June 30, 2017
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.
What is a blog? While unofficial, it appears that the first blog dates back to 1994. Weblogs, coined in 1997, became plain old blogs in 1999. Then, as their popularity rose, Merriam-Webster presented it as the word of the year in 2004. Back then, the word was defined as, “Online journal where the writer presents a record of activities, thoughts, or beliefs.”
Blogs continue to be a space for contemplation, ideas, crafts, words or sharing your favorite pieces of culture. They have greatly expanded due to the converging rise of Do-It-Yourself projects. Merriam-Webster now defines blog as “a website that contains online personal reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks, videos, and photographs provided by the writer.” In a second definition, Merriam-Webster claims that a blog can also be associated with an online publication that “relates to a particular topic and consists of articles and personal commentary by one or more authors.” An important aspect of both definitions is that they rely on the term “personal”. While writers always share something personal, there is movement away from the idea of a professional writer, into more of an amateur field.
There are many reasons for the desire to share something personal. However, personal implies that the entire conversation is personal. In other words, it is a conversation typically reserved for an audience among family and friends. Precisely who is included in our personal circle? Our thoughts are certainly personal, and yet, the rise in blogging suggests that humans have a need to more widely distribute their own thoughts. Does a blog offer effective contemplation, conversation? Does it provide a necessary and useful format for society? Or should blogs be relegated to personal interest?
Blogs reflect, I believe, the way in which our societal structure has changed over the past thirty to fifty years. Neighborhoods no longer define community. Instead, we create community through schools, interest groups, activities, churches and family structures. As society alters the style of our community, so does our style of communication. In part, these arose simultaneously. For example, we have access to transportation and communication devices with a fair amount of ease. Our ability to text, call, email, or facetime enables us to travel great distances without leaving our homes. It also allows us the freedom to make plans and change them up to the moment. Transportation grants the freedom to make plans in any number of locations. We can visit friends all over the world with relative ease. And while it is not impossible to maintain strong connections through words alone, visiting certainly helps.
Having this great power of movement, however, also changes the dynamics of our close relationships. While many studies show a correlation between good health and positive relationships, society continues to rely on social media as one form of relationship. I wonder, therefore, how healthy that relationship is for the human psyche and does it fit the need that we need it to fill?
One potentially problematic aspect of blogs is that the writer can claim anything. For the most part, there is no editor or fact-checker. Whether looking up information about cooking, crafting, politics or historical fact, it is likely that you will stumble upon nearly every side of a coin, regardless of fact. Also, it may be difficult to find the information that you need. Searching for a particular issue, may actually lead you astray. In other words, the reader must do their own homework since searchability and reliability remain unresolved issues of blogs.
Having said that, I believe that blogs provide a space in which we can enhance our levels of contemplation. For example, writing offers many potential benefits. A society which writes must be thinking about a wide variety of issues, entertainments and interests. I like the idea that we can form a web of communication with others whom we do not know, have never met and are unlikely to meet. It has the potential to bring us together in contemplation and discussion, not necessarily in agreement. It seems important to support a society of writers and thinkers. To my mind, this is the best that a blog community can offer: serious contemplation of any subject, coupled by thoughtful commentary.
However, the most glaring drawback of blog community is the lack of personal interaction. Without the handshake, hug, facial expression or physical presence, some people feel it is acceptable to write something that would be deemed inappropriate in a social setting. It is as if we enable an internal editor when speaking publicly, but dissociate ourselves from this very same editing device when speaking electronically. This divide seriously puzzles and frightens me.
I hope that as the blogging community grows, our awareness of socially appropriate speech will re-engage, that we will be reminded of the power of speech, of courtesy and grace. I enjoy presenting my thoughts in dialogue and I appreciate the responses that articulate both thoughtful approval and dissent. While I still much prefer human interaction and direct conversation, I can see the potential service that blogs may provide.
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