Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Is Blogging Inherently Disreputable?

Is blogging disreputable, a waste of time, a way to avoid responsibilities?

A book I have never quite had the courage to use in the classroom, The Un-TV and the 10 Mph Car: Experiments in Personal Freedom and Everyday Life by Bernard McGrane includes an exercise of three experiments in which students are to be quite mindful of watching TV. The experiments:
1. Watch any TV show for 15 minutes without turning on the sound.
2. Watch any news program for 15 minutes without turning on the sound.
3. Watch television for one half hour without turning it on.

McGrane reports that most students become quite angry at being forced to do this ridiculous thing, and complain bitterly that they wasted 30 minutes of their time. The discussion focuses on what they accomplished in the other 30 minutes (no sound) or in previous TV watching.

Much of the case Sharon presents against blogging could be used against television, the quilting or knitting habit that overtakes people. (one bumper sticker reads, "She who dies with the most yarn wins.") On the other hand, there are ways to do these activities that build up rather than detract from family life, that edify instead of stupify, that are moderate instead of addictive.

Blogging has two primary differences. It's new - so it's a NEW way of taking time from responsibilities etc, and therefore noticeable as TV watching is not. And it is moderately public; one's family or colleagues often know about the blog even if it's pseudonymous.

The argument so far merely suggests that blogging is probably no worse than many other hobbies: not a very strong defense.

The charge of feeding ego is interesting. People rarely brag that they watched a great night of TV. (They may get puffed up about their crafts...) The blogger is suggesting that her ideas might actually be worth reading. But she also opens the possibility of criticism, of hearing directly that her ideas are full of holes. The process of engaging in such an activity fosters a certain sturdiness in her mental processes. She may be selective about her topics, careful in her wording, more logical than she would be in casual conversation. When readers disagree, she will have to consider other viewpoints. (Politely in most religiously grounded blogs, but not everywhere.)

The things that blogging inherently fosters seem all to the good: logical thought, improved self-expression, engagement with ideas and culture. The problem is, of course, immoderation. If we are enlivened by a little blogging, we may do more. As the novelty wears off and we think we HAVE to blog ("what will the readers think?") we miss that thrill - and may do MORE blogging to try to get it back. Blogging becomes a responsibility all its own ... and we may enjoy being good at it, or receiving praise, so we do more.

If there is anything problematic in blogging and the many social-network applications, it's the way in which we can let an alternative world drive away our experience of the present moment and the people we see day to day. I am amazed that this new phenomenon, Twitter, has become so popular: who wants to report what they are doing, several times a day, in bursts of 140 characters? Who wants to know, moment by moment, what dozens of other people are doing? The answer appears to be: millions of us.

Modern people have found dozens of ways to divert, not time or responsibility, but attention and presence from those who are nearest and most important in our lives. Blogging can be one of them - but it need not take on that role.

1 comment:

Dcn Scott Dodge said...

Thanks, Fred. There is much to think about here. I know that when I return from Winona the first week of July, I am making a lot of changes in how I spend my time. This spring things literally got away from me.

I plan to continue blogging because I do not feel that, for me, it is a diversion. Writing is one way I make sense of things and writing in a public forum puts a necessary check on what I write, which I appreciate and probably even need. Plus, the only time I watch t.v. is when I watch a movie or a t.v. series on DVD. However, I plan to blog less.