I like metaphors. One that I used to describe blogging a long time ago was the metaphor of show and tell. In some ways, the discourse that happens is at a sort of kindergarten level—gee, look at what I found! As warblogging picked up, it seemed that the metaphor chosen by the media was that blogging was primarily a soapbox to stand on. I thought of another one tonight. I think of my blog as a footstool.
At the end of the day, I prop my feet up and diddle with ideas that have persisted. This medium is sort of like an extension of my living room—a comfortable place where a few people drop by, many of which have been reading me for a long time. Occasionally (and sometimes unfortunately) I get linked by someone who causes a big spike in my normally low traffic. My footstool gets kicked out from under me, and is replaced by a soapbox. I’m not sure how healthy that is. I like having a low profile.
Why not just write and save these diddles in text files? Because they would be largely forgotten, and I wouldn’t feel the need to sustain my momentum. This blog makes me feel comfortable. I try to write at a level that someone outside my head might be able to understand, and because I know that some people have developed some idea of who I am I don’t have to laboriously craft everything as if I’m meeting everyone for the first time. I don’t feel nearly as isolated if I know that someone reads the junk I’m thinking about. It motivates me to avoid being too depressive, or too egg-heady. It props me up, and levels me out like a footstool.
Of course, knowing that a few people read you increases the drive to bring something to the table—something someone else might not have read, or seen. But it gets complicated when people start talking back. There has been much discussion among bloggers wondering if comments are a good thing—they can be distracting, time consuming, etc. But without them, a blog is certainly more like a soapbox. A few comments from time to time can make it seem more like a community, and provide affirmation and encouragement—or engagement and debate which forces you to shore up your footstool more securely. I wouldn’t want to discontinue comments, regardless of the potential negatives. However, I learned a long time ago “when to say when.” I’ve been writing in electronic environments since the early 80s.
Electronic discourse does tend toward the agonistic. It can get downright ugly. But unlike a mailing list or discussion board where a great deal of energy must be expended to maintain a community, a blog has a revolving door. A person can invest as much (or as little) as they desire in maintaining a dialogue. When a dialogue isn’t rewarding, there is no point in escalation. I learned that long ago. The difference is that when I write in my blog I have no obligation to forge a community. However, a sense of community has enough reward to warrant a great deal of attention to civility.
Misfires happen. People who don’t know me wouldn’t realize that “dead white guys” is a term of endearment to me. Unless medical science advances radically, I’ll be one myself someday. I write about what I’m working on, what I’m studying, what I’d like to know more about. When I write about it here, it forces me into a certain civility that wouldn’t be required otherwise. I think civility is good, but I can’t resist a good grin. My level of involvement with a larger community often fluctuates dependent on the attention I am investing on projects.
The beauty of blogging is, for me, that the loosely joined communities seem to stay relatively stable in the face of radically fluctuating levels of involvement. Many questions persist, transform, and reemerge across the network of individual blogging spaces. Above all, the question of “what is so different about blogging?”
I sticking with the story that it’s my footstool. However, for a more in-depth analysis (and one of the best I’ve ever read) about blog discourse and its role in education try Weblogs and Discourse by Oliver Wrede. Though its focus is on education, even a casual blogger can draw something from it.
But saying “blogging is a footstool” is easier.