Jean Dublog

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

How Sybilized

I really like the following exchange on a blog called Writing as Jo(e), which is a link off of A Delicate Boy, a Brett blog-find. It's a little long and very serious (they're academics, what do you expect?), but check this out.

Jo(e):
"It seems to me that it's only been in the last few years that composition teachers and literature teachers have recognized blogging as a legitimate activity for their students. I think many resisted at first. But more and more, panels on blogging have crept into conferences. Often now, faculty will refer to their course blogs.

"Yes, of course, blogs are different than books. The nature of blogging is interactive and instantaneous. When I write a poem for a literary journal, it gets published more than a year after I wrote it. Blog posts are published within seconds of when they are written. I like the way a blog written by one person can be a text with multiple voices - sometimes personal, sometimes academic, sometimes political. And of course, anyone can post to a blog. You don't have to wait to get noticed by a publisher. I wonder, as publishers increasingly get taken over and ruled by big corporate interests, as small independent presses go out of business just as many independent bookstores have, if blogging is replacing the free exchange of ideas that writers could once do in books."

Dr. K responds:
"I had a discussion recently in a nature & culture class about what technology does to communication and to information, and we all agreed that it two effects: it broadens them and makes them more superficial. It's easy to see that face-to-face communication, where you have gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, volume, body language, the smell of a person's hair and breath, the sparkle in their eyes, etc., to communicate with, is richer than text messaging. Text messaging on the other hand is efficient and can reach lots of targets quickly--immediately. It's broader and it's trivial. There's a place for that. I think blogs do the same for written communication--it's instantaneous and ephemeral, and archived or not, we rarely go back to it. It can have an effect on us through memory, and that's something for sure. The Internet, in my opinion, has done the same thing to knowledge--it's astonishing what's out there, but the information gets trivialized and made superficial by its instant, easy access."

Couple of ideas here I'd like to chew on. As a class, we've blogged quite a bit about what constitutes a personal blog and the importance of an authentic voice. But Jo(e) really goes for solo blogs that exhibit multiple voices. Impossybil? I have to say, no, yes, maybe (slap). To the extent that we are complex creatures with varied interests and moods, I think our blogs can reflect this and still demonstrate authenticity. Perhaps nothing exhibits better who we are. Brett does this with his literary and personal blogging. Aldon, too. But they walk a fine line. It's blogging with multiple voices that troubles me about Jo(e)'s comments. You can cross all kinds of subject lines, but I think a single, complex, authentic voice needs to shine through as readers are taken from one subject to another. Otherwise, there's no thread. Such a thread makes the blog identifiable and helps us decide if we feel a connection and want to come back. As for Jo(e) and his obnoxious parens, have you noticed in this context that he's Writing as Jo(e)? Is he really Joe? For the moment, presumably. I think I saw a movie about him/her.

That brings me to Dr. K's view of the blogosphere as ephemeral. I largely agree. While some blogs have extensive archives, I seldom use them unless I'm visiting a blog for the first time and want to learn more about the blogger. With millions of blogs posting almost daily, how many will have far-reaching effect and remain memorable? I also agree, no-brainer, with K that there's a place for blogging -- a substantial and very accessible place. I think Dr. K may not quite recognize, or at least address, just how powerful an impact blogs are having, how they are helping to satisfy a widespread hunger for self expression and for connection to new online communities.

Joe, on the other hand, worries that blogs are so powerful they may even replace books. What he doesn't get is that books do not necesarily represent the free exchange of ideas, except among elites and academics. Colonial era pamphleting had far wider impact than the works of John Locke. But what's really important, I think, is to recognize there's room and need for both media. Would Common Sense have happened without Locke? Blogging does not mean social cataclysm, just new forms of social and intellectual interaction for an age populated by overworked, distracted people who need an easier, faster way to freely exchange ideas and connect. The blogosphere is not replacing books so much as the village green. The added benefit is that the blogosphere can accommodate so many more people than a square piece of grass.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Personal Business

I'm of the opinion that the nuances of the word "personal" may be undergoing changes as a result of blogging. My ancient American Heritage dictionary says "personal" means "of or pertaining to a particular person; private." OK on the importance of the individual here, but, private? To some people, especially older, personal will always mean private, but increasingly, it seems, the label of "personal" is meant to indicate a kind of stamp of authenticity.

