Regular readers of Oldlife likely don’t need any explanation about the nature of this site but those unfamiliar with the medium or genre of blogging may need some guidance on how to read the posts published here. Genre may sound like a high-faluttin’ word to affix to a blog, suggesting some kind of artifice or even art to the mode of communication. But genre is fitting if only because a blog is a different kind of communication from older forms of publishing and readers who look at a post as if it were another kind of publication may hurt themselves as well as the author (I’m thinking here of the lack of charity or benefit of the doubt that some readers of blogs display, thus raising questions not only about the virtue of the author but also about the motives of the reader).
A blog – at least as I read them and participate in several – is somewhere between a Facebook page and an editorial in a magazine. Blogging is almost entirely personal since the author is his own editor in most cases; no editorial staff or marketing department oversees the writing. A blog is also a forum for thinking out loud – “here is something I read or observed, and I thought I’d write about it and see what readers think.” Magazines are in themselves ephemeral. I used to save old copies of magazines but soon gave up after several moves not only owing to sloth (or declining strength as aging happens) but also because highlighted articles were not as pertinent at the time of the move as they were when saved. If magazines lack permanency, blogs do so even more.
In which case readers, readers should not take a blog too seriously. It is not only an ephemeral medium but often times the author’s thoughts are highly transitional – again, this is a way of thinking out loud. James K. A. Smith recently explained the tension between a blog author’s intentions and readers’ expectations during some flack he took for thoughts he wrote in passing about a review of Rob Bell:
Um, it’s a blog post people. I wrote it in 20 minutes one morning after reading another piece of dreck by Lauren Winner. If it’s stupid, why comment on it? (There is a huge laughable irony about charges of ressentiment in the ballpark here–you can work that out for yourself.) . . . .
I must have missed the memo about the requirements for writing a blog post. Apparently, according to the self-appointed police force of the theological blogosphere, one is not allowed to comment on a topic unless one has first completed a dissertation in the field. Who decided only specialists could speak? Is there a reading list everyone’s supposed to have mastered before they can comment on an issue?
In other words, if readers don’t want to see what an author is thinking about, they don’t need to read the blog. But if they do, they shouldn’t expect the thoughts posted to be ready for prime time.
A blog is like Facebook (such as I imagine since I am not networked) in that it invites comments and an informal exchange of views. For this blogger, the responses are an important facet of the medium because it functions as a built-in letters to the editor. And just as a post can go up immediately in response to a recent event or development, so readers may respond immediately. The immediacy and the responsiveness of blogging is what makes it valuable in my judgment, and unlike most other forms of publication. It is also what makes it ephemeral. Who will read a post about the Phillies’ 2008 championship three years from now and think it poignant. Of course, some blogs do not allow comments, and I do not understand the point since part of the nature of thinking out loud is to start a conversation and see what others think as well.
At the same time, a blog is not like a magazine in that it does not reproduce well articles or material requiring hard or sustained thought. Some magazines, of course, have on-line content. But this is simply a way of reading a magazine article on-line. But a blog is more like the op-ed portion of a magazine – actually more like a newspaper because a magazine takes at least a week to be published; the newspaper comes out daily (most often) and the blog may occur semi-daily. But when bloggers are tempted to post papers or talks given at conferences, they become almost unreadable. Such material needs to be printed out, read with pen or pencil in hand, and given sustained attention – not read for three minutes before checking email or stock quotes.
Truth be told that the Nicotine Theological Journal has been delayed considerably by the distraction of blogging. And the reason has to do with the nature and immediacy of the blog; an article that I might write for the NTJ is generally too long for a blog, and the immediacy of a blog makes it a more tempting medium than a journal to make one’s thoughts public. Why wait three months to print my latest critique of Keller when I can publish it TODAY!!! at Oldlife.org.
In other words, readers of blogs need to lighten up. And readers of Oldlife, the on-line version of the NTJ, would best be advised to light up when reading the blog. Here at a blog, the most fitting form of smoke, as ephemeral as the medium, is a cigarette. For the journal, best to light up a pipe or cigar.