On Blogging Well
The ostentatious and haughty display of themselves has been the usual practice of diurnal writers, in vindication of whose practice it may be said, that what it wants in prudence is supplied by sincerity, and who at least may plead, that if their boasts deceive any into the perusal of the performances, they defraud them of but little time. — Samuel Johnson, The Rambler
The argument over whether or not blogging, tweeting, etc. will ruin our minds, our morals, and our spelling is currently a popular one, as it always is when people develop new modes of expression. But the perennial and cyclical nature of the argument should tell us that we have no way of determining the future forms or effects of new media. Johnson’s description of the periodical, as quoted above, resembles the contemporary blog more than it does what most writers today understand by the word “essay,” which is apt to remind most of us of schoolwork. The question of cognitive effects is also unanswerable because most of the people asking it are already shaped, cognitively, by past incarnations of mass media. No matter how frequently I blog, no matter how powerful the effects of brain plasticity, I remain unlikely to write like someone who is growing up wired (which may or may not be a good thing). Meanwhile, the bad-or-good media debate is growing increasingly overdetermined, co-opted, and dull.
So rather than debating the possible effects of new media, perhaps as academics we are better off setting an example by using those new media which suit us, but in ways inflected by our old media knowledge. Blogging doesn’t have to be, as Lynda Barry hilariously suggested in a recent New Yorker cartoon, a mixture of advertising, bragging about crafts, and conspiracy theories. Nor need it be degraded to sordid self-display and narcissistic jabber. It can be a place to practice the craft of writing. And if we only write well on occasion, at worst, as Johnson points out, we will defraud our readers of but little time.