missionary discussions if they were given in the languages of Africa such as Amharic, Igbo, Yoruba, Shona, Wolof, Somali, Arabic.”

    Another consquence of the Internet is the universalization of English. Maybe in 100 years, every human on the planet will speak fluent English. Be grateful if you speak English, the lingua franca of our age. And don’t bother learning Chinese, unless you’re doing it just for fun.

  30. Ben H on September 21, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    The internet circumvents traditional gatekeepers. Church leaders tend to want to control information one way. Secular academicians tend to want to control it another. The internet circumvents both. Who wins?

  31. California Condor on September 21, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    “Who wins?”

    We do.

  32. Ben H on September 21, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    Chiming in with Nate, note that Google (whose name has become nearly synonymous for “finding something on the internet”) ranks entries. With the internet as ubiquitous as it is, having a blog is starting to be about as important as having a seat at a bar stool for giving you a platform to air your thoughts.

    The important part is that the bar stools can be rearranged so easily. I can sit on a bar stool in rural Virginia and swap stories with my buddy in Egypt, who isn’t even awake at the time. And this is becoming more and more necessary for maintaining relationships in the scattered age of commuting by airplane and ultra-specialization. Especially for members of a small minority religion flung all across the globe. One might worry that the internet increases fragmentation. Like two people sitting in a booth at a restaurant, each talking on a cel phone to a different person in another city, people on email spend less attention getting to know the person in the office or house next door. This is my main worry for our culture–that the filter of electronic media will filter out too many of the crucial elements of a rich human life, and we’ll leave them behind as our lives become more and more electronically mediated. There’s always iChat, though . . .

    Anyway, for members of a small and far-flung religious community, the ease of rearranging bar stools–okay, lawn chairs–could be a huge boost to our community life, as it unquestionably has been for me over the past ten years.

  33. Ben H on September 21, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    The prospect of forging a culture of faith based on an assumption of complete information, rather than an assumption of very limited information, is absolutely thrilling to me! (Re: #27)

  34. Kaimi Wenger on September 21, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    Nick,

    She’s said that it’s possible to whine oneself out of the church. This certainly implies that some people have done just that. However, it does not at all imply that everyone who leaves the church does so by whining. Or, for that matter, that everyone who whines will leave the church.

    Here’s another statement, for comparison:

    It is possible to die of dehydration.

    That statement is true. It also implies neither (1) that everyone who dies, dies of dehydration; nor (2) that everyone who becomes dehydrated, dies. Drawing either of those (false) implications from the original (true) statement would be wrong.

  35. California Condor on September 21, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    Kaimi Wenger (35),

    This looks like an LSAT question.

  36. WillF on September 21, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    What about the implications that this accessibility of information has on youth? (If I were posting this on Slashdot someone would attack my comment with a “ThinkOfTheChildren” tag, a method of dismissing someone’s comment by labeling it as prudish). I would not let my 10-year-old daughter read Times and Seasons, for example, because I don’t think she is ready for some of discussions that go on here (not that she is begging me to read them though). Am I wrong?

  37. Blake on September 21, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Blogs are impersonal. Already texting and blogs have been major influences I’ve seen with my children to reduce their person-to-person contact. God forbid real contact with a living, breathing person! The anonymity of bogs lends itself to escaping accountability and responsibility and, in my experience, to the most inhumane treatment of others imaginable. The ex-mo blogs are already way over the top with their language, anger and sheer blatant bigotry and hatred without a shred of accountability. Worse yet, anyone can make a claim without having to back it up or have it reviewed. So we get a culture that is not merely rude but hateful and mean with no interpersonal connection. If that isn’t a major step backward, what would count?

  38. Jacob M on September 21, 2007 at 6:30 pm

    Blake, I’ve actually become a nicer person because of the bloggernacle. But maybe that’s because I’m part of the bloggernacle, not the blogosphere. And I don’t know how texting gives someone a break from accountability. I usually send texts to people I know.

    Curiosity question, what blogs do your children frequent?

  39. Adam Greenwood on September 21, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    The internet will change a lot of things about the church, but it won’t make it more amateur.

  40. California Condor on September 21, 2007 at 6:53 pm

    Blake (38),

    Actually most people who post and comment on blogs are probably living and breathing. Blogs increase inter-human contact because they allow you to communicate with people who are not sitting in the next cubicle (or office if you are a lawyer). I think very few people sacrifice physical proximity to other humans in order to read blogs. In other words, the time spent on blogs would be spent in isolation in the 1980s (sitting in front of a giant beige IBM with no Internet access).

