Does Blogging Help or Hinder Online Debate?

Time was when the scholar, the preacher and the politician sat down and wrote a book, or at least a pamphlet or article, and sent it out into the world as an invitation to engage in debate. Today there are many other ways of reaching people and interacting with them. It is a long time since Wired predicted the death of blogging, but it still seems to me to have a lot of life left in it. For some, the blog has become a substitute, if not for the book, then certainly for the pamphlet β€” they write write long and detailed posts, sustaining an argument over many pages. Usually, they attract similarly weighty comments from their readers. Others aim at a more popular treatment, and very often their comment columns are all but taken over by people who seem to think debate consists in trading insults. More than one person has been put off blogging by the sheer nastiness of personal attacks and abuse, which has impoverished the blogosphere and online debate generally. So, perhaps the jury is out on whether blogging helps or hinders online debate. It provides an opportunity for debate, but we don’t always make the most of it. Partly, I suspect, that comes from the different expectations we bring to it.

For example, I myself prefer short blog posts which condense an argument into as few words as possible. I don’t aim at a ‘definitive’ treatment, nor is it my intention to instruct or inform; so, although I put my thoughts into the public sphere, I hope that readers will take the subject one step further. The debate I’m aiming at is the kind which takes place inside the reader’s mind as much as on the page. That isn’t quantifiable, which has led to some questioning why I blog at all.

Can influence ever really be measured? Can we rate ‘effectiveness’; and if so, can we agree on how to do so? I suspect not. I can tell you how many people read iBenedictines, but I can’t tell you what the effect has been. It is rather like prayer. We pray, not knowing what our prayer may or may not do. Our object in praying is not to draw attention to the one who prays but to unite our prayer with that of Christ, who prays unceasingly to the Father. We are looking beyond ourselves, towards God. If that sounds like a rather high fallutin’ idea of what (Christian) blogging is, I make no apology. I think we should always keep our ideals high. It may explain, however, one of the reasons I value the friendly and respectful tone in which readers engage in debate in the comments section, and the pleasure I take in saying so today.


10 thoughts on “Does Blogging Help or Hinder Online Debate?”

  1. As ever, you have given me lots to think about! And that, it seems to me, is a good sign that your blog does just what you hope it does. As well as providing a starting point for online conversation, a good blog starts offline conversations too. Yours certainly does this, but the only way you can know that is for us to tell you, and that is what I am doing right now!
    Thank you

  2. Blogging is merely the instrument. Whether it helps or hinders debate will depend on the intent, skill and action of any particular blogger. Thus, it can do and does do both, and likely often does neither.

    As for this blog, a solid and important help in developing an argument, of bringing a fresh and ‘balanced’ perspective to the debate. I am often given to long pause for thought with the reading of a post, and, for example, am still digesting the points made in the blog post on Pussy Riot and the importance of protecting the sanctity of sacred space.

    It is the role and responsibility of the reader, I think, as things stand, to sift through the rot, if one can go so far as to call it that, to find the pearl of great price. The good debate is to be found online, but not without difficulty. The question for me is how can it be made more visible and easier to track.

    BTW, I like you high fallutin’!

  3. I think that blogs contribute to debate. And I see little evidence of decline, in fact, I find new ones constantly. Keeping up can be time consuming but worthwhile.

    I find that the blogs that attract contention and trolls can be exciting, but if the author sets out to be provocative I might just unfollow, as I don’t really wish to be part of abusive conversations. Retreat perhaps, but enlightened debate doesn’t mean trading insults or personal attacks.

    Coming here is actually a peaceful experience. Always topical and despite your not setting out to teach, I think that I’ve learned and grown in some ways from just reading posts and participating when appropriate or have something to respond with.

    I blog sporadically, normally only when I have something I feel needs to be imparted, I also blog for the #digidisciple initiative within the #bigbible project. That’s enough for me as I also participate quite a lot in others blogs.

  4. I think this blog has almost perfect balance. Thought provoking and challenging but in a peaceful, humble, non-finger wagging manner.

    There is a very pleasant odour here, fragrent, friendly and buoyant; reflective no doubt, of the author’s own personal and deep relationship with God.

    This blog is a very rare, precious oasis, in the vast interweb ocean.

    I can ‘feel’ Jesus here……

  5. Does blogging help or hinder online debate? You might as well ask does speaking help or hinder offline debate? It really does depend on the quality of the content and engagement, not the medium itself. Does your blog help or hinder? I have rarely not gone on thinking about your content after I’ve read one of your short posts. I am often quietly challenged but also blessed by what I find here.

  6. I am not sure that blogging can ever actively hinder debate. If one doesn’t like the community present on a particular online space, you can take your opinions to another part of the internet, and share them there. Of course, you view might be lost in the quagmire, or we can find ourselves only interacting with those whose opinions we already share, but in a sense, that is common to all communities.

    I would widen the question further though. Not all blogs are for triggering debate, but think a successful one does need a purpose. I like to read this one, because it acts as an anchor point. As a Christian without a home church, it creates routine, a prompt or a reminder; a thought for the day, or an inspiration for prayer. Even a forum where I can ask for prayers from others, when I otherwise would not ever do so!

    I consider all that of equal value, but not so much to do with debate. πŸ™‚

  7. Thank you very much for all your comments (and the nice things you said about the blog). I sometimes think the sheer quantity of blogs works against promoting debate. I suppose that explains the popularity of some indexing or measuring systems, though, personally, I always seem to prefer those I stumble upon.

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