The Death of Blogs?

One of the things that all bloggers think about, and many bloggers blog about, concerns the very activity of blogging itself. It is not unusual to hear confessions (whether in print blog-form or otherwise) from those of us who blog regularly concerning the absurd amount of time given to thinking about, reading, responding to, and typing up blog entries. The fact that 200 million people have given up blogging, more than twice as many as are active, may indeed be testimony to the kind of roadkill that blogging can be. (Here I am not saying anything new.)

In a recent CT article entitled ‘The Death of Blogs’, Ted Olson reports on the current state of blogging, particularly religious blogging. Much of the article merely rehashes much of what we already know, or at least suspect: good blogs need to match quality with frequency, etc.

One theme that’s being given increasing attention recently is that of whether blogging means the death of print criticism. Discussing blogged book reviews, this recent podcast explores whether or not literary blogging will destroy our critical culture, or encourage more people to have their say about books they’re reading and so reinvigorate debate. To be sure, it’s not an either/or, but there is (encouragingly) growing concern over the quality (and accuracy) of material on blogs (the same, of course, could be said about Wikipedia!)

Olson cites blogger Amy Welborn who in August euthanised her blog to focus on writing real books. She wrote: ‘I want to do good, and I want to do lasting good — the kind of good that people carry around, share, put on their bookshelves and reflect on — rather than the kind of good that sparks a momentary flash until we surf to the next website and the next and the next’. Surely this is something that all credible bloggers seek (and some attain), however much we believe that there may indeed be something valuable in informed ‘momentary flashes’. The assumption that (un-peer-reviewed) blogs challenge the existence of (peer-reviewed) books and ‘real’ journals would only be frightening if it were true. Surely the cry from the non-blogging anti-pop cultural snobs must be allowed to fall gently on stony ground. Among other things, blogging, it seems to me, is a place not for great tomes (like Clive James’ recent 896 pager!) but for the reflections and conversations that may inform such (not unlike some of Clive James’ interviews), or to considerably more humble projects. Blogging is a certain genre (or number of genres) that is, perhaps, yet to be clearly defined.

Olson proceeds to note a resignation letter from Alan Jacobs: ‘Right now, and for the foreseeable future, the blogosphere is the friend of information but the enemy of thought.’ But while the two are often mutually exclusive, they need not necessarily be. I think here of the ‘ministry’ that many Karen, Shin, Burmese, Hmong, Lahu, Lisu, and Akha bloggers have had for many years in reporting – sometimes poorly, sometimes brilliantly – the costly struggles for democracy, peace and security in Burma, and not least the deplorable recent events. As Dennis Shanahan, in this encouraging article, has recently reminded us, in many cases it was ‘Bloggers, armed with digital cameras and software to dodge firewalls, [who] have shown the uprising to the world, and the junta’s bloodthirsty response. Now they have been silenced and forced underground’.

Olson suggests that ‘the secret of some of the top God blogs is that they’re team efforts. But many bloggers still feel like they have to have their own site to be “contributing to the conversation.” The blogosphere, which was supposed to be a great democratizer, has made us all perennial candidates, demanding that we weigh in on every news item, no matter how mundane or overexposed. (The blog world risks becoming one giant midrash on The New York Times front page.) But some of us can’t help ourselves’.

That’s right … some of us can’t won’t help ourselves.

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