This post is a blatant request for comment and insight; you should still read it even if you’re not going to comment, though.

I’ll be in Louisville, KY for most of next week, for the Conference on College Composition and Communication.   I present on the last day of the conference (N27: Saturday afternoon at 12:30!).  Right now I’m in the process of filling out/polishing the paper I’m presenting, and I figured jotting down some of the ideas I’m working with here might be a good way to both work out my thoughts and get feedback from others.  I’m going to lay out my basic argument, and then ask for help with a specific part of the paper that I think could use work…

I begin by asking a pretty simple question: why do people want to teach writing with weblogs?  What makes a blog a useful or valuable medium for composition, what makes a blog different from other forms of writing?  My answer (which is the part I’m going to ask for help with in a bit) basically lays out four different characteristics of blogs, and suggests that those characteristics can be divided up into two categories: those that change relations of space, and those that change relations of time (I’m aware that dividing space and time is itself a risky move, and have a disclaimer to that effect).  The spatial characteristics (linking to other texts, the potentially global distribution of the blog’s text, etc.) are too often the focus of our discussions about blogs; when we bring up the temporal issues, we don’t deal with them in a very sophisticated way.  That’s what this paper tries to do.

Once I’ve done that set-up work, I talk about how folks in Rhet/Comp tend to talk about time in relation to writing.  We pretty much only use the concept of kairos, an ancient Greek term that means something along the lines of “right time, proper measure” (there are actually something like 30 different meanings associated with kairos, including connotations of “propriety” and proper attendance to social convention.  Recent work has also suggested that kairos itself was originally connected primarily with a sense of place, the opening or opportune target for an arrow to hit…but this is perhaps getting me off track).  I make the argument that especially for blogs (although perhaps more generally as well), kairos just isn’t cutting it as our sole vocabulary for discussing time.  I go on to point out the ways in which blog writing is periodic or episodic, but not necessarily kairotic at all (or, at the least, kairos is not the determining temporal relationship).  What I mean: Blog writing repeats, sometimes at regular intervals (like a newspaper), and is often made up of stuff posted not in response to a given situation, but simply for the sake of posting something.  When we ask students to blog, the reasons we do so often have to do with (or should have to do with) some of the temporal benefits of this type of writing: students are pushed to revisit their writing (when others comment on it), they are pushed to write often, and their writing can become more closely related to their actual lives.

I also argue that, on the consumption side of things, Web texts generally (and blogs specifically) are read in some pretty drastically different ways, all of which have to do with a kind of “temporal orientation.”  Readers can a) follow a blog regularly, and become part of the blog’s community of readers/commenters, b) come across and read a single blog entry (usually found through a search engine or a link from another site, with little in the way of temporal reference), or c) read their way through a blog’s archive, either in order or not.  These fairly distinct orientations lead to different expectations about what the text will do… I actually need some help with this section too, since I’m wondering both 1) if I’ve missed any of the ways in a reader might come across a blog post that would change their temporal orientation to the subject matter, and 2) how to talk about the consequences of these various orientations.  The second of those two is just something I need to finish thinking about; the first is something I’d welcome ideas about.

Anyway, I ultimately don’t really have a new vocabulary to offer in place of kairos (although the terms “periodic” and “episodic” make frequent appearances in my argument), and I’m not sure I want the point of the paper to be “I have new words to call things.”  I’m fairly happy with my somewhat ad hoc conclusion that “we need to think about these things more.”  What I’m not so sure I’m happy with is some stuff from the beginning.

What I most want help with: my initial premise is that there are four things that make blogs unique among other modes of writing (“unique among” might be too strong here… “distinguish them from”?).  Those four things are:

  • Circulation: Web-published texts can potentially have a global audience.  The “democratization of distribution” principle.  Along with this is the fact that the texts being so distributed are collected together in one site.
  • Connection: Blogs link to things.  Other blogs, evidence/sources for arguments, etc.  Along with this goes the connections made between the author and the readers: comments sections give a space for readers to become authors themselves, to offer feedback, etc.
  • Updates: Blogs publish in chronological order, from newest to oldest.  Emphasis is, necessarily, on the newest entry.
  • Timeline/continuity: As with a newspaper column or some other repeating feature, the author(s) of a blog have a chance to establish a certain personality/persona, theme, tone, style, relationship to their audience, etc. OVER TIME.  The author of a blog is always at once confined to the present post and stretched across all the posts that have led to that one.

The first two I see as more spatial, the second two as more temporal.  I’m wondering two things: 1. are there other characteristics I should have included but haven’t?  2. Does my classification (the spatial/temporal thing) make sense?

I’ll post a draft of the paper itself at some point, too…