Summer Blog Thought

In the spirit of “summer reading”–that is to say, not taxing– I want to talk about a phenomenon I call the Inverse Ratio of Response. As a regular reader but rare responder to BCC blogs I have observed that the more light-hearted posts, such as Levi’s about dress standards for home teachers, will generate responses in the hundreds while more serious topics will generate far fewer. I have some thoughts as to why.

Anyone in the church who also wears clothes will have had to consider “dress standards” if only for a moment when making a sartorial decision. Since we are all experts on our own experiences we feel we are on firm ground speaking out. And talking about a dress code is a way of talking about the serious issues behind it. As we learn in Primary, “reverence is more than just quietly sitting.” What is the relationship between the outer–the way we dress– and the inner–the way we feel? One can be legislated, the other can’t, but one reflects the other, or not necessarily. So this kind of blog gets lots of responses because people are sure of what they are saying and have an experience to contribute. They have a sense, often, of what lies beneath the frivolity, and it’s fun. Life is often serious and who doesn’t welcome a chance to laugh.

On the other hand, many posts are about philosophical or historical matters that most people don’t know much about. They can be impressively erudite. These posts might be read by lots of people but few choose to respond. Most of us prefer not to reveal our ignorance and aren’t confident enough to ask the questions we have on our minds. Silence doesn’t imply lack of appreciation and it doesn’t mean a person hasn’t learned something.

There have also been posts that are moving. In that case, it’s hard to know what to say. We have the words to be ironic, “snarky'”, sarcastic, critical or argumentative, but we have a much smaller vocabulary when it comes to being appreciative. “Nice post,” or “that was beautiful”–sometimes those words just don’t cover it, so we say nothing even when we would like to be able to say much more.

The French have a useful phrase: “l’esprit d’escalier”–the wit of the stairway. It refers to the brilliant response you think of later. Posting is immediate and at hand. Some people have a slower reaction time. When they finally figure out what they meant to say, the moment has passed. The discussion on the blog is over. Everyone is on to something else.

So, to the people who are shocked that so much bloggernacle time is spent on silly stuff, and to those people whose hard thinking and thoughtful writing don’t seem to draw many out, I say take heart and remember the Inverse Ratio of Response.


  1. lamonte says:

    Kathleen – So where does that leave us for this post? I totally agree with your observation about when I contribute and when I remain silent. Sometimes I feel intimidated by the subject matter in the post and other times I just wonder if certain people are being purposely academic or intellectual to try to weed out the comments of us more common folk. In either of those two cases I usually refrain. I love the bloggernacle because it gives us all a chance for reasonable discourse. Our anonymity allows us to say things we might not say in a personal encounter but the rules of this site keep that discourse in a civil tone and content. I like having some rules but not too many. Despite your analysis above, I don’t think of what you’ve said as being light-hearted although my being the first to respond and the length of my comment would seem to indicate otherwise. Thanks for giving us a subject to comment on.

  2. By making this comment am I implicitly calling your post lightweight?

  3. Frank, You’re important, so no. Now if *I* were to make a comment…. Ooops!

    Actually, I agree with Kathleen’s observations.

  4. Steve Evans says:

    Frank — no, you’re just less shy about revealing your ignorance than the rest of us. Except that God agrees with you all the time, apparently.

  5. Spot on, Kathleen.

    One more thought – from someone who obviously doesn’t hesitate to comment. (I don’t want to consider the psychological implications of that, based on what you have written so well.) :-)

    I am one of those who probably comments too much in Sunday School and PH, but part of that is due to others whose insights and expertise I truly admire who do NOT comment or answer questions. I have waited and waited for those people to respond, then commented to break the silence. (Perhaps they wait and wait knowing I will comment eventually, but that’s the other side of the coin.) There is one man in our ward, in particular, whose input is always amazing, but he never comments unless called on directly by the teacher. This is an extremely well-educated man, a high-level professional and a very humble man whom I admire tremendously.

    One of the reasons I love the bloggernacle is that there rarely are the awkward silences where those who want to contribute are afraid of monopolizing the conversation and are silently praying that the ones from whom they want to learn will speak up and teach them. Anonymity allows me to learn from m&m, kevinf, MCQ, Krisitne and so many others – and, hopefully, teach someone something in the process. As an educator at heart, I see my time here as spiritual professional development that I have a hard time getting on a daily basis anywhere else.

  6. I am of the firm belief that if no-one responds to a post I write that it is entirely because what I wrote was so brilliant that it transcended human language and that therefore no response is possible. I shall never be dissuaded from this opinion.

  7. Adam Greenwood says:

    Argle bargle trittylan, John C.

  8. Thomas Parkin says:

    “The discussion on the blog is over. Everyone is on to something else.”

    This is one of the disadvantages of this mode of online discussion, as opposed to Usenet, or even message boards. The discussions are roughly linear and contained, and once they have moved on you can’t really call them back.

    On Usenet, discussion threads ‘drift’ without becoming incoherent. That is, they branch away from the original poster’s comments – often very far from the original comments. So, there is freedom to digress, and follow up to digressions. On a blog, it quickly becomes difficult to tell who is responding to who, so that allowing multiple conversations within a thread isn’t really possible. Hence the need to limit ‘threadjacks.’ I’ve seen threads on Usenet last months and months, and branch in dozens of ways. I rather prefer it, in case that doesn’t show – if for no other reason than it allows for more passive participation and also allows greater freedom for any poster to influence the course of conversation. One advantage to the blog is that moderation is easier to achieve – and maybe that’s a winning point with discussion of the kind you’ve got here. I’ve got no desire to post about my Mormonism in an unmoderated format.


