Sunday, April 10, 2005

Kairos

For some reason, I was thinking about kairos and blogging as I drifted off to sleep last night. Given that I have only taken one rhetoric class in my life, I don't have as much expertise as many out there do, but I've been thinking that perhaps kairos might be the most important element of rhetoric in the blogosphere.

Kairos is the context or situation within which someone speaks. It is the time and space within which a speaker is situated. It is closely related to audience and decorum. In the blog world, it seems to me, we create our own context. We fashion our blogs through their design, both colors and style and the elements we choose to include--pictures, ads, links. The links themselves--our blogrolls--may also set the context.

It occurs to me though that there are lots of Kairoses (pardon the butchering of that) that form on any given blog. Unlike, say, the State of the Union address, the kairos on a blog is constantly shifting. Someone who starts out on the main blog page will have a different context than someone reading a single post who will have a different context still from someone who reads a post through an aggregator. The context can further shift on any given post by the comments that are made. The commenters shift the focus sometimes, taking a single element of a post and expanding on it or even making a tangential comment that takes the conversation in a different direction entirely. Blogs can also be redesigned--as this one often is--to create a different context for the blog. A regular reader of a blog may get a better sense of the context in which a single post is written by understanding to some extent the ethos of the person writing. They will begin to understand the circumstances under which the person writes, the personality of the blogger herself.

Blog posts are somewhat disembodied in terms of time and place. Despite the time stamp on most blog posts, a blogger cannot control when someone will read the post. It might be an hour later and it might be a week later (by which time the kairos will have shifted perhaps). The place is also less under the blogger's control even if they try to create a sense of it through design. A reader may be more aware of their real physical surroundings, their own mood, etc. instead of the atmosphere the blogger is trying to create--especially true if the reader reads through an aggregator. And then it must be the language itself which creates the kairos.

I suppose this is also true of journalism, but big media outlets like the New York Times have a built-in kairos while an individual blogger does not--even someone like Atrios. The average person has a better idea of the context within which a NYT writer writes than Atrios' context. And sometimes, of course, misconceptions about context (that the NYT is liberal) can overrule the language which tries to set a kairos.

I haven't really seen anything else written about this, but perhaps I'm missing something. I'd love some references if anyone has them. I'm really just thinking out loud as I try to organize my thoughts about blogging and education and the course I'm teaching in the fall.