    Internet anonymity is fool’s gold. People can trace your IP address, and Google keeps records search queries. True, you can mask your identity by assuming a nom de plume when you post or comment on a blog. But you forfeit credibility with this anonymity. Yes, you can also make outrageous statements on the Internet, but this comes at a cost of credibility as well.

    Animosity is nothing unique to the Internet era. Let the haters hate and the doubters doubt. At least we can argue with them on blogs. Maybe we can even change their minds. Maybe a New York Times reporter would change their opinion of Mormons after browsing timesandseasons.org. In the 1980s, this same reporter might have simply held onto an unflattering opinion of Mormons.

    The appeal of the Internet is its unadulterated freedom. Guess what? That means that if you are offended by certain things, there will be websites that feature these things that offend you. So don’t visit these websites. Visit ones that cater to your tastes.

  41. Ray on September 21, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    See #40. One of the biggest complaints about the Church since it was established is that it is not “professional” enough – from JS being an uneducated boy, to the lack of advanced religion degrees among its ecclesiastical leaders, to its counter-culture roots.

    The ironic thing to me is that other churches are *way* behind the Church technologically in so many ways. Seriously, compare lds.org with the website for any other denomination. Just as seriously, compare the Church’s communication capabilities with those of any other denomination. Look at the systems in place for genealogical record keeping, the new recommend bar coding, the MIS system, ad infinitum. Truly ironic.

  42. Bookslinger on September 21, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    “…. However, it does not at all imply that everyone who leaves the church does so by whining. Or, for that matter, that everyone who whines will leave the church. …. Drawing either of those (false) implications from the original (true) statement would be wrong.”

    Kaimi: Nick is already a lawyer, and a professional wordsmith and professional arguer. He knows all that. He knew exactly what Ardis wrote, and what her words meant. He was just trolling, looking to start confrontation. Things must be slow at his office.

  43. m&m on September 21, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    I could definitely see missionaries using text messaging with investigators.

    This is already happening!

  44. ungewiss on September 21, 2007 at 7:45 pm

    Well, I am neither a lawyer nor a troll, and to me Ardis’ comment, particularly #26, sounded more trollish than Nick’s. Am I to understand that Ardis believes only whiners leave the church? That learning an objective history of the Church online can be easily weathered by all but the whiniest of the saints? Please clarify for those of us who aren’t lawyers or wordsmiths…

  45. MikeInWeHo on September 21, 2007 at 7:51 pm

    re: 28 I’m not sure it’s that simple, CC.

    But you’re right on one thing: now all the cards are on the table. This is forcing the Church to take a more realistic approach to its history, which can only be good in the long run. I doubt that Bushman and Givens’ work would have been tolerated (much less publicized) by the Church in the pre-Internet era.

    When a TR-holding LDS scholar like Givens’ criticizes FAIR and writes that the Church believes “in a set of scriptures of origin so implausible as to preclude serious engagement” by scholars(*)….and nobody bats an eye!…you know the Mormon world has profoundly changed due to the Internet. I predict the rehabilitation of Grant Palmer and maybe even Brodie down the road as well. At some point, it will become OK for members in good standing to openly espouse the Inspired Fiction view of the BoM (the RLDS/CoC are already there). This is all being driven by the ubiquity of information provided by the Internet, and especially by fora like the Bloggernacle where Joe Mormon can easily and anonymously mix it up with the likes of us.

    *Credit to Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com

  46. Tatiana on September 21, 2007 at 8:22 pm

    Dave (#14) I joined the church because of people I met online. I knew not one soul in my ward when I called the missionaries and told them I wanted to take the lessons and be baptized. An online friend had found the number for me somehow, from across the continent. =)

  47. queuno on September 21, 2007 at 8:36 pm

    In football terms. If he were an ESPN anchor, he’d be bemoaning the fact that modern techniques and coaching and scholarship limitations have made it so that the old guard dinosaurs can no longer compete against the new guard. In other words, he’s one of those who thinks that it’s a crying shame that Notre Dame can’t beat anyone and no one has feared Army since before I was alive.

    He just doesn’t like it that “his” culture hasn’t survived.

