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Letters to the Future

At the risk of being self-congratulatorily smug, I think we can agree that whether or not this is true—and a lot of pixels and maybe even some ink have been expended in the endless debate on this very point—the statement is mostly good for getting a lot of other bloggers to talk about it. Alex Massie responded by saying as much, then pointing out that, well, an awful lot of what's created wouldn't be missed if it disappeared.

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Topics: Literature, Legacy
Letters to the Future July 18, 2011  |  By Alissa Wilkinson
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Last week, Jonathan Rauch started blogging—and he started with a diatribe against blogging, which he hates because it comes from the "self-congratulatory smugness of internet culture," which is inherently hostile to "people who want to read and think." He tries a nifty thought experiment: if all the blog posts of the last however-many years since the word blog was coined were lost, would anyone notice? He's pretty sure nobody would.

At the risk of being self-congratulatorily smug, I think we can agree that whether or not this is true—and a lot of pixels and maybe even some ink have been expended in the endless debate on this very point—the statement is mostly good for getting a lot of other bloggers to talk about it. Alex Massie responded by saying as much, then pointing out that, well, an awful lot of what's created wouldn't be missed if it disappeared. In fact, most of it does disappear. Which is why we have mythical golden ages.

Furthermore, Massie imagines that historians in the future will find our blogs awfully useful for reconstructing what it meant to be a twenty-first century human. As he says, "This is true not only of large-scale public events such as 9/11 but also, evidently I should think, for social historians to say nothing of Persian specialists examining the decline of the Iranian Islamic Revolution. In this sense, then, blogs—or at least a representative sample of them—may prove more durable than some people suppose."

We covered this idea in Comment recently, after a fashion, when we reflected on online theological education and its mirror in the letters of Augustine and Jerome. And when Rauch outlines the rules he'll follow on his blog, since, as he puts it, "when in Rome," they sound an awful lot like the rules people often end up following when they write letters to friends: (1) No second drafts; (2) No reporting; (3) Factuality is approximate; and (4) Crabbiness is allowed.

So maybe we can think of blogs—at least the good ones, and maybe even ones like these—as letters, if not to friends, to everyone, to the future: here is who we are, as it unfolded in real time; here is what we were thinking, even when it turned out to be wrong; here is how we thought about each other and about ourselves; here is what we made of our world. Sometimes it won't be worth saving, and often it won't be thoughtful. Some day, when they edit our lifelong blogs and put them in a volume (like, say, we do now with the letters of a famous thinker), they'll edit out the useless pieces, fix our grammar, add clarifying footnotes about confusing allusions. It won't be a complete, accurate, well-thought-out view of life, but it will be a pretty good picture of what it was to be us.

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