Sunday, April 3, 2005

On Blogs

From list-serves to chat room to personal web pages, message boards, and instant messenger services, blogs have become the latest popular outlet for personal expression and interaction online. Like those formats before it, free services abound enabling anyone with access to an internet connection to participate. I recently surveyed a large number of blogs.

The majority of the blogs fell into one of the following categories: blogs by people (generally young women) who think they are sexy who post suggestive photos; blogs by companies trying to fill every nook and cranny of cyberspace with advertisements; blogs by people who like anime and/or cute things (most commonly small children and pets); blogs by bored high school students, college students, and others who have no regular jobs or commitments who catalogue and post every facet of their daily life; blogs by people who want to tell you how much they love their significant others; blogs by people who believe they are undiscovered political and social affairs correspondents or editorial page writers; and blogs by people who are either deranged or wish to present that image in their online persona. Yes, there are blogs by artists, there are blogs by those experiencing particular hardships or circumstances whose stories provide advice and inspiration to others, and others which provide substantial information or entertainment content, but they appear to be in the minority.

As common sense would suggest, and my own experiences as a message board administrator, amateur website designer, and general web surfer anecdotally confirm, the popular personal online outlets of expression are those which offer sex and controversy. Even among the sites which are intended for those seeking intellectual or spiritual stimulation, people tend to prefer those which readily confirm their pre-existing opinions to those that openly scrutinize the issues and provide thoughtful and though-provoking content. I am not elevating myself above this observation or excluding myself from this indictment. I do not make this observation as a lament for some lost ideal of human dialogue, or as a rant against some perception of falling standards of personal development or self-actualization. It isn’t a wake-up call, it isn’t a call to action. Only the medium has changed. People are still the same. I call attention to the state of affairs in personalized online publication and interaction because one should recognize and anticipate such tendencies and preferences, in oneself as well as others, in order to maintain realistic expectations about decisions to participate in such electronic media.

For example, in the case of this site, why start a blog that is going to have hundreds to thousands of competitors, with content that can be fairly estimated to initially attract a very small number of likely potential readers compared to sex blogs and hardcore political or religious blogs, and which will take a fair amount of time and effort to maintain? This is a question which I have been considering lately. Certainly it is not in order to springboard to some kind of commercial success, as some bloggers have achieved and many more aspire to gain. Nor it is to achieve some kind of minor following or petty fandom, again, as a few bloggers have achieved and many more aspire to attain. Nor does simple boredom suffice to answer with my schedule. A desire to simply connect to who is out there? That can be achieved more quickly and easily through other means. For a long time I saw no reason to attempt a blog. Now I believe there may be some value to it.

Over the last year I began a casual investigation of Buddhism, and beginning with the New Year (solar/Western version) I started practicing with a sangha. But this blog is NOT just for people who are already prediposed to study or practice Buddhism. I am highly skeptical about claims regarding the miraculous and I reject what is commonly known as "the supernatural" and who previously was devoutly non-religious.

I have followed my pursuit of truth and clarity from Christian fundamentalism to blaise agnosticism to (a somewhat) smug anti-religious atheism to a more secure and less-biased nontheism. You don't have to shave your head, wear a robe or light incense on an altar to appreciate emptiness. You don't have to light a candle, kneel down in a cathedral and call on a God to experience suchness. Just an open mind. I think there can be value in people of differing and similar beliefs striving to find a common, solid foundation for peace of mind resulting in love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanamity. Let us discover that value together.

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