22 March 2011

On the nature of blog-posts: strengths and limitations

by Dan Phillips

In reading and understanding Proverbs, it is sometimes helpful to preface a verse by mentally supplying "Other things being equal," or "Generally speaking." For instance: "[Other things being equal,] a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). Without that understanding, for instance, John 18:19-23 is a contradiction.


No one (I hope!) will ever publish a version of Proverbs with these additions, because that would spoil the particular beauty of the book. After all, the point of a proverb is to make a point pithily and memorably. Brevity is a necessity. No one who reads wisely reads as if he had a legal contract or a magic spell book in his hands. It's the particular genius of a proverb to make a categorical assertion as if it were a statement of universal truth — but its success depends on the reader realizing that it is usually not intended as any such thing.

Which brings us to posts on blogs.

I see posts as short-form literature, as a rule. I don't go to blogs for long studies. Some very popular blogs do regularly feature what seem to me to be very, very, very long posts. They lose me, frankly. I don't bother with them. There, I've said it. If I want a study, I'll buy a book or consult an academic journal. The closest a blog will come to that for me will be if it posts a series on a topic — a series of mid-sized or shorter posts.

I think most people understand this, though clearly some do not. For instance, I wrote a post on depression last week. I've also done one on marriage. And another on parenting. And one on pastoral ministry. And on and on and on.

Now, could anyone fairly read any of those posts, and think I was setting out, in 800-1600 words (or whatever) to say everything that could be said on the subject? On any of those subjects?

That would be a fair approach to a post titled "Everything that can possibly be said about _____." I don't think any of us has written one like that. The first comment would point out something we missed, and all would be lost.

As it is the nature of a proverb to make compress some truth about a subject and make it unforgettable, so it is the design of a post to examine one or two aspects of a subject. If it's a good post (as I judge posty goodness, anyway), it will do it informatively, memorably, and perhaps a bit provocatively.

But anyone who sets to at the post to complain about all the things the post didn't say has quite a long row to hoe. But in that, it's a bit like this post about Jesus' teachings on truth and love. We noted that when Jesus said disciples would be known by their love, His omission of other marks was not in itself meaningful. It just meant He set out to make that point, not to exclude everything else He'd already said (and would say) on matters of faith and truth and obedience.

Most of you don't need me to point this out.

But in cases where we do need to remind some folks who pass by, perhaps now Phil or Frank or I can just link to this post. As a reminder.

A brief one.

Dan Phillips's signature

27 comments:

John said...

Well said - as usual: good and helpful point.

NoLongerBlind said...

But, you forgot to point out that...............








oh, nevermind.



~%-\

DJP said...

No doubt!

(c:

Robert said...

Wow...what's with the low rating for this post?

Tom said...

well, there's a lot more that could be said about this but I think NoLongerBlind beat me to it.

ha!

So: I guess Twitter is like a built-in Proverbs platform, then? That explains why I'm not smart enough to have a Twitter account.

Tom

DJP said...

Right, Tom; or at least it's an opportunity to grow in one's appreciation for Solomon!

The Bible Christian said...

Excellent Points Dan

Frank Turk said...

I, um, have to go back and, uh, revise some of my older posts.

"short form"? What is that?




8^D

DJP said...

The exception of course would be those whose every word is golden, in whose case longer posts never seem long.

Like...

...oh, I don't know...

FRANK TURK?

Becky said...

So true! ;)

Rhology said...

This post is too long. I read about 3 sentences, and then decided to give up and post a negative comment.

DJP said...

Sorry? Couldn't get past the first two words of your comment.

:^P

DJP said...

Actually, what you really need to do is you say "Yeah, but what if you really want a longer study?", and then when I tell you I dealt with that in the post, you insist your read the post 47 times and I never got anywhere near that topic.

Then you tell me I'm mean, and this is why most of Christendom is curled up in corners, weeping, wounded by the metas of this blog.

NoLongerBlind said...

Careful, the tone police are lurking.....waiting to pounce.....



....just when you least expect them......




kinda like The Spanish Inquisition!

Steve Berven said...

Wait, I don't get it. Could you elaborate?

2OFUS said...

What? stereotypical & inexhaustive?




I'm taking my marbles and going home.

s.driesner said...

I'm sorry, but I'm too dense.

How would John 19:19-23 be a contradiction without previously asserting "[Other things being equal,] "?

See, I'm so dense, I'm not even sure I'm asking the right question.

Not expecting a long blog post, just a nudge in the right direction... ;-)

Otherwise I believe I understand the point of your post, i.e. neither verses from Proverbs nor blog posts are intended to be comprehensive treatments of a given truth.

Then again, I'm so dense I might have gotten that wrong, too...

Word verification: leffit (as in "leffit alone, dude") ;-)

Cathy M. said...

My attention span is often too short for long blog posts, but I'll make the effort when it's a writer I appreciate (Turk).

However, I have absolutely no patience for a insanely long blog comments.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

@ NLB... yah. What you said.

Scooter said...

I think Rhology needs a scrolling marquee to keep his attention.

Dan, this posts explains so much about emergents. A blog post can't possibly represent all the nuances of their views. And if it takes an entire blog post to misrepresent a single, concise proverb, just imagine how much room it takes to redo the Gospels.

DJP said...

s.driesner — John 19 has no relation... but John 18 does.

Oops!

Sorry, thanks for pointing that out. It's fixed now.

s.driesner said...

Thanks for correcting the scripture reference in John ...

but ...

I'm still stumped - I'm not seeing the possible contradiction.

Like I said, I'm dense. :-P

I have some ideas, but in the spirit of the post (i.e. avoiding being too wordy), I'll simply humbly ask that you drop me a hint. ;-)

s.driesner said...

It is that Prov 15:1 and John 18:19-23 are the possible contradictions?

If so, I think I see it now.

Jesus' soft answer in vs. 20-21 received a wrathful response, which would apparently contradict the whole turning away wrath thing.

The fog is lifting ...

Sir Aaron said...

This is a sorry excuse for a post. You should have included a survey asking what my felt needs were so you could better tailor your posts. ;p

Chris Lovie-Tyler said...

I know what you mean about long posts, Dan.

It's a shame, because some of them are obviously valuable, but they lose their audience—including me—who don't have the time or energy to sit through to the end.

I think another problem with them is, if people do read them they tend to skim them, and the comments at the bottom betray this, with people missing the point of the post. (I've done this myself!)

Tom Chantry said...

I do think that there is a single exception to what you are saying, and that is the "internet sensation."

Last year, in the midst of the Ergun Caner kerfluffle, I wrote an essay on the problem of deceptive self-marketing. It was insanely long. I just checked, and the whole thing came in at 9000 words. In other words, it was somewhere between a short book and a long pamphlet. It was so long that I posted it in five sections - but I posted them all at the same time linked to one another. I figured "Who cares? No one reads my blog anyway!"

The post was linked far and wide, and in total it received 70 comments. (There had been 3 comments on my blog prior to that time - not 3 on a post, but 3 in the history of the blog.)

Anyhow, I agree with what you're saying here, but there are times. I think a week ago you could have posted 20,000 words on Rob Bell and had your highest-read post of the year.

Thomas Louw said...

Tom.
I also prefer shorter posts, I wrote my longest one last Friday on Keith Moore.

It got my second most hits on that one.

(I think it would be great if somehow you could know if the whole thing was read.)

I see a pattern; it is more about the relevance of the post than the length of it that determine its count.