Blogging as a Social — and Dialectical — Medium

I’ve been maintaining this blog for a few weeks now. I’m delighted that I have a few followers already, and it’s nice to have even a modest number of likes and views on some of my posts. I’ve even received some very encouraging feedback from an experienced blogger after I had commented on a post on that writer’s own blog. It’s great to know that the things I’m writing here are interesting to some people — especially to other people who also write blogs of their own.

I’m sure every person who starts a blog dreams of being read by millions of people all over the world. I guess on some level, I do, too. But right now, I’m okay with the fact that the group of people who read my blog is small at first. I want to think of my readers as being part of a community, and starting out small gives things a more intimate feel. Now of course, I may be jumping the gun a bit with the whole “community” thing. My blog has a ways to go before it will feel like a comfortable spot for a community. As of this post, I haven’t settled on a nice header image or a snappy gravatar yet. It may be a while before I get around to setting up a blogroll. I’m aware that there are lots of things I could be doing to encourage more readership, more comments, more interaction. I’ll get there, eventually, but I learn these things slowly, and it will take some effort for me to incorporate them into my blogging routine, as opposed to the writing, which comes much more naturally.

One thing that gives me hope that I will eventually be able to take more advantage of the social aspect of blogging is the fact that WordPress, the blogging platform I’ve chosen, uses many social-media strategies to build and maintain a community of bloggers. I wasn’t really expecting this when I decided to start a blog, because I was focused on what I wanted to say, and how I could best say it. But I suppose, in hindsight, that it’s a pretty obvious move. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter generate huge amounts of traffic by encouraging interaction between users, so it’s no surprise that a blogging platform would use many of the same strategies — suggesting new blogs for you to follow based on your previous activities, creating forums where bloggers can meet and help each other, arranging notifications and “new post” feeds in the same way that social media sites do, and so on.

I’m clearly late to the party as far as all of this is concerned. No sooner had I thought up the phrase “blogging as social media” than I put it into a search engine and turned up numerous results that either used the exact same phrase, or made a similar point. Still, even though it’s not a new point, I think it’s worth dwelling on the social, interactive aspect of blogging. It’s especially interesting to me to think about how blogging can be a dialectical medium as well as a rhetorical one.

Of course, when I use the word “dialectic,” readers who are familiar with the term may imagine different things. Some of the most important thinkers who used the term — say, Plato, Aristotle, the Scholastic philosophers of the Middle Ages, and G. W. F. Hegel — each had their own take on what “dialectic” means. Basically, however, the word “dialectic” comes from an ancient Greek word that means “to converse,” “to talk with.” Most broadly, dialectic emphasizes the interactive nature of communication. When you talk to someone, usually you imagine that that person can also talk to you. Even if you’re arguing with someone, a dialectical approach reminds you that each participant in a conversation has their own point of view, and that exchanging those perspectives and learning about where your views differ can be as important as simply convincing the other person to agree with you. (In the classical tradition of western thought, convincing or persuading others to agree with you is typically considered to fall under the purview of rhetoric, rather than dialectic, though perhaps the boundary between the two isn’t as rigid or clear-cut as this distinction seems to imply.)

Bloggers are sometimes depicted in an unflattering way as self-obsessed narcissists who love to get on their soapboxes and broadcast their points of view to a society that has more important things to worry about. And it’s true that the temptation to make a blog “all about me, me, me” is always there. Those of us who like to write, or who engage in other creative outlets, place great value on self-expression. At the same time, it’s helpful to be reminded of the social, interactive aspects of blogging. Reminding me that I’m not just a writer with something to say, but that my blog has readers who are interested in what I say, and who have their own perspectives on what I say, and who sometimes might even share those perspectives with me — all of that is valuable along with self-expression.

I think a lot about the balance between communication and expression when I’m considering what topics to write about. I have strong political views on certain topics, for example, and so I sometimes feel the temptation to make a post ranting about some political topic or other. But then I consider that maybe the internet already has enough of those kinds of rants, and that maybe it would be better to approach the topic in a less heated way. Respecting other peoples’ points of view isn’t always easy, especially when they disagree with you about a topic you feel strongly about. The internet makes it very easy for us to retreat into our corners and fragment ourselves into self-selected groups where we know that everybody already agrees with us. It also makes it easy to hide behind a screen of anonymity and hurl insults and abuse at people because they have different views (or sometimes because of no reason at all).

To my mind, these well-known negative aspects of the internet give us all the more reason to do everything we can to maintain a dialectical approach to what we do. For me, that means reminding myself that having a blog is not just about me having something to say (although that is important). It’s also about being part of a community of people who each have their own points of view, and who write blog posts because they are interested in exchanging those points of view with others. And if people outside the WordPress blogging community are also interested in what we say, so much the better. So I’m grateful to be part of a community of people who write about their points of view. My place in that community is small for now, but that’s okay; it gives me a stable foundation to build on. To those who are already reading my blog: thanks. A blog is written not just to say something, but to be read, to connect with others. Having actual readers is the best reminder of that principle.

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