August 28, 2006

Popcorn in the Q-blogosphere?

In a comment I made recently to a post by Richard M on his new blog A Place to Stand, I start off by explaining:

The Quaker blogosphere didn't used to be so big! When it was smaller, it was easier to go more deeply into (electronic) dialogue with one another... I feel like I got to see the hearts and spirits of my fellow bloggers more easily because many of us commented regularly on each other's writing.

Much like when a small worship group balloons into a sizeable meeting, I fear the cyber-intimacy of our blogs has been somewhat hurt, as we strive to keep up, to keep our tired fingers on the multiple pulses that are out there.

And, as in a growing meeting, when visitors become attenders and attenders become members, the norms of the collective may change over time. Or the entire system needs to be reworked.
In recent weeks, I've noticed the presence of a number of new blogs like Richard's. It also seems like there has been an increase in the number of posts, comments, and cross-references from one to the other, but maybe this perceived increase is the result of the summer season of yearly meetings.

And of course, the more Quaker bloggers there are, the more comments and posts are going to appear. And when you add to that, the publication of a front-page article about Friends in a major newspaper, well, it all contributes to a slightly hyperactive blogosphere, I suppose.

Sadly, it's been easy for me to get sucked into the desire to keep up, to read as many of the posts and comments as I can. I often say that the Fear of Missing Something is nearly as powerful as the leading of God. Admittedly for me, it's that Fear of Missing Something that pushes me to catch up on my blog-reading when I've returned from lengthy trips.

As a result of my playing catch-up, of the increase in new blogs, of the cross-referencing between posts, I find I am not reading blog posts and comments as thoroughly as I used to. I skim them or read comments selectively. Which in and of itself doesn't help knit the online tapestry together.

From there, it's easy to imagine that my own comments are not as well seasoned as they once were. I also feel as though I have less spiritual and emotional "space" to hear my own thinking and consider my own inner promptings about a post that is struggling to emerge, because I am so full-up on having read other Friends' writing.

This reminds me of being in a popcorn Meeting for Worship: I want time, space, and stillness for me--for us!--to re-center and re-settle. I need time, space, and stillness to absorb what has already been shared, and I need time, space, and stillness to release it so I can again make room to listen for God.

I once read somewhere that among the questions and advices to consider before offering a piece of vocal ministry is something like:
Will what I say deepen the silence? If not, don't say it.
"We can't listen if we are always talking" is another way to look at it. And the same holds true that I can't listen if I'm always reading or writing.

I miss the quieter, slower times of the Quaker blogosphere. It was easier to breathe between messages, to take a few days to reflect, to consider a reply, compose it, season it, revise it, and then post it. And it was easier to remember where I had commented, so I could return to the post and see how that specific online dialogue was going.

I wasn't worried about keeping up with the online Joneses; there were so few of us. I was more focused on building authentic connections and following the threads that were bringing us into a new sort of cyber-communion.

What used to be a shared, unspoken, easy rhythm is now shaken up and has become for me a fragmented and furied staccato. At first I was excited by it. Now I find I am spiritually tiring from it. I may need to engage in this expanded blogosphere in a new way soon; find a new rhythm that suits me.

The Quaker blogosphere has grown but our structures to keep us in cyber-harmony with one another have not. I don't mean a harmony in the form of clearness or getting along with one another or even being aligned with the will of the Spirit; but rather a harmony in the form of having a sense of each other's rhythms, concerns, and struggles.

I've been aware of the individualistic nature of the internet in general and of blogs in particular. But the Quaker blogosphere I stumbled upon only eighteen months ago seemed to transcend that somehow: we seemed to share and practice a discipline both on- and off-line that helped me get to know fellow bloggers in a way that was very rich and spiritually nourishing for me.

We seemed to come to know something of one another that was known only through an intentional, cumulative experience of reading one another's words with a curiosity of spirit, an openness of heart, and a gentleness of character. And there seemed to be more space, more time, more stillness to do that, "back in the day."

I can't help thinking of the similarities between the evolution of a small worship group becoming a large monthly meeting and that of a quiet blogosphere of Friends transitioning into a large and active network of Quaker bloggers. How do we stay close? How do we nurture and maintain a spiritual and emotional safety that allows us to open ourselves to one another and to the Light? How do we convey our faith--and our (blogging) practice--to one another and help sustain one another in who we are as Friends?

But surely I can still tap into that same curiosity, openness, and gentleness that I've used all along as I read new blogs and a long string of comments, right? What gives?

