The Bloggernacle is no stranger to controversy. One of the recurring trends, at least at BCC, is to tackle a tricky topic head-on, to deal with concerns in an open and honest way. This has some real benefits – often we see some positive apologetics, some heartfelt testimonies and some clarifications of long-held misconceptions. When you engage in this often enough over time, there’s a sense of community that develops. These commenters and bloggers become your friends. With increased frequency we read emails and see comments expressing thanks for a discussion and this community. Occasionally people say things like, “thanks — I could never have this kind of frank, open discussion with the people in my ward,” or “finally someone out there understands me!”
As flattering as such comments are, I have to admit they also make me feel a little uncomfortable.
I have compassion for people who feel like they’re stuck in their local wards, like the Bloggernacle is their only chance to be open with their thoughts without fear of shame or reprisal. It is no small irony that for some, their ward — which is supposed to be a family of love and trust — is a place where they can never be themselves. This is particularly frustrating given the complexities of Mormon history and the difficulty of parsing our doctrine. And so, when I hear tales of desperation and isolation, I am glad that at least some people have been able to find friends and share their experiences online. Indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more vocal advocate for the community that the Bloggernacle affords.
And yet. I worry, sometimes, that our online groups go beyond occasional crutches to get us by, and that they begin to supplant our real-world relationships and our immediate wards and families. For some people, this replacement is nothing but a boon – for whatever reason, their families, wards, etc. are caustic, and seem destined to run them out of the Church entirely. Given the alternative of inactivity, depression or worse, maybe it’s OK that some people find their only place of solace in the arms of the Bloggernacle.
But what about the garden-variety bloggernacle participant, the liberal libertarian intellectual lawyer SAHM that is otherwise a normal active LDS? What happens as your participation and involvement in the Bloggernacle continues to expand? I have only a few observations:
1. The Bloggernacle is a LOT easier. You can lurk in the comments, post trollish remarks, throw outlandish ideas into the fray and see what sticks. Since you haven’t met most of these people, you have far less invested. Friendships come quickly and easily unless you are a troll or a fake persona. So, it is very easy to feel at home, regardless of your leanings.
2. The Bloggernacle takes time. By this I mean it is a jealous mistress. Blogging will take up as much time as you are willing to afford it. The community you choose to participate in will suck up as much involvement as you can give. There is no upper limit. Theoretically the same is true of our real-world relationships, but as a matter of practicality you can only do so much for your real family and friends in the middle of the night…. whereas BCC is open 24/7.
3. The Bloggernacle is deceiving. Because it’s so easy to make friends and influence people online, participants swiftly get a sense of amazing return on their investment. The first time a perma responds to a first-timer’s comment — magic! When someone you respect tells you they like your posts — bliss! These are real feelings of fulfillment. But they are frequently ephemeral. There is no lasting glory in the Bloggernacle, folks. Those relationships are likely to fade as fast as they are created. Even established commenters and participants disappear with only the occasional mention (Kingsley! Lyle! Brent!).
4. You have duties to the real-world. Parents have duties to their children, and spouses have duties to each other. These duties are established in scripture and ratified by law and society as a whole. Your duties to your co-bloggers exist by virtue of general societal norms and Christian duties, but that’s it. These are your friends, folks, but don’t confuse your priorities. If you don’t reply to a post or an email, that’s nothing compared to failing to be there for your spouse or your kids.
5. Your real-world relationships are more likely to save you. I believe that all of our friendships and relationships have potential to bring us closer to Christ, but some more than others. At the top of the pile are those relationships ordained by God – namely, our family. I believe in the family unit as a saving device and ultimately put a lot of faith into the notion that a family, particularly one sealed in the temple, is an eternal unit. Next on the list I would put our ward relationships, not just because of the general injunction in Alma to mourn with those who mourn, etc., but because (a) we have an obligation to help build up the stakes of Zion where we are located, and (b) like our families, we cannot pick and choose our ward members — we may adore some of them, fundamentally disagree with others, but the act of coming together to worship and serve alongside each other despite differences is itself a salvific act. I would put friends and internet acquaintances further down on the list, both because of the ease in developing such associations and because of the relatively minimal investment involved.
What do I mean when I say that the Bloggernacle won’t save you? I mean that it is no panacea, no cure-all. You might find some answers to your questions, some friendships and some solace, but you won’t really escape who you are or what troubles you while you’re jacked into the BCC Matrix.
A final note: I have developed, over time, real friendships and true love for my co-bloggers and friends over the internet. I don’t mean to minimize those relationships. But even I forget sometimes that as blissfully wonderful and entertaining as the Bloggernacle can be compared to “real life,” it must not be allowed to usurp our rightful priorities.