Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Motley Vision about Blog Addiction, or Blogging Responsibly

Over the past few years, I've gained an increasing interest in questions of Mormon culture, including Mormon literature and literary/cultural criticism. This has come, by and large, as a result of my academic life, which centers on the reading and writing of literature and literary criticism, and my desire to circumscribe all truth into one great whole. I've been able to feed this interest, to some degree, by immersing myself in what others have written on the topic. This exercise takes me again and again to A Motley Vision, a blog dedicated, in the words of its founder, William Morris, "to exploring the world of Mormon arts and culture. Or to be more specific: Mormon literature, criticism, publishing and marketing—plus film, theater, art, music, and pop and folk culture." This past week I noticed an interesting thread developing about blogging and priorities and couldn't hold myself back any longer. (Some of the language in the original post is PG-13; so if you follow the link, be warned...and don't shoot the messenger.)

So I left my seat on the sidelines and jumped into the conversation with this:

I’m relatively new to the blogging scene, only claiming my own blogspot since June of this year (although Blogger will tell you I’ve had property since March—an initial attempt that ended as soon as it began because, well, I was afraid to take the leap, or in OT terms, didn’t want to spill my intellectual seed). I know I have at least one faithful reader (me) and the occasional visit from family and some others directed my way by Google (although I’m pretty sure they leave once they realize I probably don’t have what they’re looking for; none have ever returned—hospitality was never my cup o’ tea); and even my family doesn’t come around very often. They seem to prefer the other blog my wife wanted to start and post pictures and family updates on. Apparently I post too many words and too few images (read: 0 so far) for the taste of some.

I started blogging for some of the same reasons Patricia mentions: for social and artistic opportunities, to work up writing that might later become something more concrete (what is a blog, anyway, but a mostly unrefined collection of personal essays, some with more potential than others?), and because it (potentially) allows me to interact with like-minded people, especially since I spend 24/7 looking after three little girls and often revert, in my at-home dadness, to kid-speak—sometimes I just crave adult conversation.

So far, however, it just feels like an exercise in existentialism, like a waste of time and words, like I’m just talking to myself, which I wouldn’t mind so much if I wasn’t someone I already spend way too much time with.

Nonetheless, I can’t stop myself—partially because I see too many online forums where the comments section turns into a mud-slinging session and I’m sick of it; and partially because I see the potential of blogs (not necessarily mine, but blogs like AMV and the few others that I regularly and voyeuristically frequent) to change something about the world, to raise the level of public/online discourse to a point where someone’s amalgamation of carefully chosen (or carefully spilled) words can actually make a positive difference in someone else’s life.

Who knows: maybe some of that overflow will eventually make its way into fertile ground and bring forth a tree with such irresistible fruit that everyone will want a piece.

Until then, I’ll just be over here, talking to myself about, well, whatever I want.

As the discussion progressed, some talk emerged about giving up blogging completely. Since my own writing has been so benefited by blogging, I couldn't imagine this (not to mention my blogging addiction won't let me give mine up...) So I responded with this:

c jane posits an interesting parallel to the blogger’s challenge to balance life with blogging demands when she points out Alma’s choice to give up his chief judgeship so he could devote himself fully to the office of high priest over all the church. The main difference I see between Alma and us, however, is that he was the president of a church that was basically failing in its progress and he knew that his main priority, at that point in his personal ministry, rested not in his political seat (or, in terms of our present discussion, in his own personal blog) but in wholehearted commitment to the duties of the high priesthood, i.e. the bearing down in pure testimony (or working on his next novel). When he returned from fulfilling this higher responsibility—with the expedient job of regulating the church—he still worked with the chief judge to maintain political and religious order in the land of Zarahemla and throughout (most notably in the case of Korihor).

Theric presents a similar parallel when he paraphrases king Lamoni’s father’s desire to give up his sins (including his blog) so he might know God (or at least write the great Lamanite novel).

And yet, I don’t see blogging itself as the sin. Perhaps the “sin” of many (shall we say, Mormon) bloggers doesn’t reside so much in the supposedly ephemeral nature of the blog itself but in the amount of time and resources invested in blogging that could to a degree be more fruitfully invested elsewhere. In other words (and in the tone of Elder Oaks), maybe the goodness of blogging turns bad, maybe the strength of the blogger becomes weakness when the blog takes us away from more meaningful pursuits, when it keeps us, Martha-like, from choosing “that better part”, crowding out what the prophets suggest should be among our highest priorities: God, family, work, Church callings and service, education, participation in one’s community, etc.

Maybe the answer, then, isn’t to completely drop the blog, as c jane and Theric suggest, but to devote a little less time to blogging and a little more to [place priority here]. Or even to simply cut back on our devotion to good blogs or a high quantity of blog postings and to focus more on posting quality work and on seeking out of the best blogs words of wisdom…or at least discussion that can help us lead and create more fruitful lives of our own.

In my mind, blogging can’t be an end in itself, but it must serve as means to a much higher end, including that end suggested by M. Russell Ballard: to support the work of the Church in building Zion. I’m convinced that only then can our investment of time and resources bring lasting value to our labor of blog-love (and temper our obsessive compulsion to blog!).

And with that I must say, "Blog on, my friends, blog on. But do it responsibly." (Oh and come drop by A Motley Vision if that's something that interests you. It might just give you something to think about...or at least give you another blog to stalk. Either way...)