The benefits of the Internet are obvious and indisputable.
The costs of the Internet, on the other hand, are far less obvious to many and, I would suspect, far more likely to be disputed.
I would imagine most would grant that at least one of the costs is the kind of dodgy activity and degrading content the web puts within all our reach, not least our children. Thanks to the Internet, for example, everyone of us is only a single mouse click away from exposure to content that is, if not illegal, at least morally degrading.
But there are other costs as well. Costs that come not from the content itself, but from the kind of medium the Internet is, and the kind of mental habits (or lack of them) it encourages and impedes.
An increasing number of thoughtful, technologically-saavy people are sounding this note. One is Nicholas Carr, in a forthcoming book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.
He’s expressed the gist of his cautions and concerns in a CNN article. Here are a few paragraphs:
As we rush around the web gathering little pieces of information, we seem to be training our brains to be quick but superficial.
Only a curmudgeon would deny the many benefits that our computers and electronic networks have brought us. The internet and related technologies have made it much easier to stay in touch with friends and family members, to discover interesting and useful information, to express ourselves, and to collaborate with others.
Since the World Wide Web was invented two decades ago, we have been celebrating these benefits — and rightly so. But we’ve been paying much less attention to the negative consequences of our online lives.
The time has come for us to take a more balanced view of the net, looking at its costs as well as its benefits. That’s particularly true when it comes to educating our children. Sticking a kid in front of a computer screen is probably not the best way encourage the development of a strong, creative, and supple mind.
Of course, there’s no going back to pre-Internet days. Nor, it must be said, would one want to – given all the benefits of the Internet. But precisely because of this we would do well as individuals and families and communities and a culture to reflect more soberly and critically on the negative impact of this double-edged sword.
A balanced view is what we need. For only then will we be able to use this tool with wisdom and thus to use it to promote rather than undermine human flourishing.
Yesterday I sat down with Justin Taylor over a cup of coffee to talk blogging. Many of you will know of Justin from his popular blog. He’s been blogging for a number of years, and doing it quite effectively.
In saying Justin’s effective, I’m not simply referring to the fact that he’s got a large readership; I’m thinking primarily about the fact that his site suits his aims and his vision and has, in turn, been of use to many others looking for the kinds of things Justin’s posting. In other words, Justin’s found his ‘voice’ as a blogger. And, as I think Justin would agree, that’s the most important thing. It’s for this reason that I wanted to pick his brain on the whole topic.
I came to our meeting with a bunch of notes scribbled on a white legal pad. They were broken down into a few categories in the form of questions. And each category itself had several more sub-questions as well.
The main categories were really simple: Why? Who? What? How? When?
In light of Justin’s helpful input, I thought I’d share these with you.
Some of you already blog and enjoy it. Great. Keep it up. Hope this helps articulate the advice you might give to others about blogging.
Others of you don’t but would like to. Perhaps these comments can help you refine your thinking and provide you with a better footing upon which to begin.
Still others of you are somewhere in between: you may already have a blog, but either your enthusiasm for blogging has waned over time or you’re waiting for your enthusiasm someday to wax into more consistent blog posts – even if once a day, or once a week for that matter! You may find these questions a tonic to help you get going and renew your investment in blogging.
Here are the questions, helpful questions to ponder, I think, if you’re considering blogging – whether you’re thinking about it for the first time or you want to make a fresh start or you desire to take your blog to a new level or in a new direction.
Question #1 – Why?
This is the first and obliviously most important question. Blogging isn’t for everyone, nor does it need to be. The human race got along just fine without it; and should blogging suddenly disappear from planet earth, we as race will in all likelihood continue without it. And while blogging at present seems all the rage, there are signs that even it is being slowly eclipsed by other modes of communication like Facebook and Twitter. Who knows? Given the rapid rate of change in social media, in five years interest may well have significantly shifted to other communication tools, leaving blogging, at least as we currently understand it, looking like an old fashioned typewriter in a wireless laptop world.
So, it’s important to answer the Why-question up front. There may be personal reasons you have for blogging: a big event in your life, like the adoption of a new child, and you want not only to have a digital archive of the whole process, but also be able to share the experience with others like family and friends. There may be professional reasons for blogging; it’s could be an important part of your job description itself, say, if you’re a teacher or a pastor or an organizational leader of some kind. Or there may be practical reasons to blog; it’s a useful outlet for writing; it’s a good way to network with others who share similar interests.
