Although things have settled down since I began drafting this post a few weeks ago, the blogosphere is surely teetering on the edge of once again erupting with debate over whether one’s legal blogging might interfere with one’s professional development.
Part of this debate centers around the Twitter Wars. Many law blogging enthusiasts are equally enthusiastic about Twittering for many of the same reasons, including that it encourages connections between otherwise isolated lawyers and promotes the exchange of information. On the other hand, I recently met a lawyer on a bus ride home whose opinion of me seemed to rapidly drop when I let it slip that I had a blog. “Well, do you also Twitter?” he ventured skeptically. “I consider any lawyer who twitters to be committing malpractice.”
I’m not so sure that there’s anything inherent to Twittering, or blogging for that matter, that supports such an extreme opinion, although there may also be other downsides, including information overload and network fatigue.
For my part, I have experimented with Twitter and I’m considering renewing my experimentation, but thus far I haven’t found that it (or any other information product) fills my needs the way I want them to be filled (I’m looking for something I can use to publish frequent, short — although not necessarily “micro” — posts through my website without detracting from my regular essays). I do blog, however, because it definitely does fill a need by giving me a place to explore the ideas and I want to explore and say the things I want to say.
But whether blogging itself is good or bad is also again under scrutiny. Not only is there news out of Louisiana that bar rules may (or may not?) effectively forbid the activity, but apparently the Obama transition team is considering people’s past writings when vetting them for administration jobs. While the Obama camp may simply be trying to prepare in advance for any potential political fallout that might result during the course of the nomination process, the unpleasant specter of blog posts being held against their authors may have an unfortunate chilling effect on their inclination to ever blog again. And that would be a shame. Able thinkers should be encouraged to share their thoughts, not *discouraged* for fear that they may poison their prospects for future professional work.
It was Obama himself who really drove home that point. On a recent 60 Minutes interview he said he has been preparing for the job by reading Lincoln’s papers. Lincoln, a revered figure of American history, has left the future a written legacy of his thoughts. Naturally they aren’t in the form of blog posts — that medium obviously wasn’t available to him — but they are nonetheless written records of his thoughts that have found a public audience. Should we have similarly discouraged him, like we do with bloggers, from writing, exploring, ruminating, analyzing, and expressing his ideas because they might have indelibly imprinted themselves on history? Of course not! How much worse would we all be today if his words did not remain to guide our thinking. Even if we disagree with the lessons he taught, we are still aided by him having written anything to stimulate our subsequent thinking. We should therefore not be so quick to condemn others for doing the same.
Which is not to say that people shouldn’t be expected to stand behind their words. But it’s too easy to levy criticism to blog posts in a disproportionate and undeserved way that fails to take into account the nature of the medium, including the tremendous facility it lends towards the expression of ideas. Thoughts can go from nascent bursts of inspiration to published essays as fast as the author is able to type them. Certainly many of these thoughts will deservedly fade away, but what a shame it would be to deprive the world of the more worthy ones if the authors are too frightened to dare to share them.
When I first started writing this post I thought I would end it here, citing Lincoln as an example of someone whom, if he were alive today, we would want to encourage to blog. Someone whose thoughts we would want to encourage to be shared so that the world could benefit from them. But then earlier this week I happened upon another example, one which also stands as a stark reminder of what is lost when great thinkers are discouraged from sharing.
At The Tech museum in San Jose, CA, there’s a great exhibit (running for a few more weeks) on the work of Da Vinci. His fame was established through his art, but as this tremendous exhibit, filling an enormous room with evidence of his many technological discoveries, reminds us, the extent of his talents was even more substantial. The exhibit presents reproductions of some of the 13,000 notebooks known to have survived (themselves but a small portion of those he had used to document his discoveries) and models of some of the many innovations he pioneered, ranging from his flying machines to the fountain pen. Yet despite his painstaking efforts to develop these technologies, many were lost to history for hundreds of years until they were finally reinvented.
And why was that? How could a man have been so prolific, yet so unknown for the true extent of his gifts?
Because he didn’t publish. While his contemporaries, like Galileo, ran afoul of the Church (many were even executed for their perceived heresies) because Da Vinci kept his ideas to himself he was able to survive. Yet he did so at a tremendous cost to us all. Because sharing was dangerous, he didn’t, and all those gifts he had were withheld from the world.
His story is yet another example of how we cannot as a society make it so costly for thinkers to share their ideas. To do so is simply too costly for us all.