I was doing my daily rounds and found Fr Jonathan’s Blogday 2017: The beautiful feet of the Laity. I think he began his article with the tongue-in-cheek epitaph “Blogging, apparently, is a dying form which makes this, as usual, a thing of increasing archaism“. Is the blog on its way out? I typed out the question in Google, and I had little to relate to with the answers. It seems that since about 2012, the days of blogs run by professional journalists and those wanting to earn their living in this way were numbered. Apparently, fewer people were using computers and laptops to look at the internet, but rather turning to smartphones. That would exclude writing at length and turning to Facebook, Twitter, etc. until they in turn would be replaced with something more modern.
My personal experience is something a little different. I got my first smartphone last August with a deal including 20GB of internet. That is quite a lot if you don’t download too many YouTube videos. When away from home, it is great. I can get the internet without depending on Wi-Fi by using 4G. I can also “hotspot” my computer and use the smartphone as a modem on 4G if I have no wi-fi. If I need / want to use the smartphone as a standalone device, I have a keyboard with normal-sized keys connected to the phone by Bluetooth. Even then, the smartphone is a little like camping and using a Swiss knife. I find it too fiddly to use for my blog, even with the keyboard.
I can’t imagine what most of my readers use as hardware, but I imagine the situation is more conservative than what some imagine. Some are still using Windows and Macintosh office computers with older versions of their operating systems. If it works, why not? A trip to a computer shop is quite instructive. What do they offer compared with twenty years ago? There are plenty of office computers with flat screens, and above all, a rich choice of laptops for all budgets and needs, lots of accessories like external hard drives and USB keys with increasing capacities. I suspect that most of us still use a computer of some kind and a smartphone for when we are out of the house. Also, the computer is used for serious applications that would be too difficult on a smartphone, for example my translating work, writing books and articles for publication, storing information, design and technology, calculating and accounting, developing new software and all sorts of things. The computer with a keyboard and mouse / trackpad will be with us for a long time, even with the dazzling progress of new technologies.
If the blog and the computer are linked, then I have no fear. However, not all blogs are of the same quality or perseverance in time. In the late 2000’s, I devised a “blog” section on a static website, but there was no provision for comments. That paltry effort attracted the attention of Christian Campbell, a parishioner in one of the American TAC dioceses, who set up The Anglo-Catholic and invited me to be a guest writer on it. When the triumphalistic and smug RC apologists moved in and when Continuing Anglican bloggers over-reacted, it all became quite unpleasant. Christian Campbell moved to a pro-Roman Catholic position and eventually went to the SSPX and had a load of tattoos done on his arms. I was still loyal to Archbishop Hepworth and was waiting for the endgame to play out. I set up a blog by the name of the English Catholic, was was also victim to RC apologist and “classic” Anglican critics (to avoid unjustifiably called them trolls). This blog was set up in January 2012, nearly six years ago, and went off at a more cultural and liturgical tangent of less interest to the aggressive. Over that time, my statistics have been fairly steady: about three hundred views per day with peaks at four to five hundred.
My subject matter is specialised in comparison with the world at large, but quite diversified in the sacramental Christian churchy world. I have grafted on some unrelated topics like sailing and non-religious culture, and aspects of my life like my recent diagnosis of Aspergers / high-functioning autism. I remember a priest who is an artist advising me that culture is an important part of ministry, and especially being related to as a human being. Then I’m not afraid to talk about sailing and Aspergers. Those who are bored by such topics have the option of looking at something else without being rude to me. The blog allows candour without offending against the rules of living in society – and that has its advantages and disadvantages.
As far as I can see, the difference between the blog and social networking is the volume and content of what we want to write. Not everyone likes doing a lot of writing, but prefer some kind of virtual social life with a more light-hearted vein. I do use Facebook in that spirit and give a link to this blog when I want to get something more “serious” over to “friends” and groups. I have occasionally given a “selfie” of my flowing locks of hair – but that is not generally my “thing”. I participate in groups, which are the successor of the old e-mail Yahoo group or similar. Sometimes, the polemics lack courtesy and are too little reflected. It was an old criticism addressed against blogs as opposed to writing books and printed articles in recognised reviews. At least the way I see things, the blog is for something more serious and reflected, and the social network is for keeping in touch and getting quick information. People still write books and newspaper articles, and you can still buy a fountain pen and improve your handwriting!
