I originally started blogging in 2007. But why do people blog? Why do I do it? Surely there are many answers to those questions, and those answers were somewhat of what I was looking for in a research project I conducted a few years ago in a graduate-school class. Apparently blogging is taken seriously in at least parts of the academic world. This post is a sample of what I found.
With the sheer numbers of those who choose to blog and the wide-reaching audience of some blogs, they merit consideration as a genre of writing, an “emerging literacy,” so to speak. The word “blog” comes from the longer word “weblog,” but let’s face it: no one uses that word anymore. One author suggested that blogs are “essayistic,” while another suggested that they are more like diaries in that there are private elements to them. Deva Woodly argued that from a political perspective, “Columns and blogs are closer kin because columns offer regular commentary on a variety of topics and the authors may even privately respond to reader comments.”
Blogs do tend to share some common characteristics. It may seem obvious, but Amardeep Singh pointed out that blogs are “written and published electronically.” Others focused on how blogs — through direct comment functions — allow for a closer connection between authors and readers. Blogs are also characterized by immediacy, on-the-moment updates. Henry Farrell and Daniel Drezner made this important distinction: “Blogging is almost exclusively a part-time enterprise undertaken for love rather than money.” It is likely that characteristics of blogs are still being gathered and will change over time, but all of the above make for a good starting point.
The academic literature about blogging suggests that one of the benefits of blogging is that it creates a more democratic community of discussion. Researchers used terms like “agency,” “voice,” and “purpose” to describe this phenomenon. Laura Rochette noted that students who blogged in the classroom wrote more because they felt liberated from the traditional modes of student writing. Others came to the same conclusion: that student writing came more alive on blogs because the students’ voices felt validated. Like other genres of writing, an identity of sorts can be at least partially constructed by the author of a blog. These identities can range from feminist academic to right-wing political commentator to sports analyst or a young-and-hip student. According to Woodly, both the mainstream media and political elites read blogs as a part of their own information gathering. She also suggested that problems in the mainstream media may have (at least partially) given rise to blogs in the first place. That blogs have the potential to “get to a story or view first” adds to their importance.
For all the potential benefit of blogs, there are certainly plenty of reasons for concern aswell. Any honest inquiry into blogs will mention some of these limitations. In a classroom context, for example, there are concerns about privacy and also about clarity of expectations. Too much freedom can be dangerous. Singh, for example, wrote that “The ability to cut and paste bits of text, images, and video means that one incorporates an unprecedented amount of material by other authors into one’s own writing.” And with the lack of accountability mechanisms, one can see that there are legitimate concerns about plagiarism in the blogosphere. I am aware of this concern on my own blog, as you will not find a works cited at the end of this post, though I have tried to attribute appropriately within the text itself.
Concerns about blogging go beyond expectations and authorial credit. Erin Whiteside, Nan Yu, and Marie Hardin worry that sports blogs may be “the new toy department,” that is writers who simply provide surface level analysis — rather than a more necessary critical approach — for their favorite sports teams. Farrell and Drezner claim that “all bloggers — even those at the top of hierarchy — have limited resources and time at their disposal. Indeed, some bloggers complain of “burnout” and have give up blogging altogether.”
If there is a connecting thread to all these concerns it may be this question about freedom. In other words, as it pertains to literacy, how much freedom is too much freedom? The dilemma has been with the field of literacy studies since its inception — long before blogging existed — and it will probably be present for years to come. The tension is between standardization and access. Most of us can see that both limitations and freedom are important. Blogging is no exception. As this genre infiltrates mainstream politics, classrooms, media, sports, and other venues, traditionalists decry the conditions — little accountability, minimal standards — in which blogs thrive. Some of the concern is surely valid, while other criticisms are probably more a resistance to change than anything else. Regardless, it seems that the influence and role of blogs will continue to expand into expand until it is replaced by something like…Twitter? 🙂
Let’s be real: most of you out there are not very interested in all this academic-speak, much less serious analysis about blogs. But why do I blog? I don’t think it’s too different from many others. Blogging for me is a way to participate, a way to have a voice, a way to be heard. I recall a conversation with a friend (and even mentor) of mine several years ago. He was (briefly) pastoring a small church and trying to describe the process of sermonizing. He suggested that giving a sermon for him was nothing more than working outwardly what is going on within him. Maybe blogging is like that for me.