Some people can sit quietly in their sanctum pondering their ideas and compose, mentally, a clear exposition of their thoughts. I’m not wired that way. I have to verbalize ideas, either in speech or (now) in writing. The idea is there but embryonic and I have to develop it by composing my little speeches, or, ideally by interaction with others who sharpen my focus.
I used to do this mostly through verbal discussion with a partly willing audience as foils for my wandering thought process. Perhaps it’s coming from a family of teachers, with the old saw that to understand something teach it. But without that process of actually composing thoughts into discourse I rarely can really develop a nascent thought into something a bit more fleshed out.
In my work (and now avocation) of programming one I had interactive word processing I found writing stuff down, starting somewhere, weaving hither and yon, recording data, exploring ideas worked. I’d start with a simple idea of what I wanted to do and through the process of working the idea it would evolve and, usually, end up getting resolved.
Having a group who tolerate my process was helpful during my career but now without either that community or the requirement to do something it’s harder to now explore things. Reading (a lot) certainly triggers a ton of ideas, but exploring them requires more than the passive activity of reading. One thing I always hated about classes or lectures was their pacing – something interesting would be said and I’d want to kick it around in my head (or better through words), but the lecture moves on and the thoughts disappear, replaced by the pace of new information.
So I wonder how much blogging is a substitute. There are plenty of ways to write, just kicking around ideas (I do like doing this in Microsoft’s OneNote, thank you), but perhaps blogging is better. Even though any audience is completely remote and mostly non-interactive, the idea that someone might read this creates the pressure to be a bit more coherent, to occasionally fact-check, to work out some details before just writing them in a pure stream of consciousness.
I find that if I get some thought and then don’t do anything about it (at least try to write it down) it’s soon lost. Now, of course, that could easily imply it wasn’t worth anything anyway. And in fact, what difference does it make – does thinking about something serve any useful purpose. Perhaps it’s just entertainment, one can read, listen, watch, whatever, or one can create some prose to express the thought. But so what? Who cares? Do I even care once the process is over.
Most people I know like to have conversations about tangible things, mostly other people, sometimes events, but not very often ideas. What is it that this kind of talk is boring and irrelevant to me? I don’t care about the silly thing my young nephew did yesterday. I think most such conversation is just social bonding, but it’s also “entertainment” for those who enjoy it. What is the point of conversation anyway? Certainly, or at least not very much, to communicate information.
OTOH I think there are a lot of people who use conversation or discourse as a way to explore ideas. But, again, so what? My conjecture is that while it’s a small fraction of people human beings have being doing his for a long time. And for most of human history there wasn’t much they could do than just kick things around near a fire huddled together against the night and the cold. Then they discovered philosophy (or worse, religion) and now had something to actually think about, to consider, to discuss. And for a few thousand years (at least that records show) that’s what we did. Then we discovered science. The Greek philosophers believed truth (and who cares about that) could be deduced either through reason and/or logic. Actually going out and measuring things or doing experiments was crazy to them. Then the idea of measuring, analyzing, experimenting (which had probably always existed, despite philosophy) came more into its own, primarily because it actually had practical outcomes (win wars, make money, get fame). So science has largely taken the place of philosophy as a way to exercise one’s mind, assuming that’s what one cares about.
So is blogging the modern equivalent of the campfire, minus the social interaction. Or is it Facebook, the constant need to both tell and know of other people’s drivel? I think for the majority it is Facebook, but for some group it’s composing something, whether a dashed-off post or a paper after extensive research or a design of some artifact after a careful process of reasoning.
Why do some of us do it? And why do more not do it?