Here is my blog entry about Mr. John Allen’s blog entry about his blog entry on bloggers.
Some time ago my friend John Allen, the nearly ubiquitous fair-minded reporter for the otherwise appalling National Catholic Reporter, that fallen paper’s solitary boast, made a facetious comment about bloggers in one of his own entries. This apparently created some additional work for him.
He has just written:
To recap, my "All Things Catholic" column two weeks ago was about the next generation of Catholic leaders, meaning priests, sisters, theologians, lay activists and so on. I wrote that I’d recently had some insight on the subject while out on the lecture circuit, and, as an aside, I opined that there’s no substitute for a live audience to gauge what real people are thinking. The blogosphere, I added, often seems populated by what Homer Simpson once described as “alcoholics, the unemployed, angry loners …”
I had thought the reference to Homer Simpson might be enough to flag that line as a joke, but a couple bloggers (so far, I’ve had e-mails from two) obviously didn’t find it funny, demanding that I apologize for the slight to their craft.
For the record, I didn’t really have in mind “bloggers,” in the sense of people who create blogs, feed them with content, and moderate their on-line discussions. As regular readers of mine know, over the years I’ve often cited the work of bloggers such as Rocco Palmo, Amy Welborn, and Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, as well as collective endeavors such as the Commonweal blog. They’re all tremendous gifts to Catholic conversation, and if any of them felt slighted, I am sorry.
I remember when Mr. Allen wrote that and a few people urged me to go after him.
But it never entered my mind that it was aimed at the majority of Catholics who are involved in the blogosphere, much less at me or the others Mr. Allen mentioned.
Furthermore, I have a high opinion of Mr. Allen’s analysis and relentless work ethic. I have known him for years and he is a class act.
Mr. Allen went on to offer this with my emphases and comments:
The Internet is both the leading symbol of the globalized world as well as one of its primary drivers. In 1995, according to the Web site “Internet World Stats,” there were 16 million Internet users in the world, representing .04 percent of the global population; as of June 2007, there were 1.13 billion users, or 17.2 percent of the world, remarkable growth in little more than a decade. According to the Worldwide Online Population Forecast, by 2011 roughly 1.8 billion people will be logging on, representing 22 percent of the global population – almost one-quarter of all people on earth.
All this can’t help but affect the church. The growth of the Internet, blogs in particular, is aggressively democratizing Catholic conversation – providing an outlet for alternative points of view, [much as talk radio and cable news have changed the main stream established media] and in some cases becoming the meeting place for what are virtually “cyber-parishes,” or at least small Christian communities in cyberspace. We are an ever more global family of faith, and the Internet allows that family to communicate in real time, so that a Catholic concern in remote northeast India can be picked up by bloggers in the Philippines, Argentina, and Dubuque, thereby giving tangible expression to the notion of solidarity.
All that sounds great, and it is. The shadow side, however, is that the polarization and tribalism we all know from other spheres of Catholic life are also being replicated on-line, this time shorn of the natural limits imposed by the conventions of face-to-face communication. In other words, cyberspace can become just another forum for Catholics to yell at each other, with the nastiness turbo-charged by distance and anonymity. [Good way to put it.]
The extent to which blogs and the other features of the new digital landscape help to carry the church into the future, rather than keeping the church stuck in its present pattern of division, thus depends upon how Catholics choose to use them – and right now, there are some worrying trends. That observation, I suppose, was the background to my (admittedly sloppy) citation of the Homer Simpson line cited above.
In other words: I come to praise blogs, not to bury them!
And Mr. Allen is an honorable man!
There is no way John Allen would pick a fight with bloggers. It just doesn’t make sense. To extend his reference to Shakespeare, bloggers are the "abstract and brief chronicles" of this time. You would rather have a bad epitaph than our ill report while you live.
He is a blogger.
And he is absolutely right in what he said. When we use a critical view of some of the things we see on the internet we see what he described. Can that be denied?
I have been at this interactive internet thing since the early ’90’s and know the potential for good and for harm all too well.
Because of my experience, and the trends I have seen and Mr. Allen talks about, I imposed a registration restriction for those who desire to comment on my entries and engage in discussion.
There are very creepy people out there, folks.
That is one of the reasons why I suggested years ago that people pray before connecting to the internet.
We can take this whole thing as an opportunity to examine our consciences and online habits.
To Mr. Allen I send a cyber-tip of my biretta …