I just finished a blog several pages long. It began a couple of weeks ago when a Belgian friend, Rudi, called to wish me a happy new year and to talk about making arrangements for his visit to BYU in April. Rudi and I have been friends for perhaps fifteen years and very good friends for ten or so. As part of his phone call he said “You are one of the only American friends to whose funeral I would go.” An odd compliment, to be sure, but one I appreciated. I can’t think of another of my European friends to whose funeral I would go, but I would certainly go to Rudi’s. One measure of friendship is the answer to the question “How much money would you be willing to spend and how much trouble would you go to so that you could attend that person’s funeral?”

Rudi’s call and the mention of my funeral started me thinking about the fact that I probably have less than ten working years left. In turn, that started me thinking about what it means to grow older. One of the things it is supposed to mean is that one is wiser, so I wondered if I am any wiser than I was 30+ years ago and talked about some of the things that, perhaps, I’ve learned.

However, after I wrote the blog and read over it, I decided that some of it was too personal to post. Even worse, it all seemed pretentious. Who am I to think that anyone cares about my navel-gazing? But to a large degree, that is what blogging is all about, public navel-gazing. So why do we blog and why is it, for many, so addictive? Are we frustrated writers with no publisher but looking for an audience? People in need of attention? Is blogging a new kind of community, where some of us find kindred souls that, without the internet, we wouldn’t be able to associate with? (I can see myself described by each of those.)

Whatever our particular reasons for blogging, why are we so drawn to the sensational threads? At Times and Seasons, think SSM. I can’t think of a thread on that or similar topics that brought news to those who didn’t know it or changed any minds, yet we continue to post them and people by the score continue to yell at each other on them. I admit that my perception of what happens on those threads is probably colored by the fact that I avoid them as much as I can. However, when I do read them I find myself almost immediately drawn into the fray, wanting to respond with my own snide remark or put-down, or to write my own post that “finally explains the only reasonable position that a person can take on issue X.”

I’m not arguing that we ought not to be blogging. I’m just trying to figure out what we are doing when we do.

17 comments for “Blogging

  1. January 16, 2005 at 6:46 pm

    However, after I wrote the blog and read over it, I decided that some of it was too personal to post. Even worse, it all seemed pretentious. Who am I to think that anyone cares about my navel-gazing?

    I’m 49, but I read a lot of other people’s navel gazing. It gives me thought.

  2. Larry
    January 16, 2005 at 7:28 pm

    Part of the fun of blogging is you can actually have a discussion or disagreement with someone that you normally can’t have in day to day interactions. It’s like going from the desert to a fertile valley.

  3. January 16, 2005 at 8:52 pm

    So why do we blog and why is it, for many, so addictive? Are we frustrated writers with no publisher but looking for an audience? People in need of attention?

    I’ve come to the realization that for me blogging is a way to avoid working on my dissertation. Thus, with a deadline looming, the blog is in something of a coma… :)

  4. January 16, 2005 at 9:01 pm

    I started an e-mail list with some close friends back in 2002, because I was lonely for the sort of discussions I once enjoyed with many of them. To a great extent, my blogging is entirely an outgrowth of that original list. I write because I have things on my mind, and there is a circle of people I want to hear the things I was to say, and I want to hear what they have to say as well. That circle has grown and changed since I began reading blogs and blogging, but the impetus remains the same. I like staying in touch, and hearing the news, and chewing the fat, and learning from friends far and near, old and new. Like you, Jim.

    P.S. I admit that I probably wouldn’t make it to your funeral, assuming it’s in Utah, but I would send a nice note.

  5. January 16, 2005 at 9:29 pm

    Are we frustrated writers with no publisher but looking for an audience? People in need of attention? Is blogging a new kind of community, where some of us find kindred souls that, without the internet, we wouldn’t be able to associate with?

    Well, yes, yes, and YES.

    Blogging is turning me into the uber-student that college and grad school failed to make me — even if it is just dilettantism now. I have purchased (and begun plowing through) dozens of fascinating books on a variety of subjects thanks to recommendations from blogs. (For instance, I’m a quarter of the way through By the Hand of Mormon thanks to your post, Jim.) College and graduate school taught me how to learn and how to make money but I feel like my own study, as spurred by blog conversations, is more rapid and more intellectually rewarding than the formal education ever was. It also allows benchmarks of knowledge that surpasses anything I’ve encountered before. I see that I know more than others on a couple of things but am completely out of my depth on most others. That spurs more study and that is the best part…

  6. Jack
    January 16, 2005 at 9:34 pm

    For some of us blogging is a nice reminder that the world is a lot bigger than the little blue collar circles that we’re used to running in.

  7. January 16, 2005 at 11:46 pm

    I always tell my wife that blogging is the Sunday School class that I always wanted. For me it is a great classroom.

  8. January 17, 2005 at 1:36 am

    Like Russell, I find I miss the kind of dialog I had in college. Were it not for mailing lists, blogs and related resources, I’d probably go crazy looking for intellectual experience. Further, I find that intellectual development is essentially dialogal in nature. That is, you have to have other people to talk to, to throw your ideas off of, our even just force you to compose and organize your thought. I found in college that often when you felt you understood something it was illusionary. It was just a feeling of contentment that was unjustified because it hadn’t been put to experience. It was when you could explain an idea to someone unfamiliar with it that you really understood. And better yet, when someone who disagreed with you could attack the idea and yet you still feel confident in it.

