May 14, 2007

Adult education program:
Quakers on the internet

This past First Day morning, four of us from the meeting served on a panel of Friends to talk about our experience on the internet. Three of us are active in the Quaker blogosphere, though to different degrees; the fourth has a website to address his concerns for care for the Earth.

The panel was suggested in part because it seems as though the Quaker blogosphere is disproportionately represented by a single meeting, though I can't say that for sure.

In addition to myself, there was Paul L from Showers of Blessings and occasional commenter James R from Nontheist Friends. Originally, fellow blogger Pam was scheduled to participate on the panel, but her plans shifted. In her stead we invited Gaia Troubadour Richard from Gaia Voices.

After we each identified the blogs, websites, and listservs we typically access, Paul L gave a wonderful overview of the various types of websites and services out there, from online libraries to listservs and blogs, organizing them from least interactive to most interactive. (Perhaps he or James will figure out a way to put his handout online...).

For Friends who maybe were internet-shy, I also had prepared two identical packets to be passed around that contained print-outs of a number of homepages, so folks could get an idea of what a Quaker blog aggregator looked like (e.g. QuakerQuaker and Planet Quaker); and what each of our own blogs and websites looked like as well.

Even though the turnout was only slightly bigger than the number of Friends serving on the panel (!), the questions and comments were very rich. Rather than share any responses that were offered, I'll let these questions remain for others to consider:

Does the internet break down or undermine face-to-face interaction and genuine person-to-person contact?

If "all of us" are always blogging (or emailing or...), who's doing any listening?

What do we give up in our life in order to have time to use the internet for email, blogging, and so on?

What made us start to blog? Why do we continue blogging?

Is the quickness of the internet and the convenience of post-comment-respond a good thing?

Are traditional Quaker journals and magazines (e.g. Friends Journal) weakening in their content as a result of blogs?


Martin Kelley (Quaker Ranter) writes about his own experience at an adult education program.


Robin M. said...

Gosh, those are good questions.

Blogging for me started with reading and listening to other Friends' experiences and insights. I continue because I found people I wanted to listen to and because I found people who are listening to me. I feel highly motivated to meet the people whose blogs I read. And one of the things I like about Quaker blogs is the sense that I can meet these people - the Quaker world is not that big.

I gave up reading a lot of other trash to focus on reading more Quaker stuff when I found a steady supply online.

The opportunity to write without immediate feedback is always available. I find it very encouraging to have a writing community to share my work with.

I still subscribe to Friends Journal, and I read it every month. But it only comes once a month. Blogs fill in the rest of the month with writing by Quakers.

Blogging has improved my writing skills tremendously. I would never have gotten an article published in FJ if I hadn't practiced writing for my blog. And I wouldn't have had the content to write about either.

wess daniels said...

I'm surprised how defensive the majority of those questions are - they all seem to come from a position of trying to protect something, a holding back, as opposed to a digging in, on the offense kind of approach.

I hope that Quakers can begin to lead the pack again in various ways of communicating, as we once did with the first Publishers of Truth, as well as other ways of engaging our world. We can't afford to be on the defensive for much longer, I am afraid that in many ways the world has already passed us by.

This isn't to say we adopt every new thing whole-heartedly and without reflection - but queries of discipline and discernment are different than self-preservation and defense. Maybe I've read the questions wrong, but I feel as though our questions reflect how we feel about our witness to the world and seems to assume God couldn't be in any of this.

Why not ask where is God working in this? What do these rising communities and online culture teach us about the Spirit of God? Or how is Gospel Order displayed within these new spheres? What does it look like, and mean, for one to be a Quaker blogger? Are there any virtues and characteristics that make our witness in this way to the world Christ-like? Or are we just like everybody else? And yes, what ways are these technologies oppressive and go against God's work in the world?

I am also curious as to how many people actually read our academic Journals? I personally read that stuff as much as possible, my world is surrounded by those things, and I certainly hope (even though I am a blogger) that a blog doesn't replace the work of the academy anytime soon!

But on the other hand, don't blogs make the message free for all, accessible to all, and again stress the importance of the "laity," to use a hierarchical term? I think lay-theology, if we dare call it that, is essential to the Quaker tradition.

Another question would be in what ways have our magazines, and academic periodicals put up false walls between us by only communicating the messages that suite the institutions which preside over those publications? Are there any convergent publications? (I do believe there are a couple) But, how much more have we discovered by hearing the voices and stories of those who are outside the walls of our various Quaker institutions by the free access to blogs which anyone, from any branch can write and read easily?

I hope we continue to forge ahead, and press into our calling to be a light to the world by engaging it in radical ways.

For me, I blog to share my own story and write theology that subverts the powers of both the world and the church in the Spirit and love of Christ.

Rich in Brooklyn said...

I smiled despite myself when reading Robin's comment:

"I gave up reading a lot of other trash to focus on reading more Quaker stuff..."

As one of the bloggers I think Robin reads, I had to wonder about that word "other". I'm sure the implication that she now reads quaker trash instead of other trash was unintentional.

- - Rich Accetta-Evans

Gabriel said...

Another question would be in what ways have our magazines, and academic periodicals put up false walls between us by only communicating the messages that suit the institutions which preside over those publications? Are there any convergent publications?

Friends Journal (where I happen to work) is an independent publication with subscribers from every Yearly Meeting in North America (EFI, FUM, Conservative, Independent, and FGC) and in 50+ countries internationally. We strive to be a forum for open dialogue among the branches of Quakerism and invite submissions (and subscriptions) from any and all. (As Robin and Wess will attest, even bloggers!)

Liz Opp said...

Gabriel -

Thanks for commenting! And I probably left a comment on some other blog--or made a remark in a post long ago here--that I do consider Friends Journal to be somewhat convergent, for the reason you articulate here: FJ includes perspectives and voices from around the world and from all branches of Quakerism.

At the same time, as I think on this further, FJ doesn't regularly lift up what the convergent conversation is wrestling with (see comments there). Though, to be fair, I've appreciated the articles that FJ has recently printed.

Here's another thought: the exchange that might occur through letters to the editor at FJ has, for me, a very different feel from the exchanges that occur in the Quaker blogosphere.

Not to mention--and I mean this as a marked difference and not a point of contention or criticism--I don't know that Friends who exchange letters or write articles for FJ seek one another out and initiate their own events in order to carry out the discussions face to face, consider future directions, and have a bit of worship. Certainly these things have been happening among blogging Quakers who have been interested in the topic of convergent Friends...

So there are all sorts of bits and pieces to the concept of Convergent Quakerism, and Friends need all of them: the newsletters, the magazines, the blogs, the adult education sessions...

To close, I'd want you to know that I personally have a renewed interest in FJ, in large part because of its willingness to print articles that reflect the convergent conversation.

Thanks again for dropping by.


Gabriel said...


Thanks for the feedback about what FJ could be doing more of. I would agree with you that blogs are great for bringing together people who share a common interest, especially a tightly focused one such as convergent Quakerism. Since we have to cover a lot of different topics -- really the breadth of what Friends are thinking about and doing -- it's not uncommon for any one "interest group" (for lack of a better term at hand) to feel that we don't do enough on the topic closest to their heart.

We do "special issues" twice a year, where we are able to cover a topic much more completely, and I think "Convergence" would make a great special issue theme (and of course, we know the folks who are blogging convergence are likely to be great FJ authors and sources on this subject). These things take time, so stay tuned...

By the way, a new site design is coming soon, where we'll introduce live comments. I think it's high time, and I hope it helps bridge the blog-FJ gap a bit.