Reconstruction 6.4 (2006)
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Thoughts on Blogging by a Poorly Masked Academic / Michael Benton (aka Thivai Abhor)
<1> My first attempt at blogging was the creation of Dialogic. I was working as an adjunct in 2004 at the University of Kentucky and developing original media literacy projects and assignments online. I had heard reports that universities might start claiming that course work developed on their servers would be technically the property of the university that owned the server. The precarious nature of adjunct life makes us susceptible to rumor, so I began to search for a new, cheap, relatively unmonitored forum to develop course work and to archive the wealth of information I was finding online. My first post though clearly shows that I desired much more than an academic worksite. Within the week I realized that Dialogic would need to be separate from my academic life so that I could feel free to write and think without fear. I developed a trickster-figure pseudonym derived from a disturbing novel by Kathy Acker that appealed to my existential alienation and playful questioning. I conceived of Dialogic as a place where I could ask questions, challenge ideas, and, yes, mock the absurd/ridiculous.
<2> In 2005 there were a slew of media reports about professionals having their blogger personas revealed publicly with the result of the blogger being fired. The blogger community began to ask the question "why blog?" and what are the risks for some. At the same time there was a cultural backlash against blogging. Corporate media-produced popular culture began to reflect a mocking and dismissive portrayal of the average blogger. It was not uncommon to hear dismissive jokes in academia about blogging being a neurotic or masturbatory activity. My wife (now ex-) even begged me to delete all evidence of Dialogic so that it wouldn’t damage my chances of getting a tenure-track position at a "good" university. At the same time I was receiving positive responses from progressive teachers who recognized the benefits of the medium as a teaching and archival tool (I had 4 course blogs by then and each of my writing students would create their own blog). Many of my students continued to maintain their blogs after the courses ended and I helped some of them develop their writing and get published. I was impressed with the sense of response-ability that was translated from the blog to their essay-writing. Perhaps, most profoundly, for me personally, I was beginning to reach beyond my local region on a daily basis, talking to other questing intellectuals, developing a very loose-based community of bloggers, sharing ideas and asking questions. With all of this going on, the question of "why we blog" was on my mind, and so I approached the editors at Reconstruction with the idea of doing an issue on The Theories/Practices of Blogging.
<3> I worked on this issue for nearly two years. I wanted it to have an international perspective to give it a fuller sense of the diverse geographical and cultural voices in the blogosphere. I contacted over 500 blogs about contributing to the "Why We Blog" section. I worked with many of the essay authors for over a year developing and revising their essays. We are very proud of this issue and we hope that it will provide a glimpse into "Why We Blog."
<4> I would like to thank my co-editor Lauren Elkin and our managing editor Justin Scott-Coe. Lauren gave her time, her editing skills, provided me with bloggers and essay-writers, and wrote an excellent introduction to the "Why We Blog" section. Justin is the one-man powerhouse of our collective journal. We benefit from his vision and technical expertise.
<5> Before I leave you to the issue I would like to comment on the concerns about blogging ruining your career. Craig Saper interviewed me for his essay on academic blogging in this issue and I posted his questions and my answers as "Thoughts on Blogging by a Poorly Masked Academic." I think we get to some of the roots of the whole academic/professional blogging issue and the comments from others at the end of the post demonstrate the dialogic engagement of these types of blog posts.
<6> In closing, some advice from one who blogs, who rants, and who does not hide his political beliefs in his blogging or professional roles (some of this will be very obvious to many of you):
If you are an adjunct, a grad student, untenured, or any sort of professional peon that can be punished or fired or not hired, then perhaps it is a good idea to hide your identity behind a pseudonym when blogging.
Practice honesty in the presentation of your self/selves. The politics and beliefs I discuss on my blogs are no different than what I discuss with my colleagues or what I would profess in public or how I present myself in the classroom. I do not have a PC public persona that is different from my blogging side. In the past, some have accused me of being fragmented and unstable because I have multiple online pseudonyms, but anyone that takes the time can see that they are the same person. Ironically, those that chide me about the pseudonyms have this wild-eyed certainty about everything that generally makes me uneasy.
Always remember that everything that you publish online is available to everyone (even deleted materials can be retrieved from your computer and your office computer is the property of your employer).
Know what is said about you online and by whom and what is credited to you. I have had some online flame wars with very unscrupulous parties (for a particularly vicious example see the attacks on George Gollin), some who have tried to embarrass or threaten me by outing the Thivai blogging persona with my real name, real address, my entire resume, and in one case, many false claims about my personal sexual behaviors. If you are concerned about these things, every once in awhile it might be smart to run your name through google/yahoo/vivisimo searches to see what shows up--just like a prospective employer might (I would if I was hiring someone).
Two years ago when applying for academic jobs and interviewing I was just upfront and said hey check out the work I am doing online. I supplied Dialogic, my course blogs and the work I do for online journals--explaining what was my personal weblog/archives, what was used in the classroom, and what was a part of my professional development. I made very clear the purpose of each forum and what my students had access to (I sometimes share Dialogic with my students that want to know more about my perspective, but I make it very clear that Dialogic is not an official part of any courses). I also developed a vision of how blogs would operate in my courses; for instance, I described how my film courses would be developed in conjunction with a film studies archive called Bluegrass Film Society.
<7> Once again, I think the main fear about blogging is from those who do not show consistency of character in their various roles in life and the possible consequences of when their hidden thoughts are exposed to hiring committees. Some people act one way in public or in interviews, and another way in their writings or when talking off the cuff... nowadays, with the Internet, everyone can learn about these "off the cuff" comments (academics are not the only professionals that should worry about this).
<8> One last final bit of advice: if you truly want to write a personal diary of your darkest thoughts, or delve into your personal problems, or rant about co-workers and broken relationships, or confront society about its hypocrisies... thoughts that you do not want anyone else to read or to be passed around by your hiring/promotion committee, then do it with pencil/pen and paper (at home). Think about where you work and where you live--what are the consequences of publicly writing about your activities or feelings. For instance, if you work in a conservative community at the Country Day Christian Private School, then perhaps you might want to reconsider your photoblog celebrating your S & M adventures, or at least, publish it under a protective pseudonym (and don’t let the mask slip all the time like I do).
<9> I hope you enjoy the issue!