I'm sure most of us have checked out Brett's Nonsense blog. This Nov. 28 blog entry seems incredibly personal -- I admire his candor and style here and in other posts. But is it private? Obviously not, since it's laid bare in the blogosphere. Are we intrigued and entertained then, almost salaciously, because he has chosen to make public details that should be private? Perhaps some are. But I think Nonsense is personal because it looks and feels authentic, a true expression of the soul. The same details buried in an overly written, rationalized account wouldn't feel nearly as personal, or as authentically bloggy. The personal detail of so many personal blogs may obscure the greater importance of authenticity, but it is there.

It's easier to separate the importance of personal detail and an authentic personal voice in other types of blogs, such as Colin's Courant blog. I don't think I need to go into a lot of detail about this, since I agree with nearly everything Dr. Papoulis said on the subject. In fact, I was on the same track myself (I know it's hard to believe) when I painted myself into a corner while trying to be brief and amusing in a response to this Colin post. I do believe that when you promise certain detail ("I'll post them on my blog") you have to deliver. But this kind of detail is generally of little importance, in the end, when blogging about community issues or about esoteric topics or about interesting odds and ends.

So, effective, resonating blogging does not require the airing out of anyone's personal business, but it is without a doubt a matter of executing personal business. As we've stated before in class, bloggers are in the business of self expression and making connections. I maintain the less personal, or authentic, the blogging voice, the more tenuous and fragile are these connections. We all know what corporations, thanks to their advertising dollars, have to say. With their political and media connections, government policymakers' points of view are well known. What we yearn for in the blogosphere is genuine interaction with people who think and feel. It's not a matter of four-letter words, though they may add to certain discussions, or online shouting, but it is a matter of uncensored, from the gut thought and feeling.

The reasons vary, of course. Some may seek validation; others the spirited interactivity of a verbal joust. But if we seek self expression and connection, the more likely we are to fail if we are met with the bland or the impersonal.

So, I'm going to look at the word "personal" a little bit differently from now on. After all, bloggers take it "personally."

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Connecticut Blogger Survey

Of course, you know Colin McEnroe's class has been studying blogs this semester. Many of you stop by now and then. And, you may have guessed it's term-paper time. For my shot at the beast, I want to talk to as many of you as possible. I want to know what you think about blogging ethics. What blogethics do you subscribe to? How are blogethics evolving across the blogosphere?

For my unscientific survey, I've got several open-ended queries and a short list of questions meant to evoke a yes or no response. I would very much appreciate hearing from you -- just leave your responses in the comment field or e-mail me! No anonymous comments, please. I just need to make sure it's one to a customer.

QUESTIONS:
1. Is there a widely embraced code of ethics among bloggers?

2. How are ethics among bloggers evolving?

3. Do blogethics vary by region? By blog topic?

4. What are the core ethical standards you subscribe to in blogging?

Please answer the following with yes or no.

Should general blogethics include the following:
A. Identify and link to sources whenever possible.
B. Never distort content of photos.
C. Never publish information you know is inaccurate.
D. Show compassion toward those adversely affected by your blog content.
E. Show good taste.
F. Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
G. Expose unethical practices of other bloggers.
H. Never ban a person or delete a comment simply because you disagree with that person.
I. Be transparent in all you blog.

Thanks for your thoughts on the matter. I pledge to let you know what kind of results I find when I wrap up my project.

John

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Is Video Better?

Just a reminder, CM, that I'll be traveling on business and unable to blog the rest of the week. Glad it wasn't last week, or I would have missed all the fun in the church of blog. But, while I feel bad about the time away, I was able to take in a few vlogs before I go.

I'm struggling with my thoughts about some of them, so let me start with the easier to digest. Rocketboom is pretty cool, an entertaining and slick video blog. It's regular as clockwork, five days a week, which almost makes it more of a professional production, but certainly less so than Wonkette. If it is slick, the folks at Rocketboom nonetheless seem proud of the fact that they're doing their thing on the cheap, not the work of dozens. Instead, it is the voice of basically two people, Andrew Baron and Amanda Congdon.

They describe their product as a mix of "information and commentary from top news stories to quirky Internet culture," a description I'd agree with. Sometimes video oddities already on the web seem to inspire a particular vlog; sometimes they do original video of interesting local color like the Brooklyn Brewery. Other times they offer up a creatively written, but flat video work, on an issue like the environment in Sept. 9th's "young republican" piece. In most cases, however, the video seems like the impetus for the piece and the end product is very entertaining. There is a political message behind some pieces, but the messges seem to be delivered with more artistry than we've seen in text-based political blogs.