    I’ll fully admit that especially that last point can lead to problems. Put an other way, how do you avoid conflict. (Thinking of this month’s first presidency message which ought put all arguers and apologists on notice)

    Still, I think the ultimate benefit is less to readers than it is to the self.

  9. January 17, 2005 at 10:31 am

    Jim, I like the idea of a blog as a mix between journal-writing and micro-publishing. It’s a way of getting your ideas out to the public, to kick around thoughts and share notions, however half-baked they may be. There’s a narcissistic element in there, I’m sure, but it’s also a great way to engage others and to build community.

    Whenever I start having thoughts about the navel-gazing and vain aspects of blogging, I seem to miraculously receive an email or read a comment about how the blog has affected someone’s life for the better. Believe it or not, some people find these things helpful! I know I do, at least.

  10. January 17, 2005 at 10:50 am

    C.S. Lewis wrote that “we read to know we’re not alone.” I think that’s the same reason a lot of people blog. As I’ve finished my coursework and moved into the more isolated and isolating stage of graduate school I’ve appreciate logging on and finding like-minded people out there. Still, I wonder if for some the blogosphere becomes an alternative for a flesh and blood community. For me, blogging can never be an adequate substitute for this kind of community. As I’ve written before, real faces and hands and voices are infinitely precious and irreplaceable. I’ve also wondered if bloggers keep journals. I can imagien that personal journal keeping may drop out for some bloggers.

    I’m interested in the strange compliment that Rudi gave. Since you would not be present at your own funeral (except perhaps in spirit) I am not sure how this would be an expression of friendship or love. I have always tried to attend the funerals of the people who are loved by the people I love. If a good friend’s mother or sister died I’d be there without fail because of the comfort I could render to my friend. I may, however, miss the funeral of the friend himself if it were far away since I have no relationship with his mother or sister and could provide less meaningful aid to them. In fact, I recently I attended the funeral of a man I’d never even met because he had been a close friend and colleague of my advisor’s for many years. I went to support my advisor, whom I respect and admire.

    I think it is more important to be at friends’ weddings or their children’s blessings, than their funerals for example, since they are actually there to be strengthened and encouraged by your attendance. But, perhaps I would feel differently about funerals if I were older.

  11. Keith
    January 17, 2005 at 11:28 am

    “I decided that some of it was too personal to post. Even worse, it all seemed pretentious. Who am I to think that anyone cares about my navel-gazing?”

    I have to admit that there could be a lot of self-indulgence go on when people talk about themselves. That’s a risk we run as writers and as readers. At the same time, however, if someone writes about his or her experience in honesty, appropriate detail, love, humility, and something I don’t know what to call except good-heartedness, it is almost always interesting, moving, enlightening and helpful. I think of Wlfiried’s “Primitive Church” or Russell’s “The Poor Oppress Me” or other pieces scattered here and there. Such don’t seem self-indulgent at all. And while they are about their authors, they are also about much more.

    I hope you’ll post your original piece, editing what you think may need editing.

  12. Jim F.
    January 18, 2005 at 12:00 am

    Melissa, you are right that Rudi’s compliment was an odd one because I won’t be there in any sense that would be available to him, perhaps not at all. But we do not only go to funerals to be with the loved ones of the departed–though that is perhaps the most important reason. We also go to pay respect to the deceased. I think that Rudi was saying something about the respect we have for one another in our friendship.

    Keith. Perhaps I will, though right now I’m not sure how to do so. I agree with you that the pieces you’ve mentioned and others like them are some of the best things that have appeared at Times and Seasons. In fact, it was with those kinds of posts in mind that I wrote mine. But when I was done, it didn’t measure up.

  13. Brian G
    January 18, 2005 at 9:12 am

    I read about this experiment with rats once. Three groups of rats were put in cages equipped with levers. If the rats pawed a lever a pellet of food would be delivered to the cage. In the first group every time the rat hit the lever food would show up. In the second group no matter how many times the rat hit the lever they would never get any food. In the third group it was randomly determined whether food would or wouldn’t be delivered. As you might expect the first group of rats grew so fat and lazy that after a while they could barely get up to paw the lever. The second group of rats quickly became discouraged and hungry and laid in the corner to await the end. The third group—the group that got mixed results at random—would just spend day and night slamming that lever, waiting for that next food pellet, certain it would come sooner or later.

    The experiment was supposed to explain the motivation behind golfing.

    But I also think it explains blogging.

    Instead of a lever we have a refresh button, and instead of a pellet of food we get the occasional fresh insight, or cheap laugh, or sense we’re not alone in our thoughts. I’m relatively new to blogging, but I really went for it hook, line, and sinker. I don’t like to think about why I do it because the answer I can’t escape—that I’m waiting for the next pellet of attention and approval—makes me feel like a needy rat, which in turn makes me just want to stop.

    But sometimes those food pellets are really yummy.

  14. January 18, 2005 at 9:28 am

    I like the green ones best.

  15. Rosalynde Welch
    January 18, 2005 at 10:34 am

    So, Brian, when I correct your grammar is it like a little electric shock in your rat cage?

    For what it’s worth, you’re the best-written and most creative rat I’ve ever met.

    I think many of us blog because it has become a habit, a part of our day and our life.

  16. Brian G
    January 18, 2005 at 1:32 pm

    (That’s the sound of me wolfing down that last tasty pellet. Thanks, Ros.)

    clickety-clickety-clickety-clack. click-click-click.
    (That’s the sound of me pounding the lever in search of the next pellet.)

    WHAT are YOU doing?! Gib-SON?!!
    (Oh, crap. That’s the sound of my boss wanting to talk to me.)

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