February 28, 2006

Blogging Pledge

As readers may know who’ve been with me since the old days of Library Juice, the electronic serial, I started this blog with definite feelings of ambivalence. The blogging world is full of pitfalls. Some of those pitfalls may be unavoidable and simply part and parcel of being a contemporary person. I think, however, that there are a number of specific problems that crop up in blogging whose causes can be identified. These problems can be avoided (I hope) by sticking to a carefully designed set of rules. Here are the rules that the Library Juice bloggers follow in Library Juice, the blog:

1. We will not refer to other bloggers by their first names only. This practice creates a false familiarity, inviting people to feel that they are part of an illusory “in group” in reading your blog. Being a part of that “in group” is the payoff for readers who don’t mind that they don’t know who the person actually is who is being referred to by their first name. We don’t want to take part in creating that kind of an illusion, and we also don’t want to be rude to readers who see the practice for what it is: name-dropping. So, we will refer to other bloggers by their full names, and where their full name is unavailable, we will refer to them as “the anonymous blogger who calls herself Martha” (or whatever it is). As a way of referring to someone, that’s a mouthful and may turn out to be a wearisome approach, but anonymity on the web is a significant choice and should be noted.

2. We will not talk about our own lives, at least not much. Talking about ones own life in a blog is fine if it’s a personal blog (and some of us have them), but we will try to remember that our readers come here because of a common interest in issues relating to libraries, society and politics, and not because they are interested in what we had for breakfast, or even how we are engaged in library issues in our own lives.

3. We will try not to be ugly. Invective on the web is a strong temptation, and can be a thrill to read when you agree with it, or even when you don’t; however, it can easily lead one into a muddy ditch. We all have an ugly side; the world of blogs has a way of trying to draw it to the surface. We will endeavor to keep our ugly sides hidden from readers, for their benefit as well as for ours.

4. We will try not to get rough-and-tumble. This is the same idea, but it deserves to be stated twice. Because this is a blog with political ideas, this point represents the greatest challenge for us. As much as possible, we plan to avoid blogging about other people’s blogs. Call us prissy if you like, but when it comes to rough-and-tumble blog debates, we intend to mostly sit on the sidelines.

5. We will pay attention and be fair. Inevitably, we will at some point be tempted to write about another person’s blog, or about their reaction to something that one of us says. Anyone who’s expressed an opinion online is probably familiar with an unpleasant phenomenon: people often write about what you’ve said in a hostile tone while seeming not to have understood what you were actually saying. Attempting to correct the misunderstanding and defend your idea by clarifying it usually doesn’t work, because that involves telling someone either that they are stupid, unfair, or haven’t given your argument the attention it deserves, and a person who is hostile toward you to begin with is not going to take that news gracefully. But it is possible to offer other people’s arguments the same degree of attention and fairness that you expect for your own (regardless of how ideologically “wrong” they are to begin with). This is another way of saying that when we disagree with someone, we hope to find that point of disagreement that we can agree is our actual disagreement; in other words, when we engage in debate we want it to be civil and rational.

6. Finally, we will not talk too much. Francis Bacon said, “Silence is the virtue of fools,” and it is certainly true that there is a time for saying what needs to be said. On the other hand, so much is said because people like to hear themselves talk. We pledge to be silent on an issue where we have nothing of substance, or nothing that is new, to contribute. We will not say what we find obvious, what other people are already saying, what amounts to an emotional reaction that we have not reflected upon with at least an attempt at depth, or what doesn’t contain something that feels to is like an insight or that we think might be of some use.

So, that is our blogging pledge and set of rules. We will undoubtedly break one or more of them as we go, but at least at that point we will have a mechanism for bringing ourselves back on track. Other bloggers should feel welcome to hold us to our word.

– Rory Litwin

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  1. I was wondering if you might clarify your first rule for me. Do you think that by using another blogger’s first name, one is being ambiguous about the person to whom they are referring? Do you think that by using the blogger’s first name, one is suggesting a certain intimacy that cannot exist in this environment? Perhaps I have misunderstood you entirely…

    Comment by Rikhei — March 10, 2006 @ 12:36 pm

  2. Thinking about it further, I think there are two separate things I’m interested in avoiding. The first is validating an illusion of intimacy that’s created when people share personal thoughts and details anonymously, which is what blogging using only your first name can do. In answer to that problem, I’ve heard some bloggers say “I only refer to people by their first names when I actually know them personally.” That rule at least “keeps them in reality,” so that when they refer to a person by name they know they are not referring to an anonymous internet entity. But then they are up against the second problem, which has to do with whether the audience knows that person by first name just as they do. Assuming that the audence does know who that person is kind of pretends that all the readers of your blog are a part of a community who know each other personally just as you know this friend whom you’re referring to by first name. I think a lot of people like to get that warm “in group” feeling from a blog, but it does involve a pretense and an illusion. People who encounter those first-name references without wanting to imagine themselves to be a part of a community of people who all know each other by first name experience it the way most of us experience it in real life when someone drops a first name – as rudeness. When someone drops names in a conversation with me, using a first name, and I don’t know the person they’re talking about – that is if I either don’t know who they are referring to or don’t know the person personally – I find it offensive. It’s a display of being “in” a group and a display of expecting you to know, if you are anybody, the ins and outs of that group. It says, “I know Tiffany, and of course you do too, because you and I are talking like chums.” People who do that make me feel like I’m back in high school. It’s less obvious that that’s going on when it’s the web, because so many people only identify themselves by first name in the first place, but I think it’s the same thing. So I would say I have this rule for both of the reasons you’re suggesting, though I would phrase it differently. I would say referring to people by first names on blogs both supports an illusion of intimacy in an anonymous environment and makes an inappropriate presumption of familiarity.

    Comment by Rory Litwin — March 10, 2006 @ 12:55 pm

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