The turn of the millennium was marked with the appearance of a new means of communication in the virtual world. Weblog, also known popularly as blog, entered the internet at the end of the 90’s, and became widely known after the turn of the millennium. Today there are probably millions of blogs and it is not surprising that, with the ease of creating a blog, the number continues to increase every day.
A blog is a kind of publication in the internet, which contains articles written periodically. These articles are usually stamped with the date of posting, with the most recent article appearing at the top. Visitors can write their comments on the article. Popular blogs usually discuss recent political news and views and contain analyses which trigger people to think. Blogs such as these can have thousands of visitors every day. But the content of a blog could be anything—from the daily ramblings of the writer to the more specialised topics such as technology, arts, philosophy, and even theology.
Blogosphere as a miniature of the postmodern world
Talking about blogs, we need to be familiar with the concept of blogosphere—the community or the interconnected web of all blogs. This interconnection is possible, because the internet world has made it possible in this globalised world. Every blog has anybody (with internet access, of course) in the world as its potential reader. One may drop by at a blog, read an article there, and if the article interests him, he can comment on it and he will probably come back for a second visit. Usually, blog readers are none other than bloggers themselves. Every blogger can create a link to another blog. If he finds a blog interesting, he will probably create a link to it. As bloggers create links to one another and comment on one another’s posts, in a short period this web of interconnection will grow wider and stronger. The blogosphere is indeed a social phenomenon.
In one way or another, a blog is similar to a forum. We can say that a blog is a kind of forum which is personal and also diverse. Each blog is a unique creation of an individual. A blogger once said that creating a blog is just like opening a vegetable stand. To attract potential buyers, your stand need to be open everyday, supplied with fresh vegetables. Close the stand for a few days or sell stale vegetables, your customers will start to buy from other stands. With this illustration, it is not too much to say that the blogosphere is an arena of plurality of ideas. Everyone is free to express his ideas, which are of course not separated from his worldview, and every other person is free to adopt what interests him.
Furthermore, in Netguide magazine it is mentioned that blogging is the point of ultimate freedom of speech, where one can express one’s thoughts without being constrained by the limit of traditional media. Moreover, it is even said that even though you speak to only one listener, it does not matter. That you can express yourself—this is the thing that matters.
One thing that characterizes our age now is the thirst for hyperreality—a fake reality, fueled by overdosed curiosity. Blog came at just the right time to satisfy this thirst. A great number of blogs seem to be designed just to cater for this need. Even if they don’t, people will still visit those blogs because of their curiosity. They want to know the private lives of other people, even if they don’t know them. However, instead of being satisfied, in the end they find that actually they are not getting anything.
In addition to the thirst for hyperreality, our generation is also thirsting for entertainment. The importance of the entertainment function of a blog is evident from what is said by a blogger, “I want to be entertained when I read a blog, so I’m looking for content that is well written and makes me laugh.” Indeed, this is what is offerred by a number of blogs. Some blogs which generate thousands of visitors everyday contain only jokes or sex-related stuffs. Quoting J. Richard Middleton and Brian J. Walsh (Truth is Stranger than It Used to Be, p. 42), “[They are] like a carnival … with a never-ending array of sideshow. … this carnival offers only the clamor of multifarious sideshow hawkers calling out for momentary attention. They do not seek our commitment in any ultimate sense; they only want to entertain and titillate us with the weird and wonderful worlds they are peddling.”
Temptations faced by a blogger
There is another fascinating symptom happening in the blogosphere. This symptom is reinforced by the presence of a counter system to count the number of visitors to a blog, and also a ranking system such as that provided by Technorati and Truth Laid Bear. A blogger tends to be motivated by a desire to be popular, to generate as many visitors as possible. Tim Challies observes, “… in a sense the blogosphere is built on … self importance. Bloggers succeed by driving visitors to their sites by whatever means possible. The most important person in the blogosphere is the one with the greatest readership, just like the most important person in my hometown is the one with the most money.”