  9. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree with your perceptions, Kathleen, which helps me to take heart when I post on something and get only three comments.

    I’m sure many of us feel it is better to keep silent and be suspected a fool than to open our mouths and remove all doubt.

  10. I’ve been considering your post for a while this morning, while commenting on a couple of others. I read more often than I post, and on some topics, I feel that I have nothing to add, and much to learn. Part of why I love the bloggernacle is the opportunity to think about important things at work, in between the mundane activity of the workaday world.

    When I post, I hope I have something to add to the discussion. Other times, I am just listening, and thinking. I also on occasion am somewhat intimidated by the knowledge level of many bloggers on topics I am not well versed in. But I almost always enjoy these diversions, and I find that it helps me keep my spiritual feelings more tuned during the seek, even when I don’t post. I also find that I will start a comment, pause, think about it for a while, and either revise it, or just about as often, delete it without responding. But I am always thinking and pondering when I read.

    Kevin Barney, I should consider your advice, paraphrased from Proverbs, more often.

  11. I have now removed all doubt. Seek should be week.

  12. Kathleen:

    That is fascinating, but I need a french phrase for the situation I find myself in most often: commented too fast and later find myself in deep regret for what I said. What would that be, “L’esprit d’idiot?”

  13. Steve,

    “Except that God agrees with you all the time, apparently.”

    If that’s what you think I said, Steve, perhaps you should become somewhat more shy…

  14. So *that’s* why no one ever comments on my posts…. Thanks Kathleen! :-P

  15. Ardis Parshall says:

    Kathleen, my posts seldom draw more than single digits. When that happens, I want readers to comment with a link to this post, or even “what Kathleen wrote.” Even if they say nothing else, I’ll know what they mean.

  16. Steve Evans says:

    I agree with you, Frank. How could I not!

  17. Ardis, Steve and Frank are fighting again. Please tell them to stop. I can’t hear Kathleen explaining why they fight.

  18. Steve Evans says:

    Ray, after your bitchslap at me at T&S, you’d best watch yourself.

  19. Steve: One of the fundamental rules I have always heard about writing is that you can’t write about a gun unless someone is going to use it later in the story. Similarly, you can’t use the word “bitchslap” without linking to it.

  20. Steve Evans says:
  21. I agree that Steve should agree with me.

  22. Thanks, Steve. I was worried you hadn’t read it. :-)

  23. lamonte says:

    Did I mention that we have civil discourse here at BCC…..?

  24. 10. “I also find that I will start a comment, pause, think about it for a while, and either revise it, or just about as often, delete it without responding.”

    I do this about 90% of the time for a variety of reasons. I’ve wondered at times how many other do the same thing.

  25. I do, Kyle – at least with my serious comments. The other 10% of the time I take tongue-in-cheek potshots at Steve.

  26. BTW, I think this current exchange is a PERFECT illustration of Kathleen’s Inverse Ratio of Response Theory.

  27. ElouiseBell says:

    Kathleen, your post strikes home.

    I comment on posts here from time to time–mostly, I notice, personal nostalgic anecdotes, such as you’d expect from those who are retired but not retiring–but I READ BCC every day. I miss it if I don’t.

    Your second dead-center-over-the-plate strike is about “language of appreciation.” BCC-ers recently mulled over how hard it is to say something when you don’t know what to say–to those in grief or in great pain, in particular. You remind us that it is also hard to say something when you are full to the brim with appreciation but don’t want to resort to the old cliches.

    For some reason, I find it especially hard to express appreciation to musicians, to singers or players whose performance stir me to the depths.
    If nothing else, “Thank you” is always appropriate, I suppose, but I wonder what language others have found for this purpose, especially those who are on the receiving end of the praise.

  28. Kevin Barney says:

    As exhibit A in the “don’t know what to say” category, I present my comment to Kristine’s Three Wards post:

    “Very nice, Kristine.”

    When I read it, I was going to use the word “lovely,” but I saw in the comments someone had beaten me to it. I wanted to let her know that I had read it and appreciated it very much, but I really didn’t know quite how to say that.

    We really do have a limited vocabulary of fulsome appreciation here in the Bloggernacle.

  29. The not knowing what to say problem reminds me of yesterday in sacrament meeting (incidently the same ward as Kathleen, though we’ve yet to meet as I am realativly new). There was a quartet that sang so wonderfully my wife leaned over and said “I wish we could clap.” Some posts leave me with the same wish.

  30. Kathleen says:

    Thanks so much to you all for your generous and amusing responses. I do love ‘esprit d’idiote”–I feel it quite often. Eloise, I have decided that “Thank you” has to suffice but why can’t we do better without feeling like we are falling all over ourselves? Kyle, please reveal yourself. I am the woman who falls asleep in Sunday School because it’s so hot in there. I did realize I have set myself up by saying the number of responses means something . . .

  31. I’ll introduce myself in the next week or so. I spoke in sacrament a month or so ago, but Sundays can blend from one week to another. In Sunday School, I’m the one always asking his wife to scratch his back.

  32. Besides the “Inverse Ratio of Response”, there is also the comment count ratio: Usually the blog entry is fairly well written – the author has put some thought into the string of words. However the comments are usually not as well thought out. As the list of comments gets longer and longer I hesitate to add a comment because I feel I ought to read all the previous comments to avoid duplications, etc. This is rather tiresome after 50 comments, so I usually won’t respond if there are more then about 50 comments (unless the original blog just demands a response).

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