I’ve been following the recent back-and-forth about blog comments closely, since I have the same question about this blog: should comments be turned on or off? I even mentioned recently that I’m going to turn comments off for a while and see how it goes.
Matt Gemmell is driving/documenting the debate in the most articulate way, and his recent post on pseudonyms is another example of that. Even though the conversation now mostly appears to have run its course, it occurred to me that the root of this debate is related to what Paul Ford calls the fundamental question of the web:
“Why wasn’t I consulted,” which I abbreviate as WWIC, is the fundamental question of the web. It is the rule from which other rules are derived. Humans have a fundamental need to be consulted, engaged, to exercise their knowledge (and thus power), and no other medium that came before has been able to tap into that as effectively.
The Internet gives people this idea that if they can’t respond directly to something someone else said on a web site, their fundamental right to be consulted is violated. And that’s just not true – we don’t have a right to be consulted on everything that happens around us. What is true, however, is that we all have a voice, and that finding that voice is extremely important for our own development.
So the thing is, we’re having the wrong discussion. We shouldn’t be arguing about whether comments should be turned on or off on a blog. What we should be talking about is how all of us can spend more time finding our own obsession and voice, and how we can share that with the world. Tom Standage argues that writing is the greatest invention:
It is not just one of the foundations of civilisation: it underpins the steady accumulation of intellectual achievement. By capturing ideas in physical form, it allows them to travel across space and time without distortion, and thus slip the bonds of human memory and oral transmission, not to mention the whims of tyrants and the vicissitudes of history.
So forget about comments – it doesn’t matter whether you have them turned on or not. The real question is which one of the many available options you’re going to choose to start writing and owning your voice.
The process of writing exposes your own ignorance and half-baked assumptions: When I’m writing a Wired article, I often don’t realize what I don’t know until I’ve started writing, at which point my unanswered questions and lazy, autofill thinking becomes obvious. Then I freak out and panic and push myself way harder, because the article is soon going before two publics: First my editors, then eventually my readers. Blogging (or tumbling or posterousing or even, in a smaller way, tweeting) forces a similar clarity of mental purpose for me. As with Wired, I’m going before a public. I’m no longer just muttering to myself in a quiet room. It scarcely matters whether two or ten or a thousand people are going to read the blog post; the transition from nonpublic and public is nonlinear and powerful.