Friday, October 3, 2008

Observations About Catholic Blogging

I came across some observations about blogging from James Altena (Mere Comments). He has some very interesting observations that you may find intriguing: 1) Blog threads, being essentially conversational in nature, are inherently discursive and informal. They also tend to be digressive, frequently wandering off topic, as someone responds to a side point made in a previous comment, and that side point then becomes the focus of debate, and the process repeats itself. 2) Comments tend to be largely reactive in character, whether to the initial post or to a subsequent comment by another person posting on the blog thread. 3) Comments are usually written and posted hastily. This means that they tend to lack depth, and also are plagued with typographical and grammatical errors 4) Comments also therefore tend to be low on analytical content and sustained synthetic argument. Of course, they also lack supporting documentation (footnotes, bibliography, etc.) 5) There tends to be an inverse relation between the depth and specificity of a thread (or even a particular comment) and the breadth of the audience. The more specialized the content, the narrower the audience will be. 6) There is also a tendency to sweeping generalizations, reliance on stereotypes, and recourse to easy judgmentalism. 7) Because of the lack of face-to-face contact, it tends to be much easier for people to fail to practice restraint -- to speak far more strongly and bluntly than one would in direct conversation, even resorting to insult and profanity. 8) The conversational nature of blog threads also lures people into forgetting that, unlike in verbal conversation, their comments on blog threads form a permanent cyberspace record of who they are which can be accessed by perfect strangers. The result can be great carelessness of expression that can come back to haunt one. 9) Because of the lack of visual and verbal cues, it is also easier to misunderstand a blog comment than a spoken one. (This can be alleviated by the use of emoticons or explanatory comments.) 10) Over time, blogs tend toward the formation of informal alliances among the "regulars" who post on the thread, as people find intellectual and temperamental soulmates. Often these branch off into warm offsite e-mail friendships as well -- one of the major benefits of blogging. 11) The other major benefit of blogging is (on a substantive blog site) the opportunity provided for thought-provoking exchanges in which one encounters new and fruitful ideas that broaden and deepen one's mind. 12) Offsetting this, a major downside of blogs is that they also provide free platforms for village idiots and cranks who otherwise would not be given the time of day. Along with trolls, these can spoil the pleasure of a good blog site. 13) Blogs have a natural half-life of 2-3 years, after which the same topics tend to be debated with minor variations over and over again. 14) Finally, there is what I call a "Gresham's Law" of blog sites. Gresham's Law is from 17th c. political economist Thomas Gresham: "Bad money drives out good." I.e., sound money of greater value -- e.g., unclipped gold and silver coins in Gresham's day -- will be hoarded and pass out of circulation, while unsound money of lesser value -- e.g., clipped coins -- is palmed off on others in purchases and exchanges, resulting in an inflationary spiral. There is also, I believe, a Gresham's law of language (word definitions that are increasingly more vague and imprecise in meaning will tend to drive out of circulation definitions that are more specific and precise). Gresham's law of blogs dictates that, over time, the quality of comments on blogs will also degenerate, as idiots and cranks increasingly drive away more substantive commentators who finally decide not to waste time and energy arguing with them. Jerry Janquart says that Altena’s fourteenth point seems especially important to him [I agree]. There is good reason, for the health of a blogsite, to ban commentators who consistently make themselves obnoxious to its readers in the many ways this can be done. The axe should not be made to fall on those who express opposition to the point being made, but on those who write, even if they agree, in a dishonest (and here I am thinking primarily of the use of sly rhetoric) or unmannerly way. One has a right to insist that everyone who comes into his house leaves his muddy boots outside, and minds his manners once he is in. (Biretta Tip: James Altena via Mere Comments)


Anonymous said...

LOOKING FOR A POSTED BLOG THAT IS NOT HASTY- REGARDING - POINT MADE ABOUT CATHOLIC BLOGGING--GO TO LAST COMMENT ON JOEL OSTEEN 2006 entries. re; Prosperity Material Riches Theology BLOG-by anonymous--today--thoughtful, beyond just the personal accumulation of moneys and materials in western post industrial society--a bit of time warp travel

Rat-biter said...

## Regarding this:

"10) Over time, blogs tend toward the formation of informal alliances among the "regulars" who post on the thread, as people find intellectual and temperamental soulmates. Often these branch off into warm offsite e-mail friendships as well -- one of the major benefits of blogging."

## A by-product of this is that established "regulars" can be very "cliquey", to the point of giving the cold shoulder to those whose comments are unwelcome.

I think this is a particular temptation for some Catholics: the very strong stress in Catholicism on doctrinal orthodoxy, seems very apt to spill over onto expressions of opinion, so that unwelcome opinions - even those that are in no way objectionable morally or doctrinally are treated as (in effect) heresies. For example: no one has to admire the Pope, or to think his every action ideally wise & good - but on some messageboards & weblogs, to say so is suicidal.

That this happens is significant & alarming, because it is typical of Protestant Fundamentalism that it has taboos that are known only when they are transgressed. That the same phenomenon should occur among Catholics is extremely disturbing.

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