From the Boidem - 
an occasional column on computers and information technologies in everyday life

October 31, 2003*: The ethos of blog

I don't blog (well, at least not publicly). Often I feel as though I'd like to, or at least as though I should. But for some reason I fail to get as excited over blogs as much of the rest of the internet community seems to. I admit that when blogs first gained popularity I joined the chorus and more or less sang their praises. That first attempt at examining blogs was a bit more than two years ago. Back then I approached them as an embodiment of the original essence of the web. True, I didn't fall head over heals, touting blogs as a to return to some proverbial pre-falling from grace ur-web, but I was hesitantly hopeful just the same. I did quite a bit of homework preparing for that column, and since then I've continued to keep my eye on blogs, reading many, and reading about them. Rather unavoidably, some of the issues raised in that first column are raised again here, but the basic impetus for this particular column stems from a more personal examination of blogs - why they don't seem to be for me.

Of course blogs come in various shapes, sizes and flavors, and it's hard, if not impossible, to offer one clear and all-encompassing definition of them. A particularly good review can be found here, but just about everybody who writes about them has something interesting to contribute. One particular definition I like emphasizes how blogs have a strong base in sharing:

The ethos of blogging is collaborative and values the sharing of ideas; bloggers are not dependent on publishers to get their words out.
but that's become a truism that allows a reality of having very little to actually say to hide behind platitudes like sharing or equal opportunity.

I've read many a blog since my interest in them first perked. There's been lots to read, and quite a bit of it is worth the effort. But I've found that my excitement toward blogs has waned. It's certainly not that I'm now against blogging - what's there to be against? - but I do feel that the positive flowering of personal expression that blogs first promised swiftly wilted into an off-the-cuff attitude that discourages any real in-depth reflection. This same sort of thing could, and did, happen, with personal web pages almost a decade ago, but the technological advances available to bloggers today makes that situation even more acute.

Blogging demands, and perhaps causes, an itemization of thought. Each kernel of information stands by itself, bite-sized, detached. It's quick, and easy. It seems to go against how the writing process aids and abets the thinking process. Writing (and its necessary corollary, editing) forces us to think things through. Random thoughts continually rush through our heads, and as much as we may wallow in the conceit that those thoughts are of real value, it's only when we refine them, when we sift through them and save only those that are worthwhile, that something approaching value emerges. Writing and editing allow us to make those passing thoughts our own. Blogging seems to skip that possession part altogether. Instead of thinking through we're only passing through. Blogging seems to further an attitude that proclaims: See this? I saw it too. Nice, isn't it. Now move on.

But I don't want to move on. I want to sink my teeth in, get the taste, get inside a thought and see where it leads me. I'll readily admit that my hypertextual musings often go far beyond getting a taste for something. Sometimes the taste of the main course gets drowned out by too many side dishes. And though I'll readily admit that our ability to enjoy a meal depends as much on the ambience as on the food itself, the plates and the cutlery of these columns often seem to upstage the food which, I have to admit, really is more important. But even when I let these excesses get the best of me, I prefer them to the telegraphic think-it-through-yourself-ness of so many blogs. I prefer involvement over detachment, and when I read a web site or a blog that advertises itself as the thoughts of someone, I want to see those thoughts in action, I want them to engage me. I don't need the linking of a blog in order to be offered the opportunity to do it myself. What's more, if you don't have ideas, and don't think them through until you're sure they make sense, you can't really share them. If the sharing of ideas really is the ethos of blogging, those ideas have to be nourished, they have to be given the opportunity develop, or there's nothing to share. And for me that predicament seems to define the rather precarious nature of all too many blogs.

That's it for this edition. Reactions and suggestions can be sent to:

Jay Hurvitz

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