Friday, November 10, 2017

Reflections on Blogging on My Year of Service

Yesterday I was reading some of the other posts from the Baha'i Blogging Challenge and came across one on Doberman Pizza. It was reminiscing about the early days of Baha'i blogging and, I've got to say, it really brought back some memories.

Blogs were really just becoming a thing around the time my friends started going abroad for years of service. Prior to that people would communicate by sending a big group email to recount their latest adventures. Then, after receiving it, you'd probably get it sent to you a second time because their parents would spam send it to make sure everyone they knew was up to date.

Then one day someone's mom sent us all a link. It was for some kind of website called a blog where our friend was posting updates about her year of service activities. I was fascinated. Pretty soon I found out the internet was full of blogs. Sure a lot of them were mostly pictures of people's cats, but I thought it was a brilliant concept for globetrotting Baha'is. When it came time to head off for service myself, gosh darn it, I was going to have a blog!

Like many before me I turned out to be terrible at maintaining it. This was mostly due to the fact that the house I was living in didn't have internet and the library only allowed 30 minutes of computer usage per day. Still, I did what I could and the people back home seemed to appreciate it.

Things sort of chugged along with a combination of blogging and email that year. Then about a month before I was supposed to leave I was having dinner with a couple of former housemates. One of them was an exchange student from China who was also getting ready to head home and we all wanted to get together before we ended up in different countries. After a while the conversation turned towards keeping in touch.

"Do you have Facebook?" my Chinese friend asked.

"What?" I didn't know what she was talking about.

"The Facebook." She assumed I was having trouble understanding her accent. "Face," she said pointing at her own face. "Book," she said while miming a book with her hands.

"Yeah," I said. "That's what I thought you said. But what is it?"

"You don't know Facebook?" She sounded shocked. "Everybody is using it. You make and account and go on."

"Yeah, but what is it?"

Later that night she sat me down at the computer and signed me up for an account. (The house had gotten internet right around the time I moved out.) I wasn't quite sure what I was looking at but was surprised to find a bunch of friends from back home were already there. Over the next few weeks more and more joined up and pretty soon I was invaded with friend requests from people I hadn't talked to in ages. In some cases I was surprised they still remembered me. Over night I was thrown into the world of social media and microblogging.

The fact that this came just as my year of service was winding down had a profound effect. I had felt like I was doing well to be serving at a time when blogging and email could easily keep me in touch with those I was close to back home. Then all of a sudden that was all left in the dust. Not only could I update people on what I was doing but I could see what everyone else was doing too. And it was kind of like all of us, all at once, in one place. And it took very little effort. There had been some lonely times while I was away but connecting with everyone from different parts of my life all at once suddenly made me realize what an illusion that had been. It also meant returning to Canada didn't feel like the end of the friendships I had made in Denmark.

Oddly enough the one person I wasn't able to keep in touch with through Facebook was the one who introduced me to it in the first place. Because, well, she went back to China. As we now know, Facebook and China didn't exactly become BFFs.

The whole blogging thing was never quite the same once social media came along, but the Baha'i Blogging Challenge has been a great reminder that it's not dead. It's sparked a little nostalgia but also fostered some thoughtful new content that wouldn't have happened otherwise. Some blogs that were old favorites are getting more fired up than they have been for a while and I'm getting to check out others that I never would have known about otherwise. Let's see what the rest of the month brings.

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