I’m giving up reading blogs for Lent.
The proximate cause of this is Bora’s latest blame-the-media post, which is just deja vu all over again, because I’m pretty sure this exact conversation has gone on ten times before (the fact that scientists find other scientists compelling speakers does not mean that scientists are good at communicating to the general public). But this is really part of a larger disillusionment with the medium as a whole that’s been growing for the past several months. More and more, I’m finding that reading blogs is pissing me off to no good end.
This is a fairly specific sort of disillusionment. I’m not down on blogs as a communications medium– I still think they’re a great way to present information to a very broad (potential) audience. Rather, I’m coming to doubt the idea of blogs as a conversation medium.
“What do you mean?” you say. “There are conversations going on on blogs all over the place.” And sure, you can point to lots of examples of people on different blogs talking at each other. But “conversation” implies something more than a series of alternating lectures. For a real conversation, you need some give and take– each party needs to give the other’s arguments serious consideration, and ideally, there should be some development, some evolution. Someone’s opinion should change, or at least shift position.
And more and more, I’m finding that this sort of conversation doesn’t take place on or between blogs. People just trade position statements over and over and over. While these are superficially in response to somebody else’s arguments, there’s just give, no take. They say something, get a response, and post the exact same thing in response to the response. Most bloggers barely bother to change their examples, let alone their opinions.
The most obvious and direct example of this is the well known comment section phenomenon in which the latest commenter doesn’t bother to read the 17 previous comments before posting the exact same thing that has already been said a dozen times. But the same thing goes on in top-level posts. The same misrepresentations of positions, misunderstandings of arguments, and missing of points carry on and on unchanged for weeks and months and years. I’m guilty of some of the same behavior myself, though I try not to be.
I’m finding this more and more irritating as time goes by. I find myself walking around wanting to punch something, all because people on the Internet are pissing me off. And, you know, this isn’t good.
So, in keeping with my Catholic upbringing, I’m giving up reading blogs for Lent. Life’s too short to keep letting the same people piss me off in the same ways over and over. So I’m shutting down Google Reader, and cleaning out my RSS feeds. Starting Wednesday, no blog reading until Easter.
Of course, also in keeping with my Catholic upbringing, there’s some hair-splitting legalism (“Oh, by the way, fish isn’t meat”) to go along with this.
Note, particularly, that I said I’m giving up blog reading for Lent, not posting. I’ll still post stuff here– I have to finish out the Laser Smackdown, after all, and I do still have a book to promote. And I’ll keep up Thursday Baby Blogging, don’t worry. But I’m not going to be reading blogs, other than what I need to do for judging the Research Blogging awards, which means there will be no Links Dump posts, and no responses to other people’s posts. Which will mean a radically reduced posting rate– sorry if this cuts into your web-based entertainment.
At the end of this time, I’ll re-evaluate, and probably repopulate my Google Reader with a much smaller set of feeds, and we’ll see how things go from there. Maybe I’ll find that I really miss the whole thing, or maybe I’ll still be disgusted when I get back, in which case I may consider packing the whole thing in.
In the interim, though, it’s not like I’ll lack for things to do. I do have a day job, and the cutest toddler in the universe. I’ve got a bunch of projects that could use more attention than they’ve been getting, and the time freed up by not reading a hundred blogs a day will go a long way to help with that.
This takes effect this Wednesday, the 17th (though the Google Reader trimming will commence immediately), so if you’ve been itching to take potshots at me on a blog, get ‘em in quick.