    As far as the Church goes — there are practices and standards that have disappeared over a generation. 30 years ago, would young lawyers have a place to muse about the Church without it being approved by the Brethren? Would an ABD computer scientist even be allowed to express an opinion on culture not signed with an 8-bit hashed key?

  48. Mark D. on September 21, 2007 at 8:51 pm

    Ungwiess (#45),

    Kaimi makes a pertinent point in #35 (q.v.).

  49. Mark D. on September 21, 2007 at 8:52 pm

    “Ungewiss” I mean. My apologies.

  50. Ray on September 21, 2007 at 9:24 pm

    Ardis as a troll . . . Sorry, I just can’t find a way to address that one without shaking so hard I can’t type – both from laughter and because I’m petrified of incurring her wrath and getting hit by her club. *wink*

  51. Dave on September 21, 2007 at 9:35 pm

    Tatiana (#47), you’re an online pioneer.

  52. Ardis Parshall on September 21, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    For those who can’t — or pretend they can’t — understand what I meant by “whining one’s way out of the church”: Yes, I chose that word advisedly. Some people like to complain. Some people like to complain about the church or the bishop or the Primary president or the home teachers or the Sacrament meeting speakers or the color of the carpet in the chapel or whether Brother Jones shook my hand last week or whether my husband got the recognition he deserved for planning the Scout campout or whether somebody somewhere did or said something sometime that for some reason irked me. Surely that is not an observation unique to my experience? It’s part of what Laman and Lemuel were doing when they “murmured,” no?

    When whiners / complainers / fault finders / murmurers find someone who will listen to them, they complain more. Whiners whine to each other; they reinforce each other. The Internet makes it possible for whiners to find each other in larger masses, and sometimes their whining increases in volume and frequency as they all chime in. The reinforcement can make a whiner feel justified in a way that doesn’t happen in real life because most people won’t tolerate a whiner in real life for long.

    So I posit that blogs may make it easier for a whiner to find the reinforcement that builds his sense of being wronged to the point where he takes himself out of the church.

    Why some commenters chose to identify themselves with my whiners (I wrote my earlier comments with no particular blog or bloggers in mind) or with particular issues (I wrote my earlier comments without any thought of “objective history,” whatever ungewiss means by that oxymoron), I do not understand. The whiner respondeth when no man hath called his name.

    Beyond that, what Kaimi said.

  53. Steve Evans on September 21, 2007 at 10:01 pm

    “Some people like to complain.”

    Indeed.

  54. Ray on September 21, 2007 at 10:11 pm

    and they tend to complain when others complain about their complaining.

    That’s why I avoid most religious and political themed blogs; the bitter tone is emotionally exhausting. “There must needs be opposition in all things” includes the blogoshpere; hopefully, the bloggernacle is (at least usually) the positive side of that coin.

  55. ungewiss on September 21, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    Ardis, you correctly point out that whiners aren’t well tolerated in real life. Also in real life, at least where I live, those with sincere and valid questions about our history and doctrine are quite frequently mislabeled whiners or sinners as a means of minimizing concerns and protecting the pre-existing beliefs of those around them. The overlap of these two real life phenomena seems to have confused my simple brain and triggered my whiny defenses, leaving me with an apparently inaccurate perception of your earlier comments. I hope you will forgive the assumption but also understand why from many perspectives the assumption was perfectly sensible.

    “Objective history” may well be an impossible standard, but I suspect most of us would agree that the version of Church history we grew up with was far less objective than it could have been. That realization can be painful, and since the internet is helping more and more people stumble upon this realization, I do maintain that the internet is going to slow the Church’s progress in terms of both attrition and conversion.

  56. Ardis Parshall on September 21, 2007 at 10:52 pm

    Welcome to Times and Seasons, ungewiss. We like good discussions, with “good” meaning sincere questions and substantive contributions (endless lists of “what they didn’t tell us,” not so much). I’ve only been around a year, but I haven’t noticed anybody shying away from hard topics in that time. Questioners don’t always get the reception they want, sometimes because we read certain challenges as trollish, sometimes accurately and sometimes unfairly. But if you have a specific historical or philosophical or doctrinal issue to discuss, watch for a suitable opportunity to raise it. Be prepared to offer substantive comments, not limited to lists of what they didn’t tell us in seminary.

