Why do we blog? What are we trying to accomplish?
And why do we read and comment?
I’m not sure what all the main reasons are, honestly. These are my best guesses:
Why do we blog?
1. To change people’s minds through information or argument.
I don’t think this is anywhere close to the primary reason, but if you take a look at the relentless politeness of The Volokh Conspiracy you can see that they’re trying to move people to their libertarianish-conservative position.
Not everyone has the DRJ-like serenity when posting, and it’s not necessary to do that, but it probably helps.
Informational additions, like the host’s many posts on the LA Times’ bias are good ways to do this; having some expertise in one’s field can also help.
While this is a very good use of blogs, I’m pretty strongly convinced most people’s primary goal is different. That doesn’t make it wrong; people who are providing free content don’t have obligations to the content-reader.
2. To have a place to talk to like-thinking people.
Some very popular blogs make no effort whatsoever to engage people of different viewpoints; PZ Myers discusses his hard-left rationalist viewpoint by throwing f-bombs at those who disagree with him and saying he doesn’t trust any Christians. This isn’t likely to make friends, even though on science part of this scienceblog, Myers is just plain right. (Evolution happened. Ben Stein’s movie was wildly dishonest.)
Again, there’s nothing wrong with this per se. At some point, getting together with internet friends to bemoan the idiot lefties/righties/Muslims/left-handed freaks/non-virgins is a community-organizing method. It won’t bring new people in, but it may add some depth to the views of people who are already on your side. And you can even do this (if you’re boring) without ripping on the other side.
If you want to change people’s minds, though, this isn’t all that successful.
3. To show our erudition. There’s nothing wrong with expertise; I’ve had conversations with economists who know more than I do on the subject, and I’ve learned. People learn about the ins and outs of prosecution from me sometimes, and I’m convinced that really helps.
Of course, there are presentation methods; sometimes even pedantry has limits, and stops being productive. While I know what “erudition,” means, you pawns, and this makes me better than you, I might have used a substitute word.
4. To challenge ourselves, and feel an active part of the discussion.
If you allow comments, you’re engaging the populace in a discussion about ideas. Some members of the populace are irretrievable idiots, and this won’t help. But writing clear posts and engaging others in the marketplace of ideas can have a personal payoff. Sometimes, even, that payoff can be a recognition that one was mistaken about their original idea.
5. Because it’s fun.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Not everything needs an explanation.
Why do we read?
1. To be entertained.
All those f-bombs can be entertaining.
2. To read things that agree with our pre-existing views.
I’m absolutely convinced that these two things are what draw people to most blogs. Learning isn’t key; confirmation bias is key. I admire folks like aphrael or SEK who post or drop by even though they disagree with the general tenor of this blog, but they’re rare.
It’s vital to get your information from other sources than, say, Drudge and Fox News if you’re on the right. I talked to a politically knowledgeable conservative site-surfer who never heard about the lost pallets of money in Iraq. Lost pallets of money are new, folks, and you’ve got to get knowledge from sources that don’t agree with your worldview. If you think the budget inflation of the Bush administration is the Democrats’ fault, there’s no saving you.
3. To be informed.
Scott Jacobs post on Carleton College’s CF fundraiser was fascinating, and I didn’t know the glitch in the election law that aphrael pointed out. I love posts like this, which give both some information I didn’t know and have a take on this information.
I think most of the blogosphere only wants information that supports their pre-existing views, though. That’s because the blogosphere is part of humanity, and humans generally only wants information that supports their pre-existing views; confirmation bias is strong in almost everyone.
4. To challenge ourselves.
Hey, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I don’t know something. People read and comment to engage in the discussion and challenge. Mostly, again, people read to hear people who agree with them.
Anyone have other reasons or theories for the popularity of blogs and blogging? Anyone think I’ve gone seriously awry in my analysis?