The other vlogs I visited all seem to be more personal. In fact, I could find little of the polemic stuff that we've read in so many other blogs -- though admittedly I'm pressed for time in this search. It does make me wonder, however, if the availability, or lack thereof, of video around subjects like politics and religion limit the ability of vloggers to overtly tackle some subjects. Exits and Entrances, for example, seems to be consumed by this young woman's quest for a job -- except, jarringly, when a friend has video available from Sudan. Or, perhaps it's just that the quest for an interesting, artistic visual product in many cases takes priority over message development.

In any event, so many other vlogs seem to be the result of the artistic expression of young people consumed by the issues they face in their daily lives. Carl Weaver, for example, seems hellbent on examining the banal. I was tempted at first to describe him as dreadfully dull, but a very dry wit does emerge from time to time.

One mildly interesting piece I found was in Annieisms, specifically Annie's April "video conversation" about why she vlogs. Apparently vlogs are perfect for young people with short attention spans, that's certainly appealing to her. She also is really revved by comments and by the sense of community she enjoys with other vloggers. But, while immediacy seems important to vloggers, as it is to bloggers, it seems as though many have trouble producing enough video to vlog extremely often. So it seems the limits of time and technology trumps ideals in the vlogosphere.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Faithfully

I really like Brett's pick, A Big Jewish Blog. This guy's got a great sense of humor. I was afraid from his tagline that I might be subjected to a little too much poetry when what I wanted was engaging blogspeak, but not so. In fact, the use of poems was nicely done. The poem for Yom Kippur was great.

I'm not able to rave about Renegade Rebbetzin, though I understand why Colin is enchanted -- read Colin's tagline. Nuff said. She's one loud and brash meshugeneh. Great blogging voice, though a little too insular, and at the same time, over the top, for me. But that blog voice works with many, doesn't it? She's got 10 times the number of commenters, and probably readers, as Big Jewish Blog.

My question, however, is, are these really faith, religious blogs? They seem more like cultural blogs to me. Perhaps that's being overly restrictive. They don't really delve into issues at the heart of their faith. But they sure do paint a colorful picture of life among those who closely identify with their faith.

And, for something completely different, I really liked Christian Alliance For Progress. I don't think they are necessarily doing any revolutionary blogging here, but this blog represents a valiant attempt to separate religious identity from right-wing politics. Compelling, rational stuff offering another view on how faith can translate into political action.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Life of Ben

I was thinking of penning a post about how religious subject matter may not be the best fodder for blogging -- it seems like most get weighted down and drown in their own slowly gelling sermons before they quite get going. And then I dived into They Will Know Us By Our T-Shirts. My faith has been restored -- virtually anything can be made interesting and fun in the hands of a good blogger.

Ben, a seminarian from Minneapolis, has a pretty entertaining and often insightful blog that lampoons many religious traditions without mocking core beliefs. His probing, playful eye is perfect for making religious matters appealing to the blogosphere. Check out How May I Serve You," or "It's All In My Mind." His posts offer both the appeal of humorous personal musings while working in a Christian bookstore and a probing of some troublesome issues for a 21st Century Christian.

Like any truly conversational blog, T-Shirts also proves interesting by finding a network of similarly provocative blogs and websites that lampoon the serious-minded and smug. Some might call them blasphemous or even sick, but I marveled at the boldness of sites like J2K-five. Man, it's irreverent -- "who cut the jeeze?" The Jesus pictures of the week have been lambasted by many readers, but they say it loud and clear in the blogosphere, lampooning the sanctimonious and the blatantly commercial tendencies among many Christians.

These sites appeal primarily, it seems to me, not to those who dismiss religion but to those who see their faith shackled by ridiculously outdated traditions and even corruption. These sites poke serious fun at religious conventions and the conventional while leaving room for faith a whole lot more accommodating to the cynnical unwilling to drink the Kool-aid. It seems like a humorous, perhaps ribald, way of convincing others in the blogosphere that there are plenty of others out there who don't buy it all but remain connected by a tether of faith.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Church of Blog

Thinking about religious blogging really takes some focus to prevent going down side roads that can easily get one lost in sprawling issues. I'm also taking a pledge to avoid using certain phrases I've probably relied on too often, i.e., "preaching to the choir," because I don't want to "punnish" anyone reading about this particular blogging environment.