  57. Jack on September 21, 2007 at 11:00 pm

    Some people are quick to label Laman and Lemuel as winers, and yet, they complain about the word of wisdom. I don’t get it.

    Deep Thoughts by Jack

  58. mlu on September 21, 2007 at 11:46 pm

    I would expect communications storms in our future–destructive information moving at high speed horizontally, without the dampening effects of hierarchical control. The same pattern as lynch mobs. Something like the spreading of the “youth rebellion” through Mexico, France, the U.S. in 1968–in the relative infancy of globally connected culture. The recent riots in France and Australia featured young hotbloods using motorcycles and cell phones to outmaneuver police. I’m sure it was fun.

    I wouldn’t expect the church to be immune to communication storms, since it doesn’t have a great track record of controlling strange rumors–even before blogs bad information seemed to move quickly and to spread far.

    None this contradicts the enormous benefits we also reap from improved communication.

    I think our main hope is to learn the disciplines and to develop the character needed to defend ourselves against the troubles this power makes likely. I rather think T&S models quite a lot of what is needed: decorum and a not too obtrusive but quite real hierarchy that stops some threads and even removes them, if the “powers” so decide.

    All the the bad effects of the Internet are coming true. It coarsens and cheapens and makes available to everyone the most tawdry things that the worst among us can imagine. It also enables many to learn more and connect more and reach new heights.

    There’s a separation going on, a sorting and a sifting. Sheep and goats. Wheat and tares.

    But then, this place isn’t particularly amateurish.

  59. Dave on September 22, 2007 at 12:56 am

    Ungewiss the Doubtful, I actually think you made a nice point back in comment #9 — although it is not really news that the Internet has made it easier to obtain bits and pieces of a counternarrative to the standard LDS story. I say bits and pieces because they are rarely put together into any sort of coherent narrative that actually hangs together. If it’s that jumble of criticism that you are labeling an “onslaught of reason” in comment #9 — well, there’s a choir you can preach to that will agree with that flawed characterization, but this isn’t it.

  60. Blake on September 22, 2007 at 2:25 am

    California Condor:Re: 41 — Apparently you missed the irony of your own post. You have never met me. You don’t have a relationship with me. You know only the words on the screen I produce, I’m much nicer in person. You apparently missed the irony of the fact you say those who use anonymous noms de plumes are trading in fool’s gold; and here you are with a pseudonym! I could trace you IP address; but you know I won’t. Unadulterated freedom is too often an excuse for unadulterated unaccountability. The time spent writing on blogs would be better used hugging your kids and reminding those you care about that you’re actually willing to interact in person.

    You’re right that I get to communicate with a lot more people than I otherwise would. Of course, I could do that just by going to the grocery store and actually talking to folks too. Come to think of it, I’m going to go shopping now. Bye.

  61. mama on September 22, 2007 at 2:52 am

    Blake, I read just about everything on T&S and BCC and a couple of other Mormon blogs, but I don\’t comment. I feel intimidated most of the time. I hate to finally break my silence to say what I\’m about to say, but someone has to say it.

    California Condor can\’t see the irony of anything he writes. He chastises people for the tone of their comments in the most condescending tone I see from anyone. He gets into personal attacks and diatribes constantly. He looks down his nose at people and refuses to listen. He doesn\’t appear to even try to understand what others are saying. Ray is one of the most even-tempered, careful commenters I read, and yet Condor told him today on BCC that he should be polite in public and blogs like this. Condor said that someone else needs to be more polite!

    Don\’t let him get to you. I really think he just doesn\’t understand how he sounds when he comments.

    Sorry, admins. I probably should have stayed quiet. I\’ll go back to lurking now.

    [Admin: We ask commenters to avoid rehashing concerns from other forums in the T&S combox]

  62. Bald Samson on September 22, 2007 at 5:29 am

    #26 Um Ardis…that kind of surprises me. My brother left the church and even though that saddens me, he didn’t “whine” himself out. He presented pretty good reasons why he didn’t believe in it and it wasn’t for him. He had a bad experience on his mission and turned out to be gay. Some people in our Stake treated him horribly and my parents shocked me by the way they treated him. But he never complained about the church or attacked it after he left. He was just being honest with himself.

    Your statement did leave the impression that Nick notes in #27, that leaving is automatically whining. I just wanted to check because I was sure you didn’t really mean that. I was inclined to think you must mean it as Kaimi says in #35. I was hoping you just meant that blogs are a place where ‘whining’ yourself out of the church happens as one way of leaving the church, but not the only way. I’ve seen it myself so I know ‘whining’ is definitely one way to leave.

