This is my first ever "entry" on a blog, and while I am happy to be doing so in such good company, my happiness is not untethered from an ongoing ambivalence about the blogosphere in particular, and the Internet in general. As the recent book _Cult of the Amateur_ (Doubleday, 2007), by Andrew Keen, reports, "there are fifty-three million blogs on the Internet." He suggests that "Blogging has become such a mania that a new blog is being created every second of every minute of every hour of every day. We are blogging with monkeylike shamelessness about our private lives, our sex lives, our dream lives, our lack of lives, our Second Lives." (p. 3) Keen is polemical about the whole business, inveighing that "Blogs have become so dizzingly infinite that they’ve undermined our sense of what is true and what is false, what is real and what is imaginary." (p. 3) I’m sure that’s an overstatement, but it might also be that dogpiled in the polemic is a worthy spiritual question: what sort of availability for self and others is fashioned in and through the writing and reading of blogs in general, and our use of the Internet in particular? Educated Catholics are schooled again and again in Catholicism’s connatural regard for "mediations," with a basic lesson being that availability to God is always the undergoing of an intermediary. I am aware of one Catholic publisher who recently called a ’time-out’ on Internet use at the office, having discovered that blogging, emailing, and the like -- while all related to ’work’, to be sure -- were not contributing to a sense of employees being present to their work in ways that they were before the Internet. People were feeling that the Internet was just taking up too much creative time in the day. So I blog now as one who wonders how to live with these mediations, which take up (by ’choice’ and by ’necessity’) parcels of time unimaginable to me even 10 years ago (and I have been on the Internet since 1988, and so have been through its iterations for some time). There are other technological ’mediations’ in my everyday life that I am able to live with, without this ’Catholic agonism’, but blogs and the Internet are an ongoing source of unease for me. (I also write this as someone who has, with an unalloyed joy analogous to that of the beatific vision, spent an inordinate of time watching 1980s rock videos on YouTube. In this, I am not alone among ’young’ theologians, though I will not give names away!) I wonder if others who, like me, conduct so much of their business, maintain so many of their friendships, and relate to so many of their students and colleagues, on the Internet, also share this unease, and whether there are interesting and helpful things to be said about it theologically. To use Ignatian language, I wonder again and again whether I am simply not ’composing the place’ of my Internet time well enough to either house or critique my own practice. Tom Beaudoin

Comments

Anonymous | 11/30/2007 - 11:06pm
Fear not!! I was also worried about these issues when I first went on-line. Part of me likes the internet in that it does give a range and diversity of opinion and does lend itself to the democratization of ideas. Ironically, those most opposed to modernity, calling for a return to traditional ways and mores have made the greatest use of modern technology to support their view. Your a bit late but welcome, many of us have been waiting for you as blogs and forums are mostly very conservative and traditionally oriented (not a bad thing but there isn't a lot of choice for folks in the cyber Catholic world). There is a danger that cyber communities are disembodied communities and that has implications in terms of spirituality. However, the reality is that cyber-communities are indeed communities and one can detect personalities and even differing sensitivies as people get to know each other. But your in now!!! So work the process, trust the Spirit, mutually discern and maybe someday some of us can meet in 'real' life.
Anonymous | 11/28/2007 - 4:47pm
Tom, how would you expect to know about your students except to know how they show their true selves when they blog? Here you are the avantguard quintessential theologian in the Catholic Church and you are wondering how effective blogs are! The blog is indeed the op-ed page of cyber space. All those rejected by editors have their say here and many of them have proven the editors wrong. Ideas surface here which would have taken years to pass a sea of editors. This is really the place to dream dreams and for the highest vision. This is what's happening. Not to be aware and learn from blogs is to risk becoming obsolete in seconds, not to mention forgotten. Now maybe you will become ready to describe a virtual faith for the 21st century. By the way, whatever happened to the planned traveling theologians?
Anonymous | 11/27/2007 - 3:30pm
Tom, For someone who has never blogged, you're not half-bad at it. I guess you must have read "Virtual Faith," huh? Welcome to the blog.
Anonymous | 11/26/2007 - 4:55pm
Thanks for starting us off with this reflection, Tom. As someone who is on email practically all day, I often wonder whether I should set limits for myself. I've heard of people who only check their email between certain hours, and last week a NY Times columnist floated the idea of "email free Fridays." I do find that, when I do not have immediate access to the Internet, I get more work done, though the are always plenty of messages awaiting a reply when I return. But I agree that for our sanity, and spiritual health, we need to disconnect every so often. An recent America editorial took up some of these issues: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=10130.
Anonymous | 11/26/2007 - 5:26pm
Welcome to the blogosphere, all! Tom--please, please--just no "Safety Dance"!