I have no idea who Robert Ferguson is, nor what he has written. I've only read one article of his on the net, his LAST one: Goodbye Gather-- Thank You Friends [Sadly, that article has now been deleted off the server - TM 6/22/06]
I was nosing around a place called Gather --a HUGE online community that attempts to build community through the writing and photography of its members (why, it kinda sounds like BLOGGING!) In this short but sweet article, Mr. Ferguson decides it's time to stop monkeying around with the Internet, and get back to the Real World.
The reason I posted a link to his article, is because it illustrates a bizarre danger of the Internet--other than the danger of being addicted to porn sites: the Internet is often a much more interesting and satisfying "reality" than our regular lives. It's also very time consuming.
I do not watch television, EVER. My "leisure" activity is surfing the net and doing my little blog thing. I find that as long as I don't get carried away, and keep things relatively short, that surfing and blogging can be very fulfilling activities, and may even benefit someone.
The problem with a community like Gather--the one Mr. Ferguson belonged to--is that you develop regular groups of online friends and followers which unintentionally puts pressure upon you in regards to your comments and writings. To maintain your group standings and rankings, it becomes a very time consuming business, and instead of the community being a means to provide a creative outlet, it rather becomes a ball and chain that puts surprising pressure on you to keep writing and participating.
A bizarre aspect of Gather is that EVERYTHING is ranked (voted on) by the members: people, articles, photographs and so on. So the community can immediately judge your "popularity" by the ranking feature. Why yes--it does seem to be just one big popularity contest.
Thats why I prefer a boring old blog to a Gather or MySpace type of community, or even FreeRepublic or the Democratic Underground. (Sorry, but you're going to have to find your own links for these sites! I don't feel like playing with HTML right now...)
In a blog like the one you're reading, it really doesn't matter if anyone reads your posts or not, because it's not really about finding a place in a community. By blogging, I'm joining the community of bloggers, whether or not anyone reads my blog. There's no real ranking or popularity contests, though there are certainly some blogs that are more popular than others.
While bloggers are certainly a type of community, there is a lot more freedom when writing and updating independent blogs then when you are tied into a purpose-driven community like Gather. So if you think posting things on the internet is your way of contributing to the welfare of planet earth, get a blog. Don't worry if someone reads it or not, just do it for the fun of it! Who knows? Maybe some lonely person out there in cyberspace will be blessed by what you write.
One things Mr. Ferguson discusses in his article--and I think it's very wise--is the idea of coming back to Gather, but not as Mr. Ferguson. Rather he would post his artciles under some anonymous pseudonym.
Believe it or not, Thomas Merton is not updating this site from his hermitage in Heaven--I'm just using his identity as a means to honor him and his memory. I really don't want anyone but a few people to know the actual identity of the person behind Theodicy. The reason is simple: using your real identity on the Internet is almost always a BAD IDEA. Of course there are exceptions to this, but for a majority of us, anonyminity is a good thing!
I think Mr. Ferguson would find the Internet a more enjoyable and interesting place if he were to use a pseudonym. Is it dishonest and fraudulent as some people suggest? No, I don't believe so; rather, it's the better part of wisdom to keep your real identity as hidden as possible while on the web. There are numerous practical and security related reasons for doing this.
Personally, I don't discount anyone just because they post under a pseudonym.