    On this blogging thing as the harbinger of cultural meltdown, I’m caught between two feelings:

    1) that anyone can now be an ‘artist’ and upload whatever crap they’ve made is not a good thing at all. It encourages an overall mediocrity of culture. I’m not sure the internet is to blame for this though. Television andand film and some but not all pop music have already helped do this. Chat shows and reality TV are kind of precursors of blogs.

    2) that it’s actually a good thing because this is real freedom of speech and real democracy. It casts up dross, but this is what we always said we believed in so we have to accept it or redefine freedom of speech and democracy along lines that are bound to sound elitist.

  63. Ardis Parshall on September 22, 2007 at 7:09 am

    Bald Samson, read Kaimi’s #35 again. I don’t how anyone could point out more clearly, more calmly, more rationally the logical fallacy of misreading my comment that “blogging [may] make it easier to whine yourself out of the church” as meaning “he left the church so he must be/have been a whiner.”

  64. Jack on September 22, 2007 at 9:41 am

    I think what the critics don’t like about the blogs is that they provide an opportunity for everyone to be a critic.

  65. Ray on September 22, 2007 at 10:03 am

    BS (Sorry, Bald Samson, it was just too tempting. *grin*) and everyone else, all of us know that it is possible to whine one’s self out of the Church. Most of us probably know at least one person who has done so. Ardis made a legitimate point; some people reacted to what they perceived as “implied assumptions”; it got cleared up very well, both by Kaimi and and Ardis. Can we drop this, please? It’s a non-issue, especially since it has been clarified so well.

  66. Ray on September 22, 2007 at 10:06 am

    I think Jack makes a great point. Those who have created an industry and a job out of telling people what they should think might have a hard time accepting the fact that their professional lives suddenly aren’t as important as they used to be.

  67. Adam Greenwood on September 22, 2007 at 11:10 am

    Don’t make me get out my crosses and garlic, all.

  68. Dave on September 22, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    I hate to actually relate the comments back to the topic of the post, but the sniping and griping between commenters that one often sees on blogs — yes, even here at T&S — is the perfect example of what the book is criticizing as a degraded standard of communication or interaction. And I say that with some regret because the author really doesn’t deserve to be right. Maybe it’s the price we pay for broader participation, but chronically misrepresenting what other people say is one of the least admirable traits of the blog comment game.

    The biggest misrepresentation on this thread was ungewiss’s description (#9) of the mishmash of online commentary directed against LDS faith claims as an “onslaught of reason,” but it doesn’t seem to have bothered anyone. Then Ardis makes the reasonable and probably accurate observation (#10) that online forums make it easier for people to whine themselves out of the Church, and everyone goes nuts, misreading her simple and direct English sentences to conform to the firmly planted “Mormons think people leave the Church because they are offended” meme. Ignore your memes and read the words.

    Putting together the two comments (#9 and #10) gives a nice blended summary: Yes, online forums provide to anyone who asks, at the click of a mouse, unsettling information about LDS history that previously was not very accessible to the average person, and this is a challenge for the Church. But yes, online forums also provide “whiners” (and whining is a perfectly descriptive term for the primary activity at some “I used to be a Mormon” boards and blogs) a place to congregate and practice groupthink, and this too is a challenge for the Church because their whining is just as accessible as any other online information or innuendo.

  69. MikeInWeHo on September 22, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    Wouldn’t that be a little gold Moroni statue and garlic in this case, Adam?

    Oh Ardis Ardis Ardis. How much fun it is to push people’s hot buttons, run away, and then stand back and watch their (rhetorical) heads explode! Then we can top it off with “Oh dear! Well I certainly didn’t do that!” You’re my role model in the art of subtle, plausibly deniable provocation.

  70. Ardis Parshall on September 22, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    MIWH, yes, I do that, on occasion. The irony is that this time I honesty, genuinely, authentically meant absolutely nothing more than what I literally wrote. My #10 included two random examples of the potential problems I see with (current/former/anti/un/non)Mormon blogging and websites. I really see the *other* example (more tailings to sift through in the preliminary survey of a subject) as the greater problem, because it affects me and my research. It never occurred to me that people would make my point for me in such a graphic way with the first illustration.

