I have a love/hate relationship with the comments sections on the web. The more time I spend reading blogs and online news, the more I end up interacting with the comments. But I can't make up my mind; one day I find the ability to comment to be the most interesting thing to have happened to public media in a long time, the next day I find myself closing my laptop in dismay over the oversimplification and extreme hyperbole of so many comments.
I regularly read blogs and news that cover a wide range of material, like BoingBoing or The Huffington Post. Often there will be a brief post, but then the committed community of readers chime in to offer their wisdom in the comments section. Although there is always a share of pointless comments, overall the conversation expands on the original post and provides even deeper insight and engagement than would be possible without a comments section. It's a great example of the much-heralded Web 2.0 — the web is not just a one-way communication medium, it is richer because of its interactivity.
But here's the "hate" part of my relationship with comments on the web. First, there are plenty of people who write mean/dumb/hateful things. These are comments that don't further any conversation, they just amp up the intensity of the debate.
But secondly (and more importantly), I hate comments because there is only so much space in which to write. Often you're limited to a couple of sentences, maybe a paragraph or two at most. And frankly, when I run across an article that I feel passionately about, I have a difficult time trying to write something intelligent in such a brief space.
This happened to me recently when reading Jim Wallis' A Million Christians for Social Justice on the Huffington Post. His call for Christians to come together and voice a different version of Christianity than the dominant Christianity portrayed by the media was met in the comments section by skepticism, at best.
Comments fell on both sides of the political and theological spectrum: on the (secular-)left many people disparaged any "Christian" attempt at justice, saying things like "Why not a million people for social justice? Christians are just a bunch of superstitious theocrats." and on the (Religious-)right there were comments like "Jesus' message is not about social justice, it's about freedom through forgiveness of sins. We won't be free if we end up like [token Communist country]." And I'm toning down the vitriol (a lot).
The theologian and pastor in my wants to get to the heart of the debate. I want to say something meaningful, profound. Something that extends beyond right/left, black/white. I want to say that social justice is a basic thread throughout Christian history and Scripture. I want to say that caring for the poor in our society doesn't lead to totalitarian governments, nor does claiming "a million Christians for [something]" mean the exclusion of non-Christians. I want to change the conversation. But I only have so much space, and my voice gets lost among the hundreds of other voices. So even my voice ends up sounding black & white, vehement, and just not helpful.
How do you feel about web comments? Do you read comments and only find despair? Are you apt to join in the conversation? How do you engage? Please leave a comment.