Welcome to the (J-) Blogosphere
When I was first asked to write this article, I was unsure how to go about writing it. After all, the blogosphere is a world unto its own: A world which is limited only by the information and creativity that resides in the heads and hearts of every being on this planet, supplemented by whatever has been heard, written, or seen in each of our vastly different experiences. Or, in other words, it is limited by nothing at all.
The most common metaphor used to describe the blogosphere is an excellent one - a coffee shop. As one commenter, Mirty, put it, “It's like a place you drop in on and numerous interesting conversations are going on. You know most of the people there -- or even if you don't know them, you are welcome to join in the discussions. You can go to one table and talk about politics; another one and have an earnest discussion about religion. At a third table, people are telling funny stories and laughing. It's much more interactive than television or radio, yet not quite as immediate as real life; an interesting midpoint between the two, perhaps.”
But it's not just any coffee shop. It's a huge coffee shop in which one can comfortably sit down with just about anyone and start a conversation. Or, as another Jewish (or J-) blogger – On The Fringe – said, “Where else can you find Orthodox Jews and tallit-and-tefillin-wearing egalitarian Jewish women actually having a serious and respectful conversation concerning the Akedah with one another?”
Another blogger, PsychoToddler, noted a special aspect of blogging. “A while back I described blogging as "targeted socializing." I can have conversations with people anywhere about topics that are actually of interest to both of us. I'm not confined to the nonsensical small talk of people I happen to come in contact with in the real world. And when the conversation becomes boring, I leave. In the real world, I'm often stuck staring at someone who really doesn't interest me.”
But DovBear felt that blogging was a lot less civil. “A good blog is more like a saloon, or a pub. You need yelling and screaming and occasionally a chair being busted upside someone's head to go along with all that conversation.”
This caused Mirty to remark, “I guess the "dark side" of blogging is that comments can get hurtful and hostile and just out of control. (I guess that's the bar/saloon aspect.) Some bloggers don't want a slugfest in their comments. Some don't mind.”
On The Fringe and Jack’s Shack noted that “one of the most interesting things about blogging is the chance to interact with the world and in particular the JBlog world gives Jews of all backgrounds a chance to peek inside the lives of others. There are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings of what the life of a Satmar, MO, Reform, Conservative, BT, FFB Jew is like and this world gives us a chance to see what is on the other side of the curtain.” Instead, “I'm "meeting" Jews through the "Olam HaBlog" whom I'd never have the opportunity to get to know in real life. We tend to stay with our own kind in real life--be our "own kind" black-hat or apikorus/heretic. And we spend too much time looking down on one another. I may not always agree with some of the fine folks who comment on my blog, but it's a wonderful opportunity to learn from others, and to try to see Yahadut/Judaism through different eyes.”
Peeking, however, is only from the reader's perspective. It all begins with the blogs themselves. Shoshana noted that “an interesting aspect of the blogosphere is the fact that it seems to give so many the freedoms to express their "true colors" in a way that they seem reluctant to do in real life, because of the anonymity involved. This, in turn, gives the readers the opportunity to see someone noone else ever really would.” Others, like Muse, think it's something else. “I think that for many of us, blogging is like a fantasy writing career.”
Blogs (from the word weblogs) can be about anything. They can be someone's thoughts, experiences, or outlet. They run the gamut, from comic to depressing, sports to politics, love to hate. The blogosphere is a world of interconnection - credibility is earned through content; status by the number of people who link to and read you.
The most widely linked blog - Instapundit - is written by a law professor from Tennessee, Glenn Reynolds. Instapundit focuses primarily on news and politics, and interestingly comments very rarely. Reynolds primarily links to other bloggers' posts, and often will say only "Heh" or "Indeed". By choosing only interesting, innovative, or intelligent posts, Reynolds established himself as a premier editor of the blogosphere. A link from Instapundit can result in an "Instalanche", or Instapundit avalanche, to a blog - anywhere between 5 and 15 thousand hits over the next 24 hours. He often notes that one of the blogosphere's strengths is its ability to immediately discover and uncover facts, quotes, and stories and reshape people's views. The mainstream media, for example, has just one hour to cover every major story - which means they pick and choose facts and stories, sometimes by necessity, sometimes by choice. The blogosphere is an excellent check on this. One of the big booms in blog traffic occurred after Dan Rather aired a CBS story with memos that seemed to prove President Bush had skipped out on his National Guard service. Within 8 minutes of the airing, bloggers had proved the documents to be an obvious forgery created on Microsoft Word, and CBS was made to look like fools when it took them almost 2 weeks to retract the story. Reynolds said it best a few years ago, as another blogger, Shamalama noted: “What bloggers are more than anything, I think, is anti-idiot. That makes life tough for Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, and the Reverends Falwell, Robertson, Jackson, & Sharpton, for reasons that transcend traditional partisanship and ideology.”
