Social Networking and Talking Past One Another

Picture courtesy of Anne Helmond
Picture courtesy of Anne Helmond

I’ve been blogging for two months now and have been quite surprised by how much I’m enjoying it. Blogging can certainly be a time-consuming endeavor, but one’s priorities change over time. I find myself keeping the television off about 99% of the day now. I also used to be a pretty passionate gamer, especially when I had roommates who helped fuel that passion during my undergraduate days. One roommate in particular, a very good friend of mine, had an Xbox with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, a Nintendo Entertainment System with Dr. Mario, and a Super Nintendo with NBA Jam. Good Lord. All of these activities are fun, but I definitely take them in small dosages nowadays.

The WordPress statistics are telling me that in these short two months I’ve had almost 1,000 views from people in more than 15 countries. I’m skeptical as to whether or not these numbers are accurate one way or the other, but I’m pleased with these modest accomplishments. With the way history is treated (or ignored) in the United States by many, many people, I view my little site as providing 1,000 opportunities to perhaps start a conversation or at least plant some ideas into one’s mind about the state of history today and ways we can understand and improve it looking forward.

One of the challenges I have come across since starting my own blog is making time to read other blogs. I have been reading history blogs for almost three years now, and I got into a routine of reading my favorites on a daily basis. When I was a teaching assistant last year I frequently read other sites during my down time to learn more about 19th Century history from some of the top historians in the business. It would be safe to say that I have probably learned just as much about all facets of history from blogs as I have from books.

Now that I am embarking on my own project, finding the time to read blogs for fun is getting tougher. At the same time, since joining Twitter I have had the chance to learn about and share articles with others that I find interesting, but I find myself sometimes glancing over these articles rather than reading them all the way through.

In the rush of trying to share articles with my cohorts and write content for Exploring the Past, I feel that my reading has gone down quite a bit, and I can’t help but wonder if others have had the same experience. My fear is that the digital age has led to many of us talking past each other rather than talking to each other. We are sharing information without reading it, communicating about it, or fully understanding it. Furthermore, there is now so much information to digest that many of us end up taking little bites of various articles that could be really helpful rather than eating the whole entree. Does that sort of reading really help us grow stronger mentally, or could it make us stupider, as Nicholas Carr has suggested? A sizable group of people are now “following” my blog (which I greatly appreciate), but I wonder how many did so because they actually liked my content, and how many did so without reading, just to get my attention and get me to read their blogs.

To be sure, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of this. People blog and use social networking sites for many, many individual reasons, and I have no room to judge the intentions of others. Some work very hard to build up a following, some do it purely for their own personal gratification. To each their own. For me, I view the use of social networking sites (including blogs) as a way to quite literally create a web of meanings that help to at least partially define one’s personal identity, digitally and in real life. For me, I intend Exploring the Past and my other social networking endeavors to represent a part of who I am as a person, but I also hope to use it to meet other people whose perspectives are worth hearing. The digital landscape has given us unprecedented amounts of information and opportunities for connecting with others, but it challenges us to modify our reading habits to process as much information as possible. In modifying my reading habits, I hope that I am still able to read content in a way that allows me to understand it to the best of my mental capabilities and puts me in contact with others who want to engage in a reciprocal relationship of information sharing.