"What gives" will have to be either the number of blogs I follow on a regular basis or the quality of how I respond to the blogs that I do read. Like so many other things among Friends, a balance will have to be struck, I suppose. Struck and discerned through further listening.

Thanks for reading me.


UPDATE: For a related post, see Martin's thoughts on "munching on the wheat."

UPDATE, Ninth Month 2006: Robin directed me to a recent post by Velveteen Rabbi that has amazing parallels to the presence of Quaker blogs... or what the Velveteen Rabbi might refer to as Q-blogs.


Nancy A said...

The analogy of the popcorn meeting is very apt!

Rebecca Sullivan said...


the blogsphere seems to have been a major part of a lot of peoples work over the summer and so more people have joinned. i now for me it has been hard because of traveling to find a rythum to reading the blogs i want to stay connected with.

i will have you in my prayers as you find your new rythum for the blogsphere.


ps i have to say i am one of the new ones that has a blog but does not now how to post regularly or even now when exactly i want to post.

Robin M. said...

I, for one, hope you will choose quality over quantity. Your thoughtful and respectful and challenging comments are a real gift in the blogosphere.

I wonder how I will make choices about the same questions. I already passed the point where I needed a bloglines type subscription in order to keep track of the blogs I like - because I couldn't remember where they all are. Now I forget to add the new ones I find and wonder "Where was that?" I know I write less on my own blog when I spend more time reading and commenting on other people's.

But reading new blogs has been a real opening for me - I've learned more about other Quakers and about my own approach to Quakerism. I have made new Friends - not just online, but in person and in worship.

Like any new spiritual discipline or hobby, this will require time and reflection to find the right balance. And mistakes will be made. You can't learn to whittle without cutting yourself a few times. You just try not to lose a finger.

Martin Kelley said...

Hi Liz,
Well, like anything good in life, the trick isn't to keep up with everything but to choose to be more careful in what one does and assume that you'll end up in the right place. I miss tons of stuff but I feel like I always eventually stumble over the bloggers and posts that have something extraordinary to share.

As to the general tone of the blogs... We all make our own blogosphere by our choices of what to read. There are just some Friends that have too much baggage to really write clearly, who use ALL CAPS TOO MUCH or think that any disagreement is a personal affront to be denounced. If one feels led to labor with these Friends, great, but if they just serve to make one hot under the collar then it's fine to move them off the blogroll and focus on the blogs that seem to hew closer to the Spirit. The other blogs will be read, commented on and their authors labored with. The analogy with the growing worship group works until you realize we can all control our slice of the blogosphere with a few clicks of the mouse.

Liz Opp said...

Nancy - Thanks for dropping by. When I shared the "popcorn meeting" analogy with my partner, she said something like, "So, you gonna write about it?" I didn't realize I had more to say until I spent time with the original draft.

Rebecca - Good point about the blogosphere getting more exposure this summer, which may have led to more blogs being started.

As for not knowing when to post or how to post regularly, join the club! It may be I have a bit more free time on my hands than a lot of other bloggers, so when I feel I have hit on an idea that connects several concepts or sheds light on an edgy topic, I usually have the time to sit down and write about it.

But I still sit with the draft and season it before I publish it, often asking the questions, "God, is this what you would have me say? What is it you would like for me to lift up here?"

Robin - Like you, reading new blogs and blogs of more Christ-centered Friends has brought me new Light, and I am reluctant to narrow my blog reading, especially if based on theological lines. We never know who brings the next piece of Light to our collective journey!

Martin - Some of what you offer mirrors my own thinking, like considering if I "[feel] led to labor with [certain blogging] Friends." Since the Quaker blogosphere isn't a monthly meeting but it is made up of Quakers (for the most part), the line around what is or isn't appropriate behavior is blurred quite a bit, especially when it comes to discerning whether or not to labor with a Friend over a point that is made, a comment that seems out of place, or what-have-you.

I suspect I am having trouble with the "blurriness" of the thing, is all. That and the knowledge that there is little I can do about the growth in the blogosphere.

...While responding to all of your comments, the metaphor of the wheat and the weeds came to mind: Let all these blogs grow, don't worry about which ones are wheat and which ones are weeds. We shall come to know which are which later...


Rebecca Sullivan said...


i like the metaphor of wheat and weeds. i only read a small amount of blogs and then the ones that you guys say are good.


Paul L said...

This is why, if editors did not exist, we'd have to invent them.

(Which reminds me of a quote from Mark Twain, I think, making exactly the opposite point: "An Editor separates the wheat from the chaff. And prints the chaff.")

Liz Opp said...