The question of audience and blogging assumptions, discussed in our last class, is very much in play here, especially in John Rush's fervent Anvil & Fire blog. The blogosphere, of course, does not belong solely to those who are skilled in edgy and tight blogspeak, but most of us seem to agree that adherence to this blogging aesthetic is more likely than not to increase the blogger's sphere of influence by making the blog more eye and ear-catching. Anvil & Fire has plenty of passion, of a kind, but this Tennessean of faith seems more fond of sermons than conversations.

There are some appeals to readers for reactions. And, some posts raise questions that seem intended to provoke discission, such as what an "unenlightened, black powder muzzle-loading, hick-on-the-mountain" is to make of a Buddhist Peace Pergoda as a neighbor. But most of these posts are sermon-like explorations of religious issues that are liberally sprinkled with Bible passages.

Rush seems sometimes uncertain of whether blogging really syncs up with his mission. In his October 18 post, Rush wonders openly whether blogging really helps or whether he's just "preaching to the choir." Is blogging noble? While blogging is a perfectly legitimate forum for addressing the spiritual needs of small communities as well as large, I think the evidence shows that this style and manner of blogging is unlikely to spread Rush's message beyond this particular small sphere. If you look at the comments, they are relatively few and they tend, for the most part, to be from the same individuals.

In expanding on an earlier post about religious fundamentalism, Rush's October 6 post speaks directly to the issues of assumptions and audience expectations. That he is addressing those who practice the same manner of faith is evident in his explanation that a discussion of fundamentalism "assumes an audience really understands the issues. It does not assume the understanding of the population at large."

In contrast, Bad Christian Blog uses a more irony-laden voice sometimes spouting naughty words, frequently expressed in a more conversational style. The result is often many, many more comments. Brandon sometimes takes a playful approach to his posting, even the title "Bad Christian" is meant to turn a rebuke into a badge of honor by demonstrating how being liberal more naturally fulfills the Christian life. He even has an amusing defense of the use of "swear words," which he deems appropriate as long as they are honest and the best words available to express a strong emotion.

But, just as much as his particular take on Christian life, I think Brandon's got so many interesting conversations going on in his blog because he understands the nature of the beast and he does desire to speak to a wide audience of people who also ponder how to be a religious person not in the mold of the Christian right. There's a substantial linking network here, and the comments seem to come from a wide-ranging group. Brandon does sometimes get quite serious in his arguments and goes on a bit, but he is able to engage other bloggers. Anvil does not seem to have the same goals in mind, and his smaller world seems to reflect his own assumptions about what is noble and worthwhile, however small the choir.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Deepening the Debate or Simple Pandering?

Thank god, I thought it was just me. So many of these political blogs have stylistic differences but little to truly make them stand out for originality or insight. As noted, many of these political blogs do use more vivid language, fast research and quick takes on the topics du jour. But I'm not seeing a richer debate; it's all about satisfying the ravenous hunger of an increasingly polarized and venomous political culture. Blogs with the sharpest arrows and deadliest aim are most likely to fit into the linking network of like-minded partisan pundits.

Just as Watergate spawned a new generation of journalist wanna-be's, Rathergate and a handful of smaller blog-exposes have bred poison-pen blogs focused on picking the bones clean of the most trivial political news; they are legion, and they are largely uninteresting -- unless you want to have your anger validated and confirmed. The political climate is thunderous enough to stir the emotions of even the mildest political apprentice. These linking networks offer a way to feel like a part of the fracas, blogeeks in gang colors.

More interesting, in some ways, is the Flu Wiki, which may seem at a glance like a jumble of information but which really shows a cyber-community coming together to truly broaden a discussion. There is no need to do focus groups or surveys to determine what content is most meaningful to users because the users are in the driver's seat. The content here is so rich and multi-dimensional, from discussion forums and brainstorming hubs to expert predictions and factual charts.

What's going on, it seems to me, is an attempt to exert influence, if not control, over the flow of information and on a potential crisis itself. Ever distrustful of official sources, certainly since the armed feds tried to hunt down ET, we can share information and resources as a community of similarly focused verminophobes. The need to share and tap into conventional wisdom is as old as folk or home remedies themselves. Here it satisfies the yearnings of vast communities more connected by Internet networks than by shared property lines. The experts are here, too, but this collaborative project has produced an amazingly diverse resource.