    As a further example in support of the “barbarians at the gate” way of looking at the Internet is the way that blogging communities hash out a hot topic, and then forever after refer to their conclusions as established fact. Rather than be specific here (I’d rather avoid debating the specifics of the examples and keep the focus on Dave’s thread, which is an important one to all of us who hang out in places like this), I’ll be general. How many times have you read a comment appealing to authority with “As Mike Quinn proved …” or “As GBH told the interviewer …” or “We all remember when Boyd K. Packer …”? Such “citations” almost invariably — so invariably that I hate to have to qualify it with “almost” — condense or twist or otherwise maul the original statement into something that it most emphatically was not. Yet later commenters sagely nod and agree that yes, Mike Quinn did prove that the world was flat or that yes, Pres. Hinckley did deny that the moon rotates around the earth, and it therefore follows that Joseph Smith was a pedophile or Brigham Young made the handcart companies leave late so that they would die and increase his profits, or whatever other wacky idea they are supporting.

    The way the Internet allows like-minded people to find and reinforce each other can be a very good thing, or it can be a very, very bad thing.

  71. Ben H on September 22, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    (#46) now all the cards are on the table. This is forcing the Church to take a more realistic approach to its history, which can only be good in the long run. I doubt that Bushman and Givens’ work would have been tolerated (much less publicized) by the Church in the pre-Internet era.

    MikeInWeHo, I can see why you might think this based on a few quotations. And certainly Bushman and Givens are doing something new. Their books don’t read like Deseret Books. But there is a very big difference between (a) being well-informed and honest and (b) being heterodox, between knowing how to talk to non-believers and being one. To compare Broadie and Givens like this is to totally miss what is so impressive about what Givens is doing. The sad thing is that before Bushman and Givens there was not enough written that exemplified this difference, not enough written from a standpoint of faith, in a truly bilingual fashion (speaking in a way both believers and non-believers can relate to). So the Church didn’t have the chance to tolerate or publicize it. I don’t think the Church has changed. I think the conversation (especially certain participants) has matured, and the Church has welcomed these examples of excellent scholarship, consistent with faith, at long last. (Of course, folks like B.H. Roberts and Eugene England had some very nice work, too)

    Joseph himself said if he hadn’t experienced his story, he wouldn’t believe it. What’s so radical about saying frankly what non-believers think about his story?

  72. California Condor on September 22, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    Blake (61)

    My point was that meeting people on blogs generally doesn’t reduce the number of people you meet at Church, at work, at school, etc., espcecially if people read blogs during “down time” at work or at home, times that would be spent in isolation in the 1980s. Yes, I realize that “California Condor” is a nom de plume, and yes I realize that using it does not gurantee me anonymity.

  73. California Condor on September 22, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    [Admin: See administrative note to comment 62. Demands for apologies between commenters are generally out of order.]

  74. MikeInWeHo on September 22, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    re: 46
    I’m not so sure it’s that simple, Ben. From my perspective it really does seem like the boundary between “believing” and “non-believing” Mormon history is much less clear than it used to be. Givens is great. I’m just starting to dig into his new book.

    But back on topic, at least for me the Internet has been a great blessing. I don’t blog to the exclusion of any other important activity. And really, why even ask whether blogs are good or bad? The Internet isn’t going away. Ubiquity of information and universal communication rapidly approaches. How will it affect us?

  75. ungewiss on September 22, 2007 at 8:15 pm

    Dave (#60, 69), I concede that “reason” was a poor word choice and not what I meant to convey. “Information” might have been more suitable.

    In response to #60 specifically, if I were looking for a “choir to preach to”, or any congregation to preach to for that matter, I wouldn’t be here. I am simply a man trying to learn to discover and accomodate truth without losing my mind.

  76. Ray on September 22, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    “I am simply a man trying to learn to discover and accommodate truth without losing my mind.”

    and that is a very noble pursuit. How about we wipe the slate clean of previous conclusions and start over at square one. (*smile*)

  77. Bald Samson on September 23, 2007 at 9:42 am

    Ardis, Ray, totally happy with the clarifications. All is well. Excuse the momentary pedantry.

    On this larger subject of blogging. Does anyone feel that one helpful thing about blogging is that it improves real life conversational ability? Or do you think it might be the reverse?

    On a blog, you can hash out subjects, make comments, read responses, and hone your opinions in a way that’s not always possible in face to face debate.

