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2 December 2008
Comments on this site as cultural artifact

Since we launched Culture Making this past summer, the curators have been musing about the value of comments on blogs. In keeping with our “tumblelog” format, to date we haven’t opened up comments on individual items, except here on the “five questions” page. There are a number of reasons—most of all, the simple observation that with few exceptions, comments on the Web seem to bring out the worst side of people. Not just hostility and premature invocations of Hitler, but foolishness and shallow thinking, along with subtle pressures to conformity or gratuitous displays of eccentricity. Frankly, we’d rather not clutter up the site, and our own limited time, dealing with it all.

And yet . . . you, our gentle readers, are a really bright bunch. When Nate posts a link to a spicy slice of Indian cuisine, or Andy links to a provocative article about economics, it sure would be fun to hear what you think.

So what should we do? Well, we have found the “five questions” articulated in Culture Making to be helpful tool not just in understanding the culture others create, but in assessing the likely effect of our own innovations. They especially have the salutary effect of revealing the complex effects that any new cultural good is likely to have, getting us beyond “good” and “bad” to “better” and “worse.” So why not apply them to comments on this very Web site? What would adding comments make of the world—or at least of this little window onto the world called Culture Making?

1. What would comments on this site assume about the way the world is?

that the world is interactive…a discussion, not just a one-way info channel

Anne Jackson

Keeping comments on Culture Making acknowledges, for instance, that in America - with freedom of speech - we get a lot of inane commentary, but we also get a lot of inspired art.  I think it also acknowledges that in the Church, there is doubt and questioning - and even waywardness - but in a restorative community, there is a desire to transform ourselves into the image of the One who is making us wise and thoughtful and faithful.


It would assume that silence is less of a virtue than it is; that we cannot simply savor the work of an author without throwing in our two cents; that the lovely little conversation we have with said author in our mind isn’t enough.

In case it isn’t obvious, I love the fact that comments on this site are contained in this little section. The culture of Culture Making is a lovely, unique amalgam.

2. What would comments on this site assume about the way the world should be?

that everyone would be responsible enough to be considerate when commenting

Anne Jackson

In Revolt of the Masses, José Ortega y Gasset—who in Spain in 1930 was looking fascism and communism in the eye—said that brutality is the quality of culture led by the masses. Is commenting part of that brutality?

Paul Grant
3. What would comments on this site make possible?

immediate, real-time and potentially life changing discussion.  feedback.

Anne Jackson

More ownership.

Charlie Park
4. What would comments on this site make impossible (or at least a lot more difficult)?

to have control

Anne Jackson
5. What new culture would be created in response?

a massive community, a tribe.  which will always have disagreements and potentially, ignorant or irresponsible commentary.  however, people live up to the expectations you set for them.  lead by example, interact and create a positive community.  the mean ones won’t stay long.

Anne Jackson

I wouldn’t go as far as to call it community. I mean, I’m not really in any of your lives. I’m not going to your kids’ weddings.

That being said, commenting allows regular readers to get an idea of who else is reading a given site, which can lead to some delightful connections.

Paul Grant

So, what did y’all decide?

Paul Grant