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 — 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.

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