A year ago I knew vaguely that a blog was sort of like a personal on-line journal, but that's about as far as it went. I didn't know anyone who was blogging or even reading blogs regularly. I can't tell you how often I saw or heard the term "navel-gazing" used in the same sentence with "blog." "Inane drivel" is another phrase that was in the running for most popular descriptions. I guess it's not surprising that I had little interest in having anything to do with either blogs or bloggers!
But one day for one reason or another (long since lost in the mists of time - but I suspect it was because I was avoiding a homework assignment), I decided that I'd like to know how to blog. So, I tried it. I read a book or two, I browsed around a bit, and I set up my own blog. It was a while before I made my first post, partly because it seemed like the first entry should be profound, or at least deeply reflective, rather than simply a pedestrian commentary on my life. Well, profound doesn't respond well to demand, so I finally decided to just dive in. Which I did.
I tried Live Journal, which I enjoyed for the interest groups I found, and I tried Blogger, which I enjoyed for its ease of use. I found a variety of blogs to follow. I also found a whole lot of blogs that could fall into the "inane drivel and navel-gazing" category. The thing is, though, that it seemed pretty clear to me that nearly all the blogs of that sort were intended for an audience of friends and family, of whom I was not one.
Reading one of those blogs is a bit like listening in on a party-line telephone call or, as Clay Shirky puts it in his book Here Comes Everybody: the power of organizing without organizations, it's a bit like eavesdropping on the conversation of the teenagers sitting at the table next to mine in the food court at the local mall. They're not talking about anything that particularly needs to be kept private, so they're chatting in a public space. Just because I can hear it doesn't mean it's intended for me and if it's not intended for me then there's no reason I should expect it to be a discussion that holds any particular value or interest for me.
That sort of blog is doing exactly what it's intended to do - helping to build and maintain a community by providing a means of connection between kith and kin, however near or far-away from each other they may be. That's not the sort of blog I generally choose to read. I'm not a part of those groups and I don't have any particular interest in what they have to say to each other. But connections and community are the most important things in life, and any tool that makes them easier to build and maintain is a valuable one in my eyes.
The blogs I read are different in content, but they serve precisely the same purpose. The difference is that the ones I read are not for communities based on kinship, but rather for communities of practice. The internet and its blogs have made it so much easier for each of us to find others with similar interests. Looking back to life before blogs is like trying to remember what life was like before the touch-tone telephone or the pocket calculator. In the past year I have learned a lot, heard and considered a lot of new opinions and made connections with lots of nice people. It's sad to think about how much is being missed by so many people who still think of blogs as a waste of time.