Each blogger has to ask himself honestly, what motivated him to start a blog. The spirit of self-love as the root can develop as various symptoms, such as greed, jealousy, and competitive spirit. If a blog is used as a means of seeking identity, security, and significance (as explained by Rev. Billy Kristanto), we have sought fulfilment in the wrong place. A blogger can write an article full of insight, but perhaps the motivation behind it is a craving for fame, not a willingness to share. He can put a list of books he reads on his blog, so that people may be impressed by the great number of books he reads, not so that others may know the books and benefit from them. He can also comment on other more popular blogs, with the intention that the other blogs may link to his blog, not because he really wants to thank the writers or to discuss. Behind all these is the motivation to serve oneself.
The power of a blog
It is beyond doubt that the power of the blogosphere lies in its interconnection. In this interconnection lies the power of a blog to influence others. At least this kind of influence has been evident in the political arena in the US.
In his book titled Blog, Hugh Hewitt stresses the power and importance of blogging. In the book Hewitt (as quoted by Tim Challies) makes a parallel between the invention of a printing press and the birth of blogging. The Protestant Reformation cannot be separated from the critical role of the printing press, which had just then been invented. Such is the case with the information reformation and blog. He draws this parallel seeing the power of the printed media, which was new at that time, as an information channel for the popularisation of a movement. He exclaims, “In a world changing as rapidly as ours is, only those who have earned and continue to earn trust will be in a position to influence the choices of third parties. Blogs can earn that most valuable commodity.”
John Zimmer also writes, “Throughout … the blogosphere, … one feature was common—all bloggers seek to influence other people. Blogs are indeed a rising means of communication and idea exchange, and therefore represent an increasingly important opportunity for influence.”
But Reformation was a revival, and if a revival, then it was God who worked. Printing press was only a tool among many other tools, especially the reformers who were moved by God. Just as the printing press needed people to print the Bible, blogs, too, need people to shout out the truth in the midst of this chaotic world of ideas.
What can we do?
Just as any technological device, blog can be used to give good or bad influence. It is the task of Christian bloggers to give positive influence to the world. As an example, when international magazines such as Time or Newsweek published an article about Christianity written from a secular point of view, Christian bloggers could write in their blogs their responses to the article. The blogosphere has made this possible, and in a very short time, these responses could be read by many people around the world.
In addition to influencing the world, Christian bloggers can also influence internally, i.e. among the Christians. Adrian Warnock says, “… blogging can be very helpful for exploring an idea and learning different perspectives. Blogging has the potential to bring people of like mind together and enable them to discuss and firm up their views.”
Indeed, if a blog can generate thousands of visitors daily, we can imagine how great is its influence. But does every blogger have such an influence? Only a small number of blogs have such popularity, and even a lesser number of Christian blogs could make such an impact. So if only two or three visitors come to visit our blogs each day, whereas we want to influence the world at a large scale, how can this be possible? If every Christian bloggers strengthen their interconnection—there are quite a number of Christian blogs—the possibility is there.
Nevertheless, we need to heed John Zimmer’s reminder:
[But] how valuable is influence in the blogosphere? And what is the price one pays to attain it? I wonder whether bloggers sacrifice an influence more local in hopes of achieving national or global recognition. What have I accomplished if I generate 75,000 hits per day, but do not concern myself with lingering over a cup of coffee with a coworker on the verge of pouring out his heart, in need of a friendly face and a listening ear? What have I gained if I spend 14 posts debating the merits of the scientific method but do not pause for a meaningful conversation with my labmate? Widespread influence with strangers is a laudable goal, worthy of pursuit. But I pray that I do not succumb to tunnel vision and miss opportunities for intimately local influence, with a hurting friend or a depressed cab driver. There is something about a particular face with a specific name, 18 inches from my own particular face and name, something about palpable, warmblooded hands clinging to the same park bench as mine. May I not be blind to those hands in my quest to save the world!
So, what can we do? Those of us who own a blog, keep on writing. We don’t need to write specifically on theology, but whatever it is we write, write as well as possible. As Martin LaBar says, “… create great blogs on baseball, physics, photography, housewifery, travel, and many other subjects, … with a Christian worldview.” But as John Zimmer says above, blog is just one means among various means for us to be salt and light of the world. What is most important is to do whatever God entrusts us to do, faithfully.
*Translated from an article written for Pillar Bulletin.
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- June 6, 2006 / 05:08