Recently I read an article predicting a blossoming future for blogging, heralding this method of self-publishing as the future of
content distribution. The article in question was published in 2005. Things have changed in five years. Most recent trending data and polls agree that blogging is on the decline overall, with some demographics showing their interest in blogs cut by half. For lack of a better term, blogging is a dying technology. Blogs were faddish in 2005, but are now dying on the vine. Young people — the trendsetters for internet content production and distribution — have largely eschewed blogs as a medium. There was no Mormon blogging in 2000, and there probably won’t be any in 2020 for that matter.
I am no Jeremiah, come to fortell the doom of the Bloggernacle. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. But if we are to consider the question of the future of the Bloggernacle, I believe we need to engage in two tasks as a prerequisite: first, we must understand why the community of LDS blogs exists, and second, we must understand the evolutionary pathways of new media and gain a sense of which way the river is flowing.
Why does the Bloggernacle exist?
LDS blogs exist for a number of identified reasons, but fundamentally a single reason predominates: community. Humans are social creatures, craving interconnectedness, and Mormons are especially social humans. This is partially attributable to Wasatch Front Western friendliness, I suppose, but I also view our society as a central feature of our faith: we are saved in great chains of family stretching back and forward through the eternities, and Joseph Smith wrote, “that same sociality which exists amongst us here will exist among us there only it will be coupled with eternal glory which glory we do not now enjoy.” The Prophet was not referring to blogs or firesides or ice cream socials. “Sociality,” that eternal characteristic of forming and nurturing communities, is a principle of Mormonism that is not often taught but is nevertheless essential to understanding our meetings, our everyday interactions and, most relevant, our blogging. We explicitly practice what we intuitively feel, namely that the processes of community building and forming bonds of friendship and common faith are basic and timeless.
Previously, these communal tendencies had plenty of real-world outlets in which to run, whether that be in founding and settling actual communities in barren parts of the world, or in forming micro-communities within existing systems. The former of these is no longer an option to most of us, and the latter is passively (at times actively) discouraged without official Church sanction. In generations past, Mormons also sought to engage each other by via public discussion and debate. The public square within Mormonism does not exist the way it has in times past; it is more like the plaza on Main Street in Salt Lake City, where everyone is welcome to engage with each other within certain general boundaries of behavior, some written and some unwritten, as established by our leaders.
Additionally, as others have noted with respect to publishing in the LDS community, it is today virtually impossible to make a living writing for a Mormon audience without going through Deseret Book. We may never again see a mass-market piece of LDS thought written by an author who is not an apostle or a product of the CES. Popular biographies such as those written by Prince or Bushman may prove the exception to this rule, but they are history books, and as such they are presumably neutral (and harmless). Finally, society as a whole has become more distant, more alienating and less connected than ever. We entertain ourselves by streaming movies over the internet into our homes. We work by toiling alone in cubicles in front of computer screens. We harvest our food by placing an order online with convenient at-home delivery. The time we spend with our fellow saints, formerly the hub of our society, is now a mere three hours a week — and we bemoan every minute. Ask a Mormon what she would say to a two-hour block instead and you will see a gleam of joy in her eye. Indeed, the love of men has waxed cold.
So we are modern Latter-day Saints: filled with instinct to reach out and commune with our sisters and brothers, but no real idea how to do it, few unsupervised and obvious avenues available and with the whole of modern society geared against us. Little wonder, then, that the Bloggernacle came into existence; in retrospect, its creation seems almost inevitable. We desperately want a place to talk to each other, argue with each other, cry with each other and lift each other up, but modern life and the institutional activities of the Church do not adequately meet this need. We created the Bloggernacle because without it we were lost. It is no panacea, and (as I have argued previously) it cannot wholly satisfy our eternal craving for community, but it is immediately available and it is amazingly empowering, and as such it has surprising vitality.
Where are these new media going, anyways?
Remember first how blogs first came into existence: usenet forums, BBS, and online diaries, all fused together in the 1990s. Blogging as we know it today represents the evolutionary pairing of various early internet technologies, made popular by informal political diarists and virulent discussion threads. These origins may explain why blogs today are still filled with lengthy comment threads, political rampages and in-jokes, but more importantly remembering the evolutionary path of blogs reminds us of the inevitability of technological change and perhaps gives us an indication of where we might be heading. Steve Rubel established a public ‘mind map’ that charts possibilities for blogs, but I see a few trends worth noting:
2. Persistence of the long form. Though it may cause some to roll their eyes in disbelief, blogs increasingly represent the long-form essay format in the context of internet discussions. Readers today have attention spans rivalling hummingbirds. Even blog posts of three paragraphs can scarcely retain the interest of the average internet reader, who is relentless in his need to be entertained. That said, there will always be a need to flesh out arguments and give context to thoughts. Somewhere, people will still need to explain themselves in full.
3. Integration of new-form social networks. When you log in to check your Google email, you also log in to Google’s instant message software, their online document creation service, their photo album, their calendar, their Facebook equivalent, etc., etc. Microsoft has a similar system. More and more, people will be able to broadcast their content over multiple channels simultaneously and in ways tailored to their respective audiences. An example: a user at Posterous can email a long-form blog post to a single address, and upon transmittal it will be published on a blog, linked to on Facebook, sent via Twitter, emailed via LinkedIn and pinged on Google Buzz as well. We are only in the nascent phases of this sort of integration, and the end path will be instant content sharing with everyone you know in a custom-tailored format.
Mormons of the Future
So where does this leave us? Some things change, some don’t. It’s clear that our concepts of salvation in communities will continue to push us to reach out to others, to share, to question and to sustain. We will continue to write about our faith, to laugh, to cry, to make snarky remarks and to find moments of pure joy. It’s unlikely — and probably not desirable — that Mormon internet communities persist in operating using the same methods and technology that they use today. If technological developments lead us to new realms of interconnectivity and instant sharing, these tools will play to the core strengths of Mormonism, and we will form a Bloggernacle (or some other Nacle-variant) where we embrace each other and see eye to eye better than ever before. Equally promising are the signs that the Church itself is embracing this new world of connectedness and democratized content-generation; the new mormon.org site recognizes the power of a message that is modern, uncorrelated and completely genuine. I believe that Mormons will find the future of the internet very much to their liking, as both the Church and its members move towards a time of bonding with each other and sharing experiences
Tweet in ways never thought possible.