The Deep Meaning of the Bloggernacle (Abridged)

It seems to have been a bicoastal weekend for real-world discussions of the bloggernacle. John Dehlin gave a great talk on blogs at the Seattle Sunstone Symposium (pod cast here), and I gave a brief presentation to Naomi Frandsen’s “Saturday Night Discussion Group” (a name that carries all sorts of unfortunate disco connotations for me.) Lacking the technical sophistication do a podcast, here is a shortened version of what I said:

First, I gave a very abbreviated history of the bloggernacle and the rise of blogs more generally. The eyes of many in the audience began to gloss over at this point, so I started to throw in abusive statements about Steve Evans. This helped a bit, but not enough, so I shifted topics. I started talking about the range of discussions that occur in the bloggernacle from the silly to the sublime, as well as showing examples of the different blogs (I had an internet connection and projector attached to Naomi’s computer) with some discussion about their purported differences. This seemed to go over a little better, particularly once I managed to find ways of patronizing the Mormon Democrats in the room and highlighting the evils of deer. The abuse of Mormon Democrats seems to have worked better than the abuse of Steve Evans. In the future, of course, I will find ways of abusing Steve Evans qua Mormon Democrat, which I imagine ought to work really well.

Then I talked about what I see as the strengths and weaknesses of the blogs. Blogs have a number of advantages. There are no real spatial or temporal limits on them. I explained how I began blogging at T&S while living in Little Rock, Arkansas in part as a way of trying to find a larger community of Mormon intellectuals than was available in Pulaski County. (Although I should point out that I really liked the people I knew — Mormon and Gentile — in Pulaski County.) The blogs are fast moving and entering the conversations are virtually costless. Also, to a large — albeit imperfect — extent the blogs have avoided the sorts of ideological polarizations that have defined some of the older alternative Mormon fora. There are down sides as well. Because the internet is an impersonal medium, people feel comfortable saying things (particularly abusive things about Steve Evans) on the blogs that they would never say to someone’s face. This creates the problem of toxic flame wars that create the danger of simply driving people off. I explained that at T&S we try to deal with this problem by monitoring the comments, nagging people, and booting the odd jerk off of the blog. In my view, a blog is not an open forum like a park. Rather, it is more like a cocktail party in which you want to invite lots of diverse people to get a conversation going, but where you always want to reserve the right to bounce drunken louts (or simply louts). The other problem with blogs is that ultimately they are not a good medium for serious thought. Like a good cocktail party, they can be a fun place to bounce around half-baked ideas, or discuss the serious thoughts of others. However, ultimately they cannot replace more traditional fora, like academic journals, where ideas can be rigorously and completely worked out.

I ended by talking about the future of blogs. As it happens, I really have no idea what the future of blogs will be. It may be that they will go the way of the internet discussion list or the newsgroup. They may emerge as a permanent medium. I tend to be skeptical about internet and blogging triumphalism. I could be wrong; however, so if the blogging-inspired revolution does come, I hope that posting on T&S will keep me from being put against the wall with other faithless internet-skeptics. Still, it may be that in five years there will be some new medium that has entirely replaced the blogs. Blogs do provide a nice intermediate level between something like a magazine or printed journal and a simple bulletin board or chat room. Having posts rather than simply an open mike channels things in a way that other media cannot, while at the same time achieving an openness that an article on a webpage (or even an actual piece of paper) does not. So maybe they will stick around. Or maybe not. I would diversify your portfolio.

Then there were questions, answers, and comments followed by (of course) refreshments, sugar and chocolate being the Mormon drugs of choice. Hopefully, some of the people who were there can explain the various ways in which I was totally wrong, completely boring, or otherwise utterly irrelevant.

13 comments for “The Deep Meaning of the Bloggernacle (Abridged)

  1. There is no deep meaning to any form of Mormon pseudo-intellectualizing, regardless of the medium. The difference is that most bloggers are aware of it.

  2. Dave, that was a great comment.

    Thanks for the summary, Nate.

    My guess is that there will, from this point on, always be some medium that pursues the same objectives and openness of blogging. Whether blogging will always be that medium is hard to say. But people are hooked on egalitarian, free, easy mass expression, and I think it will always be here now.

  3. Nice post, Nate. I agree that the abuse of Steve Evans will rejuvinate any discussion. I also share your blog skeptacism. The biggest weakness is the ephemeral quality. Maybe they will be supplanted…but it is fun to surf the wave while it is at hand.

  4. “. . .can explain the various ways in which I was totally wrong, completely boring, or otherwise utterly irrelevant.”

    True, true — but why leave “heading down the road to apostasy” off the list?

  5. “There is no deep meaning to any form of Mormon pseudo-intellectualizing, regardless of the medium. The difference is that most bloggers are aware of it.”

    Yes to the first, no to the second.

  6. Sorry. The “cocktail party” metaphor just seems to be sticking with me for some reason.

  7. Hey!

    The secret sauce to recording presentations like this is the iTalk:

    It plugs into an iPod, and you can buy an attachable microphone that can be clipped on to a person’s shirt or blouse. It copies the wav file directly to the iPod, and then you can easily copy it to your desktop, and convert to MP3.

    It’s a beautiful thing, and it’s how I recorded the Sunstone Symposium. They used to lug tape recorders and microphones…..still do, actually…but hopefully not much longer.

    Anyway, check it out if you can. I’m gonna try to record the Arrington lecture in Logan tonight the same way. And I snagged Greg Prince’s fireside here in Logan on Sunday the same way. I hope to share soon.


  8. My comments on Nate’s commentary: first off, I think our wise selection of Nate as our group’s first speaker managed quite nicely to propel me to the top of the ward’s social elite, which was my goal from the beginning. Second, Nate didn’t mention that he ended up having to stay an additional hour and a half after his hour-long presentation in order to field all of the face time that everyone wanted to have with him. His presentation was entertaining, substantive, and extremely well-received, and he managed to give an impromptu history of Mormon intellectual movements for the past 40 years without notes and with specific names, dates, and issues. I’ve always thought that lawyers were just good at making themselves seem smart, but I’m starting to think that maybe they actually are. Third, and most importantly, Nate’s popularity was only exceeded by his 3-year-old son’s, but I have to say that your son did come out on top in the end. Everyone save the speaker and one audience member was single, so the presence of a non-adult was the most exotic thing about the evening. One more note about the audience and questions: most people came because blogs sounded interesting, but a few people came with rather technical, professional questions, including copyrights and blogging, and Nate fielded those questions without the blink of an eye. Thanks again, Nate–and for everyone who wasn’t able to make this last Saturday’s presentation, we hope that you’ll come to our November 12th event. E-mail me at nfrandsen24 at yahoo dot com if you’re interested.

Comments are closed.