    I’ve found that blogging makes me more attentive to what people are saying to me in real time. The blogging experience also slowly teaches me how not to make over-generalisations or falacious arguments during real life discussion with friends and family.

  78. Bald Samson on September 23, 2007 at 10:06 am

    #66 Ray. I’m of course very offended that you mock my initials! I’ll have you know I come from a very noble and venerable line of Bald Samsons. My father, Half Bald Samson. My grandfather. Bald E. Samson, who was a bishop for many years. And of course my son, Will B. Bald Samson.

    So let’s not have any more of that!

  79. Ray on September 23, 2007 at 10:09 am

    Bald S, I agree that blogging can help improve communication abilities, but I don’t think it does it any differently than in face-to-face communications – other than extending the length of discussions out over a few days, which allows time for “cooling off and considering” that often isn’t possible in person. However, in person, it is much easier to see the other person’s reaction and know when you have misinterpreted something they said.

    Frankly, I think blogging tends to magnify one’s natural inclinations – since it removes many of the barriers that otherwise restrain people from being their worst selves. If I tend to be argumentative or condescending in person, I probably will be even more argumentative or condescending on a blog; if I am given to hyperbole, I probably will be ultra-hyperbolic when I blog; if I am sensitive to what people are trying to say and work to flesh out what they mean in person, I will do so even more carefully when I can’t see their faces; etc. Societal constraints are meant largely to control the extremes in our natures – to provide a degree of safety and civility; blogging, particularly in a truly open, unmoderated environment, can weaken or destroy those constraints. That’s the primary reason I limit my public blogging to only those sites that are moderated – and why I don’t link my personal blog (intended just for family and closest friends) to my name even on a blog like this. I just don’t want to associate with all the trolls out there.

  80. Ray on September 23, 2007 at 10:13 am

    BS (Oops, must respect others’ wishes and sensibilities) Second try – B. Samson: My wife’s initials were MAM before we were married. My last name starts with the letter “D”. I get grief over 20 years later about how marrying her made her MAD – especially from our kids.

    Back to our regularly scheduled discussion.

  81. Bob on September 23, 2007 at 11:34 am

    Is it then ” Barbarians at the Gates”, or Barbarians within the Gates”? Is the pressure coming from the outside, or the inside?

  82. MikeInWeHo on September 23, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    re: 78

    I’m not sure about my real life conversational ability, but blogging has definitely improved my writing. For example, at work I notice that my emails are more concise and pithy than they used to be. Additionally, these online conversations have increased my vocabulary. I see no downside. Much better to mix it up in a forum like this than watch some mind-numbing TV show.

  83. normie on September 23, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    So would Andrew Keen argue in an earlier century against widespread literacy? It seems that riff-raff learning to read would lower the level of discourse and encourage the publication of lesser works. Besides, it’s doubtful that any good could come of literate masses. I wonder what his take on modern-day literacy/education programs is.

  84. Bob on September 23, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    #84: I don’t know what he would argue, but he would not be alone. The idea of widespread literacy is kinda new, (200 years?). I believe even in early America, it was felt unneeded. It was taught in schools, often only so people could read the Bible. I guess the idea is also linked to Democracy (?) Some would say that Gutenberg first printed the Bible, and we have gone downhill after that. I think America is less literate today: we can read, but we don’t!

  85. Bald Samson on September 24, 2007 at 4:49 am

    #80 Ray, what you say just about covers it for me as well. One interesting thing about the absence of verbal or body language cues in blogging is that tone must somehow be embodied in the language you use. This of course can lead to misunderstanding. It’s sometimes difficult to be sure if a comment is sincere or sarcastic, for instance. A twinkly-eyed sense of humour sometimes doesn’t convey itself properly in pure text. But on the other hand it enables one to potentially enlarge one’s use of language, where subtle tones must be expressed in the words alone now that facial expressions and tone of voice are not in the toolbox.

    I agree completely that in the anonymity of blogging, natural tendencies can be exaggerated. This can be a learning process. I think blogging is in many ways a communal journal. My wife is a very committed diarist and she says her journal allows her to see what she’s thinking. Things that seemed terribly profound in her head sometimes just seem silly on paper. But on the other hand she discovers some nuggets of thoughts in herself that she wasn’t even aware of.

    #83 MikeinWeho, great points. On the television question I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly.