Five years old on Monday, I was taking a lunch break in my office in the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva, Illinois, a stone’s throw away from the little stone church building built by Unitarians in 1843, just a few years after the Illinois frontier had opened up after the conclusion of the Blackhawk Wars. I had spent the morning looking through old church records, to what end I no longer recall. On my lunch break, I decided to start a blog on AOL’s now-defunct blogging service. Being a peripheral participant in geek culture, of course I had to name it “Yet Another Unitarian Universalist Blog,” although I soon dropped the last word. The only person I told about it was my partner Carol, yet within a couple of days several people in the congregation had discovered my new blog, and the blogger’s collective at the old Coffee Hour site had reviewed my first post. Something interesting was happening here: religion had expanded into the digital realm. And there I was, one of the people exploring this new landscape.
It’s been a wild ride since then. Here are some of my favorite moments from the past five years:
- I was asked by Peacebang to serve as an example of a poorly-dressed minister when she was interviewed by Mainstream Media about her “Beauty Tips for Ministers” blog. Alas, my photo didn’t make it into the published interview.
- I attended one of the Boston-area UU blogger’s picnics, where I got to meet a couple of blogger spouses. They were both very nice mild-mannered people.
- Upon being introduced to me at a denominational gathering, a woman said, “Are you really as mean as Mr. Crankypants?” She looked frightened. I was completely nonplussed, and made some halting reply that did nothing to reassure her.
- I have had several entertaining online arguments with my older sister, bouncing back and forth between our two blogs.
- Commenter, fellow-blogger, and friend E recently took me to task in a long phone conversation for willfully misunderstanding J. D. Salinger in a post (she was right, of course, not that I admitted that while we were talking).
I started out thinking that blogging was just another publishing medium, like letterpress or photocopying. Then I began to understand that social media like blogs are more than a technological means for getting my words and ideas out to a wider public; they are really a way to carry out a larger conversation than can happen face-to-face. Recently, I have begun to understand that really all writing and publishing are forms of social media: when Richard Steele published The Spectator, his letterpress-printed words opened up a broader conversation; when zines started using the new technology of photocopying, they too were opening up a broader conversation; blogs and other online publishing platforms use new technologies, but the ultimate goal of a broader conversation remains the same.
For those of us who use online technologies, the real challenge now is to raise the quality of our writing. We bloggers need our Steele and Addison — or better yet, the blog equivalents of Mark Twain — people who write good prose and who have something to say that’s worth saying. We bloggers need someone who will raise the standard for the rest of us. Maybe the blog equivalents of Richard Steele and Mark Twain are already publishing but I haven’t seen them. Most bloggers write prose that’s either precious, cute, tainted with the contemporary workshop aesthetic,1 confused, rushed, or just plain bad (I tend towards the latter three). Currently, we read blogs for the information, not for the quality of expression.
I plan to write this blog for at least another five years. I hope that five years from now I will be able to point to several blogs written by great English prose stylists. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be one of those writers.
1 See: David Dooley, “The Contemporary Workshop Aesthetic,” Hudson Review, Summer 1990, no. 259.