In the sixteenth century commonplace books—essentially scrapbooks filled with its creator’s particular interests—became widely used, as Alan Jacobs explains, “because literate people were discombobulated by the flood of information that the printing press had unleashed on them.” It’s not surprising then that in an era that is even more deluged with information, we’d adopt similar methods of collecting material that has captured our interests. As Jacobs wrote in a 2008 issue of First Things, blogs often fill the same function that were once reserved for the commonplace books:
It is curious that the history of the weblog, insofar as it can be fully understood, mirrors that of the commonplace book. The term weblog seems to have been coined by a very strange man named Jorn Barger, and for him it is simply a log of interesting stories he discovers on the Web. It consists of links with brief descriptions, nothing more. But of course what most of us now think of when we use the word blog is a kind of online journal or diary; and that is indeed the path the weblog or blog has, generally speaking, followed. What was once a log of things other people said on the Web is now a log of my own life, which I make available to readers, and which may (but need not) contain links and references. So when we speak of blogs we don’t mean what Jorn Barger does; we mean—well, something like what Jonathan Swift recommended to his young poet friend: “a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading [or viewing or iPod-listening] or conversation.”
Although I write about economics and liberty for the Acton Institute’s PowerBlog and on religion and current events for a blog on The Gospel Coalition, I don’t have a place to blog like Barger, a place to collect the interesting items I discover on the web. Indeed, though I’ve been blogging since 2003, I haven’t had such an outlet since I turned over my personal blog, Evangelical Outpost, to the Torrey Honors Institute in 2008. I’ve tried to sneak in such material to the other venues I write for but it was always an awkward fit. So I’m grateful that Timothy Dalrymple invited me to start a new blog on Patheos, providing me with a place to share my quirky reflection on culture, politics, and religion.
Starting a new blog, however, raises the question, “Does the world really need a new blog?” The general answer is “No, it does not” and certainly not a new blog by me. I’m reminded of something my friend Keith Plummer once wrote about his reticence about blogging, ”According to Proverbs 18:2, a fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in expressing his opinion. For that reason, the internet with its chatrooms, emails, blogs, and websites can be a fool’s paradise.” For almost ten years I have often been such a fool. Like Ivan Turgenev, “I share no man’s opinions; I have my own.” But while I plan to use this blog to share my own opinions I also intend to share (even if I don’t quite share) the opinions, thoughts, and ideas of others. While I can’t promise it will inspire wisdom and understanding, I can assure you that we’ll have an entertaining time exploring this fool’s paradise