Hugh Hewitt, another notable blogger, put it in perspective: “The old information monopoly had an enormous ability to decide where and when news would be 'news.' That gatekeeping function is gone, and blogs have rushed in to decide for themselves what matters.”
The same is true in the J-blogosphere, as well. One of the most widely read Jewish blogs, Hirhurim, mostly discusses Halachic [Jewish law] or historical issues and brings sources to what he says. But not just typical halachos - learning on the subway, vomiting after kiddush, and cloning are discussed, as are the historical accuracies of Tuval-Kayin, the Mabul, and textualism in halacha. Another prominent J-blogger who just retired - and now seems to have unretired - from the blogosphere, the Godol Hador, would discuss the most controversial passages in the Torah and issues facing modern-day Judaism. His blog became a haven for believers, heretics, and everyone in between to battle out their facts and opinions, and gathered 240,000 hits in just 10 months. He used to trade barbs with DovBear, a liberal Orthodox Jew who blogs about just about everything, leaning toward cutting criticism of right-wing politicians and Jews of all stripes. Of course, there's also a Renegade Rebbetzin, whose byline, "I am Rebbetzin, hear me roar" speaks for itself, and Ba'al Tshuvas Anonymous [for discouraged and prospective BT's], who’s beginning this blogger contributed to.
It is interesting to note the familial feel that occurs among bloggers, despite everyone's differences. As a few bloggers said, including Responding2JBlogs, “GH's retirement showed that people can actually feel slightly emotional about pixels on their screen.” Shoshana said, “The people I have met through the blogging world have been incredible additions to my life and I think the relationships that are formed are done do because of the similar goals and focus in bloggers' lives which comes through in their blogs and bonds bloggers together.” She was agreeing with Ze’ev of Israel Perspectives, who wrote: “One of the most amazing things about the internet is that it has a way of bringing people together. I have found that since starting my blog (as well as through having some of my writings published in various on-line forums) that I have come into contact with some really amazing people whose paths I would have otherwise not likely crossed.”
From the Chief Editor of the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal to a teenager who's amassed over 1 million hits, blogs are reshaping America. It is conservative bloggers who first criticized the Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court, bloggers of all stripes who jumped on the PorkBusters bandwagon [designed to cut pork from the national budget; still going on], and a union of some of the most wide-read blogs on the left and right that has joined together against a proposal to limit bloggers' freedom of speech.
The same is true in the Jewish world. The J-Blogosphere has quickly risen to a world where all is discussed. The same discussions that might be hushed in some circles are shouted online; the difficulties and trials people used to suffer in solitude are now shared, if only to know that someone cares enough to listen. Then there's the humor, wittiness, relief, and exultations that are there, and the wonderful support from old bloggers to new. The J-Blogosphere has even created its own carnival, Haveil Havalim, which is “the carnival of Jewish blogs - a weekly collection of blog highlights, tidbits, and points of interest.”
The blogosphere is a world where there are discussions about - if not the answers to - everything you're looking for; where subjectivity reigns, and lies are shredded. It is a world of hyperlinks, templates, and tags; of blogrolls, carnivals, and trackbacks. Most importantly, it is a world of storytellers, pundits, and soap-box speakers; of writers, commenters, and silent lurking readers.
Welcome to the (J-) blogosphere.
Ezzie Goldish writes at SerandEz.blogspot.com, and his editorial, “Bullish on Bush”, was recently published in the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal. Technorati tags: Jewish, Blogging, Blogosphere.