Take time to clarify the Why-question before you begin, or before you begin again. Without the Why-question settled in your mind, or at least significantly clarified, you probably won’t bring to your blogging much passion or personal investment – key ingredients in making blogging not only useful to you and others, but also enjoyable as well.
Question #2 – Who?
Who are you writing for? Who do you want to speak to? Who do you hope to reach with your blog? Ideally, who would you like to subscribe to your blog? Spend time really thinking this one through; it may seem like an obvious question; you may be thinking to yourself: “That’s a no-brainer! Anyone who will read my blog! That’s who I’m trying to reach.” If that’s what you’re thinking, I want to commend your broad-mindedness and optimism, but encourage you to continue to reflect seriously on this question.
Remember: You are who you are. You have a particular set of experiences and gifts and interests and style. All of this will (and indeed ought) to impact your blogging. In fact, when it comes to blogging, these are your greatest assets. Yet, at the same time, these are also the very things that limit your blogging because these facts about who you are cause you to write with a particular accent; and that accent, so to speak, just won’t appeal – or even be understandable – to everyone.
So, when it comes to the Who-question, start with a realistic look, first, at who you are, and then go on to think realistically about who might resonate with or be benefited by what you’ve got to say. This will help refine the question of who you’re writing for.
Question #3 – What?
In light of the first two questions, you’re ready to answer the what-question: What kind of blog do I want to have? Blogs don’t all come in one size; they’re as varied as we are. At their core, all blogs involve writing. But that’s hardly a limiting or narrowing factor in itself. In my view, blogs come in one of three shapes: the blog-as-journal, the blog-as-newsflash, and the blog-as-essay. The blog-as-journal is largely personal and anecdotal. The blog-as-newsflash allows you to post and comment on interesting developments in the world around you. The blog-as-essay becomes a place for your express your thoughts as a writer. Each of these is valid and has its own advantages and disadvantages; there are also good examples of each of out there.
Now, deciding on what kind of blog you’re after will impact – or at least ought to impact – the kind of posts you write. It will also influence the other features of your blog. So, for example, will you post family pictures, or links to other bloggers, or highlight your own writing projects? These kinds of practical questions depend upon your answer to the What-question.
Question #4 – How?
If you’ve found compelling answers to the first three questions, then chances are you’re ready to start blogging, or renew your commitment to blogging. Great. Now the question becomes: How? How can I make this a priority? Unfortunately, blog posts don’t just write themselves. And, to my knowledge, no one’s yet developed an App to write blogs for you – alas!
So, in the meantime, it’s going to take time and energy – neither of which you probably have in abundance or overflow. That’s why the How-question is so important. How do I make it part of my routine? How can I use blogging to enhance what I’m already doing? How does it fit with my own passions and gifts and style? Let these questions help you think practically about how blogging becomes part of the warp and woof of your life – and hopefully a useful and even enjoyable part as well.
Question #5 – When?
When do I start? Is now the most opportune time? Am I at a place in my life, given my other interests and responsibilities, to take up blogging? Perhaps there are current events you feel compelled to blog about; perhaps there’s a new book or two that you desperately want to write reviews of; perhaps you’ve just had the itch to get writing; perhaps you’ve been wanting to blog and are nervous that if you don’t begin now, by the time you do the blogosphere may well have gone into extinction! These kinds of internal nudges are important factors, but they’re not determinative. We’re all busy. So, are you really ready to invest at least some additional mental and even emotional energy into blogging? Can you make it a priority at this point in your life? On priorities and focus, the management guru, Peter Drucker, had sage advice to this effect: Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? Before you decide when to begin, stare that good question in the face for at least a half-hour. You probably won’t regret doing so.
There you’ve have it, friends. Five questions to help you think through whether blogging is a good move for you. Or whether you ought to stick to reading blogs and investing your time elsewhere.
I’d love to hear from you if these are helpful to you where you’re at. Perhaps you’ve developed different questions, or would put things slightly differently than I have. I’d be interested in know that as well. Since, as you can see from my own blog, I’m still trying to figure out blogging for myself!