Monday, March 30, 2009

The Internet, Blogging, and the Exchange of Ideas-

I was recently engaged in a few discussions over at Pliny's blog. Though Pliny has a small following, the people are thinkers and Pliny presents some interesting perspectives to explore. I responded to a few blogs, and found my own perspective to be somewhat different from those of Pliny and his other followers. For the most part the exchange was pleasant, and I learned a few things in the process.

One thing I learned is that the years of little intellectual interaction has dulled my capacity to engage other thinkers. I am a bit rusty in presenting my thoughts clearly and challenging ideas different from my own. Hopefully I can correct that by engaging in the exchange of ideas more frequently. Nothing like exercise to regain the tone in the intellectual muscle.

Another thing I observed is the difficulty of exchange in the blogging forum. The blogger presents an idea in the form of a short essay. Guests may respond in a comment section. Pliny has followers who receive his blog entries automatically. Most seem to agree with him in general perspective. In the blog world this leads to generally short comments expressing that agreement.

In challenging the blog, or aspects of the blog, it is necessary to present an argument. Unfortunately, this begins to look like a blog within a blog and deviates from the idea of a comment. While some of my arguments inspired some exchange, it was not quite the same as might occur in a classroom or similar venue intended for such exercises.

So, the blog format is good for expressing ideas, but not quite as effective in exchanging ideas. It serves well as a news and comments forum, but is not sufficient as a serious discussion forum. If my observation here is incorrect, I have yet to find a place where it is better applied.

Another thing I noted was the anonymity of the blog realm. A blogger can adopt a persona, and engage in vindictive exchanges instead of seeking to grow one another in knowledge. Rant style blogs can invite and encourage these types of exchanges, but they can easily leak into what might be intended as a serious blog intended for the exchange of ideas. It is not unheard of for anonymous bloggers to attempt to overcome a blog of a different perspective by loading it with noise.

Granted, there are tools for managing these disruptive practices, and such management must become part of a blogger's toolbox. I value an open exchange, and such openness requires some exposure to minds less inclined toward teaching and learning and more inclined to fighting battles on the Internet. As a consequence of that openness, I will have to master some of those management skills as well.

Due to the nature of the blog as a vehicle of short essays, it will be necessary for me to develop more discipline in my own thinking. From years of rattling around in my own head I find I do not have the proper discipline to form well thought out opinions and cogent arguments. My writing skills are up to the task, but my mind has grown fat and sloppy.

At present my mind tends to be all over the place. I begin thinking along a particular line and my mind races ahead, sniffing at the many trails that lead off from where I am thinking. While that has been adequate for solitary musing, it does not serve for putting ideas together in a way that inspires discussion and real learning.

My experience exploring the realm of the blog indicates that people of particular hobbies do some of the best blogging. Crafters, photographers, and other artists sharing their crafts and their thoughts create some of the finest blogs. Some are very good, indeed. I find visiting many of these blogs to be life-enhancing.

Can I explore my own thoughts and opinions, and create a place that is life-enhancing for visitors?

We shall find out.

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