Rebecca and Paul L -

Are you saying that I would do well to hire an assistant to read through the blog postings and bring to me only those posts that I absolutely MUST read...?! smile


Lisa H said...

Hi Liz! Thanks for this post: some good parallels to monthly meetings, and I'm grateful that you voiced the growing pains. It has been interesting as a new blogger, too, not having the background of past discussions that the old-timers have. I keep wondering if/when I'll have time to dip into that, and how it might feed me--which is rather a different question than just not having been there to hear someone's ministry any given Sunday in meeting. Sometimes I feel like I'm mostly a pen-pal with the other bloggers from my own Yearly Meeting. But this larger blogosphere-meeting is clearly one I want to be part of, and I look forward to seeing where that leads.

Liz Opp said...

Lisa H - You write:

"It has been interesting as a new blogger, too, not having the background of past discussions that the old-timers have."

This statement gives me pause.

I need to take more time to consider the experience of bloggers who are new to this version of the Quaker blogosphere.

When I was a new blogger--that is, reading blogs and making a number of comments on them before I ever set up a blog of my own--I took the time to read through the majority of posts within whatever blog that caught my attention.

But back then, just a year-and-a-half ago, the scope of the blogs wasn't as broad, and the actual number of posts and comments didn't amount to too much.

The other day, I noticed that my blogger "dashboard," where I compose posts, said I have 151 entries! Add to that all the comments and replies that appear just on The Good Raised Up and we're talking about a LOT of reading! And that doesn't include the links to other blogs, other comments, other material that might interest the reader.

One thing that might help, whenever you are ready to "dip into past discussions," is that on blogs hosted by Blogger (they often have the word "blogspot" in the middle of the URL), in the upper left hand corner, there is a search box. After typing in the keyword or phrase, you can either search within the blog you are reading or you can "search all blogs"--meaning, I assume, blogspot/Blogger blogs.

Of course such searches won't cover the entire blogosphere, but it might get you started. And of course there's always Google.


RichardM said...

This is a timely issue. How can we communicate freely without being overwhelmed by sheer volume?

Yes, we need editors to help readers get to the wheat quickly. Good editing is a important service to readers and like most good work it is more difficult and time-consuming than others appreciate. Perhaps some weighty Friends who are retired will feel led to offer their services. At present internet tend to be young adults. But young people have more pressing career concerns, small children to feed, and generally less time. Older Friends should volunteer.

Once some additional volunteers appear it might help for the editorial staff to organize divide the reading load up in some systematic way. If each editor promised to read six blogs per day that might be workable.

Friends can also be encouraged to write shorter posts. Shorter posts = less editorial work.

Liz Opp said...

Hi, Richard -

I don't know that having editors really is the answer. And I don't think there is a quick answer to how to manage the volume of posts and comments, or even if the volume should be managed.

This reminds me:

Two of the yearly meetings I visited this summer have begun developing policy or have recommended practices for the use of email correspondence for committee work, but that doesn't come close to looking at the use (and misuse) of the blogosphere--a venue that is far more individualistic than "committee-sponsored" emails.

And the idea of having blog-editors feels a bit like selecting vocal ministry by committee. (I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek.)

Still, I'll continue to use my own method for looking at as many blogs as my time and energy allow.


Robin M. said...

Two points:

One is that even if a new blogger reads old blog posts, they won't have the same sense that he or she would have gotten reading them in sequence - or the interplay of how one post sparked another blogger to think differently and write something that was not obviously linked.

This is the problem of committing blog posts to print - they don't carry the interplay of a comment on one blog that led to a post on another a couple of days later that affected further comments on the original post. And that kind of thing happens a good bit in the Quaker blogosphere.

The second point is that I feel like my contributions to are a kind of editorial service - that the six or seven of us who contribute to the site do read and submit the one or two or three posts per day that we have read that were most inspiring to us or seemed more directly on the Quaker theme - not just a good post, but a good Quaker post. And although some of the original contributors are not doing as much of that in the last couple of months, it is still true that we are each reading a different collection of blogs, and contributing from that array - and still finding new blogs to add to the list. In the last couple of months, when I didn't have time to surf around looking for new blogs, or even keep up with all the ones I had read before, I could at least be reminded of others that aren't on my daily reading list by checking the site. This has been quite helpful to me - I don't feel like I have to have everything on my bloglines - it's enough to wait until those blogs are posted again to and then I can poke around a bit to read other posts on those blogs, if I want and have time.

If I ever get an assistant, I won't have the assistant read my blogs for me - I'd have the "assistant" do my housework, so I'd have time to read my blogs. :-)

Peter Bishop said...

