Last week, when I wasn't feeling well, I spent a bit more time casually clicking around and reading blogs that I tend to read less often than my "A-list" blogs. Let's just get it clear up front that when I use the term "my 'A-list' blogs" I do not mean that these blogs are somehow intrinsically superior to all other blogs, or anything; it's just that, like most people with limited blog-reading time, I have some blogs I read daily or at least weekly and others that I read at best weekly and at most sporadically. This is nothing but personal taste, and I'm pretty sure that some blogs that would be "B-list" or even "C-list" for me are somebody else's "A-list," and that conversely some of my daily-must reads are on other people's "once in a great while" pile of blogs. It's good that we're all different, with different reading preferences, right?
Anyway, to get back to the point, I noticed something disturbing about the blogs I read less often. Maybe it's also true of the blogs I read more often, but my familiarity with them has kept me from noticing it; or maybe the blogs I like most don't tend to suffer from this problem. The problem can be summed up in one phrase: I call it the Combox Cold Shoulder.
What is it? Well, as any regular reader of blogs knows, comment box dynamics can be weird, strange, unusual things to analyze. Some blogs have truly poisonous comment boxes that are, except for the handful of trolls and their prey, best left alone; other blogs have truly thoughtful and dynamic comment boxes, where people from all points on the spectrum of ideas and from many walks of life exchange viewpoints, interact with each other, and maintain interesting and enlightening conversations. Many blogs will fall somewhere between these extremes, or vary depending on the blog host's mood and choice of topics and the level of passion the issues being discussed inspire among the readers.
But on a few of the blogs I read less often I noticed a quite different dynamic, which played out as follows:
- The blogger would write his or her post.
- Commenters would begin to comment, perhaps praising the blogger, or sharing their own experiences or ideas, etc.
- Some commenters would begin to engage other commenters in conversation. So far, all normal.
- Some commenters would post witty or thoughtful or interesting or--let's face it--mundane things, or ask direct questions...and be totally ignored.
- The conversing commenters would continue to converse, occasionally welcoming new, clearly "regular" commenters, into the discussion.
- The ignored commenters might try again, directly addressing one of the other participants or the blog host/hostess.
- The conversing commenters would continue to ignore these commenters, most of whom would give up at this point.
- If an "ignored commenter" tried a third time, either a: he or she was still ignored, or b: someone rudely or dismissively told him or her that his or her point had already been addressed, or that it was off-topic (never mind how much of the previous conversation had been) or that his/her question revealed a hidden agenda (which they discerned by some mysterious power) or something similarly quelling. The Comment Box Clique then turned back to their apparently private conversation.
The sad thing to me is that I noticed this particularly occurring in some regions of the Catholic blogosphere, this apparent shunning of the non-elect commenter. It didn't seem to come up much in secular blogs I read, though, as I said, perhaps I simply haven't noticed it before.
Now, I know that not every comment can be responded to, and that especially if someone's merely agreeing with the blogger and/or making a simple statement, the comment may not receive further notice. But this was something different: people who were clearly trying to join a conversation in progress were being treated like interlopers who didn't "belong" and who therefore were being rude to attempt to join in this private clique of wise Catholics who don't have time to be bothered with the less-privileged, average, everyday sort of readers who comment less frequently and thus haven't established their bona fides.
Maybe I just happened to hit a few blogs on a few bad days; maybe the blogs in question are usually more welcoming than they seemed to be. I certainly hope so. Because deciding ahead of time that some readers don't belong in the exclusive little blog-admiration club and rejecting their words, giving them the Combox Cold Shoulder so that they'll feel discouraged and perhaps stop reading or participating at all, isn't really the sort of behavior that makes us Catholics look very Christian.
And if I've ever been guilty of that sort of behavior myself, I heartily apologize. Perhaps I don't always have time to respond to comments, but I can work a bit harder on making time, especially to answer direct questions or comments where the person commenting clearly wishes to engage me in discussion.