Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Metablog


Andrew Sullivan attempts to define blogging as a medium:
But a blog, unlike a diary, is instantly public. It transforms this most personal and retrospective of forms into a painfully public and immediate one. It combines the confessional genre with the log form and exposes the author in a manner no author has ever been exposed before.
True. Blogs are instant, but not immediate. They are revelatory, but not always relevant. They allow for communication, but not dialogue. Allow me to explain.

A blog allows anyone with access to a computer and internet connection to post anything about anything, but that post is mediated: that is, the post is communicated through the medium of the blog. In a sense, the post waits for its audience to read it. Some audience members may respond through other media (comments, email, etc.) to react by communicating with others or responding to the author of the post. All of that communication is mediated; the blog allows anyone to track what is communicated within the blog.
The blogosphere may, in fact, be the least veiled of any forum in which a writer dares to express himself. Even the most careful and self-aware blogger will reveal more about himself than he wants to in a few unguarded sentences and publish them before he has the sense to hit Delete. The wise panic that can paralyze a writer—the fear that he will be exposed, undone, humiliated—is not available to a blogger. You can’t have blogger’s block. You have to express yourself now, while your emotions roil, while your temper flares, while your humor lasts. You can try to hide yourself from real scrutiny, and the exposure it demands, but it’s hard. And that’s what makes blogging as a form stand out: it is rich in personality. The faux intimacy of the Web experience, the closeness of the e-mail and the instant message, seeps through.
A blogger continually reveals in one's blog. The revelations are often responses to experiences, feelings, observations, ideas about what the blogger has sensed or thought. Often, these revelations, while important for the blogger, are not always important for the blogger's audience. They may create a faux sense of connectedness by mediating what is sensed or thought.
To blog is therefore to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at arm’s length, open it to scrutiny, allow it to float in the ether for a while, and to let others, as Montaigne did, pivot you toward relative truth. A blogger will notice this almost immediately upon starting. Some e-mailers, unsurprisingly, know more about a subject than the blogger does. They will send links, stories, and facts, challenging the blogger’s view of the world, sometimes outright refuting it, but more frequently adding context and nuance and complexity to an idea. The role of a blogger is not to defend against this but to embrace it. He is similar in this way to the host of a dinner party. He can provoke discussion or take a position, even passionately, but he also must create an atmosphere in which others want to participate.
Finally, while bloggers communicate, they do not engage in dialogue through their blog. Meaning is imparted, ideas are shared, but the dialogue of the dinner party does not take place. Where is the eye contact? Where is the intentional silence? As Sullivan writes, "the key to understanding a blog is to realize that it’s a broadcast, not a publication." Bloggers and their audiences are, in a sense, talking past each other.

The instanaity of blogging and social networking comes up often in my work. Our constituents are passionate, vocal, and honest. Between blogging, Facebook, and other online communication, we can hear what people are saying. Not all of it is pleasant, and that troubles some of my colleagues. I believe that we must look deeper than words or even meaning to understand "what" our constituents are saying. For example a complaint about the food at an event is not really a complaint the food at that event. Really, the complainer is saying, "This matters to me." Before blogs, the person may have said their complaint, but the barriers to communication were too high to broadcast it. Now, this person can broadcast their complaint on a blog, Twitter, or Facebook, and we can hear it. This is a fantastic step forward in building relationships with our constituents.

The human unit is not a single person. We crave immediate interaction. Let us accept that blogging is a facsimile for authetic, immediate communication.

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