|photo by Blue Plover|
Because there really is no such thing as the or a blogosphere, and using the word perpetuates the myth and compounds the problems.
If you follow many writing blogs, you've probably notices a lot of hub-bub this week. From responses to negative reviews, organized punking of supposed trolls, and controversies over bogfests -- it seems that a great number of blogging writers this week have expressed their sadness and frustration with the blogosphere. Some find it too given to a mob mentality. Some find it too cliquish. Some find it shallow. Some find it cruel.
But the truth is that the blogosphere does not exist. From a practical perspective, blogs are not contained or bounded in any way. They are linked to one another, but they are also cross-linked with Facebook, Flickr, Panroa, YouTube, CNN -- everything else on the internet. Sure, there are trends among similar blogs, but that's not surprising. Bloggers with similar interests are going to show trends. A trend is (essentially) a coincidence of membership, not a delimiter of membership. By using the word blogosphere we create the false impression of a bounded space, like a message board, a BBS, or an old-school AOL / CompuServe / Prodigy community. It's nothing like that.
But more importantly, people refer to the blogosphere as if it were a community. From an anthropological perspective, I'm here to tell you, it's not. Not really.
Now, hold on. Don't misunderstand.
I'm a huge believer in the power of social media and virtual relationships. Skype let me talk to my brother-in-law on Christmas, even though he's at war overseas. One of my oldest friends is someone I met on-line and have never met in person. My wife and I, while most of our relationship developed face-to-face, had several important conversations in our relationship -- both serious and flirtatious -- through AIM. Through Twitter and this blog, I have met several people that I consider great friends. And, yes, through them, I am part of circles of friendship.
So don't think I'm saying something I'm not.
On-line relationships, both personal and professional, can be very helpful. Very beneficial. Very satisfying. And very, very real.
But that does not mean that a bunch of blogs constitute a community.
In social science, an articulation is a point of contact. There are several people with whom I have articulations on multiple blogs. It's kind of lack having class with a lot of the same kids. You can form relationship with some of those people -- though, in many cases, they are context-dependent relationships, and if you take away the context (the classes or the blogs), you also take away the relationships.
A community, though, is a social group, and there's more to a social group than points of articulation. There's no simple definition of a community -- or of a social group -- but for the sake of ease I'm going to focus on aspect: in a community, the different people and their different relationships, serve different functions and perform different roles for one another, contributing as a sum to each member's overall life and well-being (or lack thereof).
Blogs aren't like that. They cover a limited scope of interest, and impact a small piece of life. Most people play pretty much the same role. And everyone except the blog host/s occupy the same structure. At it's worst, interconnected writing blogs are a a club. At it's best, a peer group.
Anyone who has been a teenager knows that peer groups can be great, but they're not the same a community.
There's a last point to be made, too. Blogs are not bloggers. Just as you do not know a celebrity because of her performance, or an author because of his writing, or a band because of their songs, you do not know a blogger because of her blog. You can learn about the blogger. You may even use the blog as a launching point for further development of a relationship, in which you do know the blogger. But knowing someone's blog really well, is not the same as knowing them. I may get along with you great when you invite me to share a meal around your fire, but when you put the fire out and walk away, you feel no further relationship obligation to me. My relationship is with your food and your fire, not with you.
Here's the point of all this:
Many of us expect too much out of blogs and out of bloggers.
1. Blogs are not part of a closed or even a defined system.
2. Blogs are not a community.
3. Having a relationship with a blog does not give you a relationship with the blogger.
If you want relationships with people you meet through blogs, that's awesome. I am all in favor of using blogs as launching pads for meaningful professional and personal relationships. But if you don't take the time to make a one-on-one relationship, you don't really have a relationship. There's no social role or function to create the relationship like there is in a community. The only way to create relationships is to seek them out, build them, and nurture them. One on one.