20 February 2002

Communication, Exclusivity, Blogs, and Ethics

What then shall we say about blogging and cross-blogging, about encouraging others and criticizing others? Bearing in mind my vow of aphorism, perhaps a couple of things.
I’m not aware that anyone has stopped talking with or socializing with RW friends because they blog. Something different is happening here.

The difference involves the extent to which a blogger speaks to anyone who wants to listen, supporter or detractor, cordial or hostile. If one blogs primarily to communicate with sympathetic souls, one does so in the full awareness that irritated, bored, or otherwise ill-disposed readers are welcome, too. No way to exclude anyone (except by typing in a different language, I guess, or password-protecting the blog, which might not be blogging in the fullest sense, not that it matters much).

People will justifiably tend to read blogs that invoke shared interests, or cite topics they finds interesting, and they may well decide to offer encouragement to the bloggers they appreciate. By the same token, bloggers may hope to catch the attention of interested and appreciative readers.

Is there something wrong with that? Perhaps, if the desire for appreciation or encouragement, or the desire to cultivate an online relationship, induces someone to flatter, toady, curry favor. Sometimes, however, we are delighted to find someone who enjoys talking about subjects that please us, too.

“Exclusivity” is the last of my worries when writing for the Web; indeed, I am much more fastidious about the things I don’t say, so as not to trouble a reader who may stumble on my blog and think to discover her- or himself in these entries. Blogs are antithetical to exclusivity, except in the sense that there are so many people around with whom one might have invigorating conversations, there’s little motivation to devote much time to people who feel vexed that one hasn’t touched on their favorite topic, or who wish they were part of the colloquy.

Sometimes ideas seem much more commendable when one doesn’t examine possible alternatives. Should we avoid talking with people we like, to demonstrate our even-handed respect for people we find tiresome and disagreeable? Should we not express appreciation for others’ writing, in order not to fall prey to the possible trap of ingratiating ourselves with them? Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety offers an extended meditation on the question of whether we like others simply because they like us, because there’s something in it for us. I’ve wondered why we oughtn’t like people who like us; is there some hidden transgression in mutual respect and affection? (I say all this despite a recurrent pattern of numbering among my good friends some people whom others, for good reason, regard as quite disagreeable.)

I take up ideas that offer a provocative angle on topics that interest me. Sometimes those ideas provoke me to argue; sometimes those ideas provoke me to applaud and say, “What’s more….”

Voice, Presence and Friendship

Margaret points out that sometimes online correspondence gives us the opportunity to get well enough acquainted with someone to realize that they just aren’t as intriguing as we might have guessed from limited time spent together in the carnal world.
These observations fall short of aphorism, but they don’t ramble quite as much as previous entries.

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