I know that I am very grateful for . Now that the school year has begun, I'm going to have to cut WAYYYY back on the blogs I follow. I may pare it down to just QQ and one or two others.


Dave said...

The dilemma discussed reminds me of the FGC gathering. It's a great idea, there is much good from it, but it gets so busy and big that there is little time to sit with the Spirit. I am an occasional reader of this and other blogs, and an occasional attender at FGC - for some of the same reasons.

Dave of KVMM

Martin Kelley said...

Hi all,
I had started a comment here but then it turned into a somewhat obtuse post, Munching on the Wheat over on the Ranter. It might have been better to keep it focused here as a comment. The point I really wanted to make is that is meant to serve that editorial function. I'm not sure it's doing a great job now, it feels like the angry-oddball to thoughtful-blogger ratio is too high.

Richard: your idea of retiree editors sounds good on paper but I don't see it as how the web or human nature works. You don't want this to be the work of those who might theoretically seem like they should care and be involved, but instead the people who are actually are involved. When I set about to find co-editors for QQ the first qualification was that they were frequent commenters on a number of Quaker blogs. I knew they were already reading a lot.

If there are retirees out there wanting to serve the Quaker blogging community, the best way would be to get involved. We can always use more thoughtful blogs to model good behavior. And I certainly wish I had more time to leave encouraging comments on all the blogs I'd read. I would hope that the first thing this Friend would do is read the chapter on "infant ministers" in Bownas's "Description of the Qualification..." since I think it gives invaluable counsel on the art of encouragment.

Liz Opp said...

Hmmm, I want to revisit Richard M's query, above:

How can we communicate freely without being overwhelmed by sheer volume?

My answer currently is: Discern, discern, discern.

. . . . . .

Robin -

It's true about the interplay between posts, comments, and subsequent posts. There is a rhythm and an immediate relevancy that the internet can provide.

Yet I have found it worthwhile ALSO to read through an entire flurry of comments long after they have been made, and simply pay attention to what resonates with me, what I want to linger on, etc. There are advantages and disadvantages to either scenario and to either practice, I suppose.

And yes, QuakerQuaker provides a service that clearly many readers appreciate! But as the blogosphere gets bigger, it gets more time-consuming to read, skim, surf, whatever.

Plus-- great idea about the assistant thing--it made me laugh! (And maybe I need an editor to snip away at my own long-winded posts and comments!)

Peter - You're a case-in-point to what I just mentioned in response to Robin's comment, about the appreciation for QQ. And I trust you will find a way to pay attention to and follow God's nudges, as you go through the year, despite school.

Dave - Thanks for dropping by. Nice parallel between Gathering and blog-reading. So, any chance I could convince you to serve on the 2007 Gathering Committee to help us look at creating a different balance...? If I'm not mistaken, the Gathering is coming to "KVMM" territory, after all. smile

Martin -

I don't know that the "angry-oddball to thoughtful-blogger ratio" of posts is too high, as much as there has also been an increase in readership, which leads to an increase in comments (maybe you meant "readership," though).

I still wonder if the increase in volume is an indicator of when a system has grown beyond its initial parameters and a new system is needed to accommodate the growth. In this case...? I'm working off-and-on on a post that might touch on that topic. Stay tuned.

And thanks for the tip, Martin, about taking a look at Bownas' chapter on infant ministers... An interesting resource for this particular topic.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for pointing me to this post, Liz. I'm not sure I have useful insight to offer, but I definitely empathize with what you're saying here.

I'm always glad to see new folks starting religious blogs, because I like the way blogging can empower us to take our traditions seriously. And I like the possibilities for dailogue and connection that arise. But it's also true that any one blogger only has so much time & energy for reading other people's words, and when blogging/reading blogs becomes a chore rather than a pleasure, well...

In one of the online communities I frequent, we often leave a pebble on each others' posts when we don't have anything substantive to say but want our presence there to be known. (This is not dissimilar to the Jewish custom of leaving a pebble on a headstone to show that one has visited.) It looks, in a blog comment, like this:


Perhaps it might be a way for you to continue to engage with some of the blogs you read, without adding to the cacophony of verbiage.

Liz Opp said...

Rachel - Thanks so much for stopping by... The pebble idea is completely new to me, even within the Jewish "headstone" custom.

If you happen to revisit these comments, I'd be interested in learning more about how the use of the online "pebble" developed from within the online community you mention. I mean, did someone explain the idea of a pebble before actually "leaving" one--which is what I imagine...? And then how was that practice passed onto other members of that online community? Or did others simply pick it up...?

Very interesting. And it seems to be a kind gesture...