Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The nature of (quaker) blogging


I've been thinking about the assumptions inherent in blogging. What are the limits of the technology?

I read the book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television about a million years ago (ok, ten, plain speech, Pam, plain speech) and loved it, but one of the things that most stayed with me was the idea that TV isnt' only full of crappy programming, or run by the wrong sort of folks, it has inherent limitations, as a technology, that cannot be fixed by better writers, or making it less commercial. For examples, you can portray violence on TV very well, it consists of big movements, visuals, sounds, simple images. You cannot convey the beauty of a still forest at all. It's not just that people like violence better, it's also that it "works" where other things simply don't, in that framework.

There are all sorts of things about blogging that strike me this way, inherent limitations, some of which we could bypass within the technolgy (I still long for the days of discussion groups, and wish that there were more and better discussion boards that were centered on topics, rather than individuals. I don't particularly want to blog, to have my name in lights, as it were, but there are things I want to discuss, and this seems the best way to reach people who might be interested and interesting to me.) and some we cannot address within the technolgoy:

*it's one dimensional (a flat screen)

*it's a tool of a priviliged few (Rob asked the other day if there are any quaker bloggers in Africa or Latin America - I answered that I think there are quite few. Think of how likely someone in the US or Britain is to own a computer with internet access good enough to make this pastime reasonable, and that has yielded, what? 30? 50? I doubt near 100 quakers bloggers. It's quite easy to forget that it's not the norm everywhere. And much of me hopes that those who share my quaker ideals would probably not access the technology in a place where it was so relatively extravagant - it would be like me having satellite TV and one of those huge TVs and gosh knows what else.

*it thereby limits who you talk to. By focusing my communicative energy on blogging I am choosing not to focus it on other more simple, possibly more accessible (though I think mail service is terrible in many places too, and blogs may reach more people than periodicals do), and certainly more local forms of communication.

*for the most part we do it alone. Our breathing does not fall in together, we don't even say something and have it heard on the same day, maybe even the same week. Does it create disconnect? Do those things matter?

* Zach has a great post about peak oil and the coming doom of civilization as we know it (it's true, you gotta love him!) and one of the articles he links talks about the petroleum and plain old water that is used up in the production of computers and computer products. I tend to turn a blind eye to this stuff, but every now and then I can't run from it and I think my god! what are we doing? using all these resources so we can blather on about what it means to be a quaker. In my heart I know that it doesn't mean using resources that others don't have access too, and that are running out as I type to sit alone and navel gaze publicly!

* I already alluded to this, but it's about ME, this is MY blog, come pay attention to ME. Is that what we want, as a community? as I said, I think it would be useful to have more fora, like nontheist friends, for mutual disucssion (Is there a way to create some sort of open blog? I know that one can have more than one user, but can it be unrestricted? Is there a way to make it essentially so??

*Oh yea, this is a bit different, but I wonder about quaker blogging. I found out about the trend from Liz a while ago, and I remember asking her if people who were quakers just wrote about their whole lives (crushes, work trouble, heating bills) or just about quaker spirituality. I've come to see that it's both, but I find that I feel I am somehow representing quakers, that if I just write about being scared to raise kids, I'm somehow being overly self-absorbed. And Zach, has three blogs (that I know of) - sort of keeping distinct spirituality, activism, and personal stuff..... I have thought of doing something like that, and yet I hope that my whole life is informed by my quaker values, and what's more, that my quakerism is informed by my whole life and the wholeness of life around me.

But then maybe that gets back to how many dimensions blogging has, or can have, and how many I need it to have. hmmmmm.

Am I just having a cranky day???



Robin M. said...

First a question, how did you get the recent comment feature into your sidebar? Is that something I could do, even being relatively low-tech?

Second, is just, hey! Chris has that same book on our shelves. I haven't read it though.

I too worry that I will spend too much time blogging and writing to people far away and not enough on the people right here - the ones close enough to help me move (for example). My husband and I have to balance time writing on the computer vs. talking to each other, for another example.

But I have found that the conversations in comments can be like a forum - where people can talk to each other as much as the original poster. And the comments tend to stay more civilized, perhaps because we feel like we're in someone else's house, and should be respectful, instead of feeling free to yell as if we were at a protest demonstration. That could be one advantage to the medium.

I don't think I could manage more than one blog - not enough time to write to make it worthwhile, for one thing. Plus it would be hard to know which category to put things in. Plus most (not all) of the stuff that wants to come tumbling out of my head is Quakerish right now, so my blog is pretty focused on that. Except for today, I suppose.

earthfreak said...

Robin -

It's just a bit of code to be pasted into your template, but I can't remember how to find it. I asked Zach, and he gave me really good directions, which I was able to follow, even as an almost complete computer illiterate.

I reccomend the book, though even more so his later "In the Absence of the Sacred" - which has many similar themes, but is much broader in focus.

I liked much of what you said about blogging. I am conflicted about it. I do tend to think, though, I wish I lived in a small, tight knit community where people got together and had these conversations over tea and knitting (or barn raising or whatever) I am doing bits and pieces here and there to create a bit more of this in my life, and I do really appreciate the ability to communicate, for example, with you, who I will not likely get many chances to have tea with (I am going to gathering this summer, though, and think I heard that you were too, so it's not impossible!)


Robin M. said...

Yes! I'm going to FGC! For the first time. I look forward to meeting you - and Liz and a bunch of other bloggers for the first time while I'm there.

wess said...

I really appreciated your thoughts and comments, especially the part about hoping that all of our life is integrated - schooling, parenting, marriage, work and yes Quakerism.

Aj said...

Thanks for your thoughtful post: great questions. I've recently heard the Quaker blogging phenom. compared to early Quaker tract writing. When they wrote, they too consumed goods to write (paper, pen, etc.), and not everyone could read or write at the time (so it could appear that they were catering to an elite few). But I don't think they did it carelessly: they seemed to follow a call from God, and God blessed their actions. I'm really glad they wrote, and I'm equally glad to read the contemporary writings of Quaker bloggers such as yourself. I think if we hold everything, including our writing, in the Light that God will give guidence and blessing to our actions.

Liz Opp said...


You might be interested in (and feel affirmed by) this article I came across, about online virtual community. Some of what is stated there reminded me very strongly of what you have written here.

I myself remain conflicted: the advantages and disadvantages of an online community are many and complex. My guess is, a few years from now, we'll be able to look back at the world of (Quaker) web-logs and realize how they fit (or didn't) into the bigger picture of contemporary Quakerism.

Liz, The Good Raised Up