The important thing is knowing what we want to share with the world in the way of education and contributing something positive. I like to express myself as a human being without “narcissism” and appeal to those who share my interests. I might be annoying when I get too “aspie” about details of the liturgy or my boat, but what I write is there to be looked at or disregarded. It is not rammed down anyone’s throat. We always say that e-mail doesn’t disturb anyone, but phone calls do – which is why I am so opposed to the abuse of the telephone by marketers and cold-callers. There is nothing in the way of constraint or persuasion about a blog, at least the way I do it.
Simply put, some blogs will die like The Anglo-Catholic, or the one I closed down in 2012. Others continue because there is still something to be said and the blogger is prepared to work at it, be original and offer ideas for sharing. I don’t do it for money, any more than most of the blogs I consult each day. Perhaps the blog in the late 1990’s was something of a “Facebook” of the time, but it ain’t now. If you write a blog in the fast-passing spirit of Facebook, it won’t go anywhere. A blog’s postings stay on the front page for longer and can be easily found with the search function. Two other trending sites have caught my attention: Pinterest and Quora. On the latter, we can ask questions like a little child and get a whole host of interesting answers. I have used it quite a lot on psychological issues. Pinterest will show you lots of nice images of what interests you. Its Arts & Crafts section is rather good. YouTube is for “vloggers”, those who prefer doing videos to written articles. I have a YouTube channel with some liturgical and boating footage, but I have neglected it for too long. I tend to stutter and stammer when talking to a camera and microphone. When writing, I put over my thought without having to worry about my appearance or media-savvy aspects.
There are threats against the internet, and the possibility it could be more tightly regulated and commercialised. That could happen, but would it be in the interest of “progress”? So far, those with the problems are committing anti-social offences like racism or anti-semitism, glorifying terrorism or “extreme right-wing” agendas, committing calumny, slander and libel, fake news, etc. There are always unsavoury people around. If we want the internet to continue, then we are responsible for the content we put on it. So far, so good, and we can use it for educating others or making contacts and friends through common interests.
It is possible that blogging is harder because of the diversification between blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Quora and Pinterest. Each one has its speciality. When doing a blog, you need to have a clear idea of its central theme and to what extent it can diversify whilst keeping its essential identity. For mine, I began with the highly specialised subject of the Sarum liturgy, and then found that there was something more general underpinning everything about me. I think largely along the lines of an eccentric Victorian university don, fired by the values of Romanticism, the references to the Middle Ages, but seen through modern eyes. I also saw the rebellious 1960 Goliard by transposing at about five centuries of difference between maverick priests playing cat and mouse with the Inquisition and hippies smashed out on LSD in the 1960’s. I have never “done” drugs, but I was brought up in the 1960’s and my autism alienates me from the niceties of modern social life. The New Goliard would about cover my little Japanese lady’s fan of interests and topics to share. With all that, it needs work and single-mindedness, old-fashioned writing.
We need to have a good notion of relationship between the various platforms on the internet, when to promote a blog posting through a Facebook entry. That will depend on how many “friends” you have. I have about 400, and have made no effort to find more. Some are dead-wood spammers, scammers and those looking for a good time, but most are more worthwhile. A number of bloggers link to this blog in their sidebars, and I know it when someone clicks on those links. A good number are using search engines to find precise information that happens to be on my blog. Frankly, I’m not bothered about the promotional aspect, because my statistics are quite steady (as mentioned above), and I work in an educational perspective, definitely not for commercial marketing or for proselytising.
The trolls have left me alone since the election of Pope Francis, the one big spanner in the works of RC triumphalism. They have other cats to whip as we say here in France. My joining the ACC has to an extent endeared me to the classical Anglicans even if I am a little too pre-Reformation for their taste! I try to be kind with all and welcome new commenters who generally add something constructive even if they have reasons for showing me as wrong – and I can be in some of my more ambitious scientific / philosophical speculations.
The blog is a part of my life and teaching ministry as a priest and British eccentric! To an extent, it fulfils the role of the old-fashioned diary and personal letters as used to be written in the Victorian era and up to my own adolescence. But, the blog is public and the “letters” are written to all. Prudence is advised and some aspects of private life need to be kept to ourselves. Even so, I am quite daring and not always prudent!
There are millions of blogs out there. I only consult a few, less than ten on a regular basis. That could be so with most of us.