Should Academics Blog?

Lecture to be delivered in 2025 or whenever this blog gets popular, and not by me, but by whatever android holds my brain. I plan to be dead from drug abuse and an incredible amount of dirty sexual activity that is heterosexual in nature. Shut up now, the android’s about to speak.

I have been brought here to lecture not on Yeats or Xenophon or an issue in my field, Political Science, but rather on this phenomenon of New Media and whether or not it changes the nature of scholarship.

As we all know, this “New Media” thing started sometime between 2000-2010 and took off with these things called blogs, which were more or less a print medium. Podcasts and vlogs and user-generated television were there, and people were watching up until editing software became so incredibly easy to use that people were uploading full-length movies.

It is true only a small proportion of people choose to create anything; the rest would rather be passive. But something happens as tech advances, something strange, as we all learned – more and more technology that was alien at one point becomes a fixture. Everyone was using e-mail in 2012, when watches were capable of composing, sending and reading it. One didn’t even need to be online to have an account in 2015, as the nature of servers changed entirely. People started using the creation technology as a matter of course.

And we, of course, experience New Media fully as Virtual Reality. The question that has been raised is whether we should program alterego avatars in various virtual worlds to teach the subjects we specialize in. Several of you have created an alterego personality per subject. The issue you’re bringing up is whether this is necessary for the continuance of academic relevance, or whether the academy should be reactionary, as it was when blogs were first introduced. Only losers blogged then – people who sat around all day on IM, living with their parents, making no money, “writing a dissertation,” and ranting about online events and trends of no consequence to anyone who was in the real world.

It was clear blogging was going to go nowhere, and indeed, the ease of making one’s own TV shows and podcasts and all sorts of mixed media creations that emphasized audio/visual swept blogging away. Academics came to use blogs more then, when the less serious crowd left for the trendier technologies.

Of course, those academics were formed in my and my friends’ image and likeness, because we had been blogging the whole time in such a way as to teach people even when not working with them directly. We were doing something that others weren’t – not keeping a blog so much for the sake of news, or a running commentary on a topic, but for raising the best questions possible. Eventually people caught onto what we were doing, and things changed from the inside out thanks to those people who were appreciative and tolerant of my arrogance and willing to complement each others’ efforts. Students started taking the liberal arts far more seriously, and demanding their professors not give them the “gist” of a thinker, but pay close attention to the text. People started wondering if the questions they encountered in old books were relevant to how they perceived the world. Candidates for office were being asked what they thought about Lincoln or Jefferson in detail; informal discussions about policy started focusing on specifics and required a good working knowledge of arguments others made in the past, and an ability to assess costs and think through incentives for actors. My specific work focused on the theological-political problem as presented to us by an ancient thinker, and I had no clue how seriously religion was going to be taken by many in a fairly atheistic age just because I brought it up.

The world changed to some degree because we blogged. Then came the money, the band broke up, there was even more sex and drugs, I said I was bigger than John Lennon, and this android really sucks, I can’t get it to run itself into a wall full speed or throw Molotov Cocktails at people.

So anyway. You want to know about New Media, and whether you should participate in it. You want to teach to change the world, yada yada.

Here’s what I would have told academics back in 2008 if I were asked about blogging:

Don’t blog unless you have something to offer besides your opinion. Blog only if you want to teach and be directly useful to others.

You guys are going into these virtual environments with the “change the world” mentality. You want the world to look like you: I think that’s the ambition hiding under the fear of losing relevance. Now that’s not terrible – Aristotle says that when we posit a reason for something, we do so for ourselves and others like ourselves. The best reasons unite us as human beings.

But I can safely tell you that when I blogged, it was dealing with people I disagreed with over and over and over. And I wasn’t trying to convert them – many times, I wanted to make the best argument I could for their position, even if I disagreed.

You have to be directly useful to others, otherwise you’re bullying in the worst way. To some degree, all impersonal interaction where one says “I know better” is bullying. But academics around the time I started blogging were terrible bullies. They openly lied to advance partisan points: whatever good they had in mind was greater than the Truth.

The technology does not matter at all: things that look tacky can never compare to the original academic experience of Socrates bugging people in the agora because he couldn’t find some handsome boy to hang around. Nothing is tackier than that, except one thing: bugging people because you know the truth already.

You don’t, and neither do I. Your job as scholars is to raise the best questions possible, and allow people to think for themselves. You can introduce them to things they’ve never seen before, sure – I was happy to share poems and links to artists I found compelling. But if you go in with “the world’s going to change because of me,” you’ve got it all wrong. That was a very fortunate coincidence, made possible by a lot of people who cared and had plenty to share themselves. We learned from each other, and it is by their grace I did a little something.

7 Comments

  1. helloooo, dahling. The subscription thing works very well. The article is right there in the message. You can even stumble or digg it from the email without even going onto the site. It’s user friendly, anyway.

    Was it so much in our (collective) nature to “bully” before the internet became so popular? I can’t remember anything before it now, but I’m constantly longing for something else. I don’t want to argue- 95% of the time. I want to know what you think, I want to tell you what I think, I want to explore facts and findings and come up with possible explanations.

    I care next to nothing about being right, but these days it seems all about winning the argument (and who really wins? somebody gives up because they don’t want to argue anymore, but nobody wins).

    We don’t know anything. We can’t
    know anything beyond personal experience and faith. This technically makes everybody’s reality different, but I prefer not to “go there” it doesn’t matter.

    Why are we (myself sometimes guilty as charged) feel such a need to pursuade? Such a need to press one perspective on others and not allow them to think or decide for themselves… and then, at least in my case, such disgust when so many people show themselves unable or unwilling to actually think for themselves.

    Amusingly, after I opened that wordpress account I put up some experimental entries- trying to test topics, tags, handling readers and my overall tolerance for blogging. There are only 3 right now, but one of them was about the seemingly psychotic way certain people basically scream bloody murder if you mention anything of a religious context online. Some guy, and I don’t know or care who because he’s obviously a “preacher” in the ways described above, wrote an about.com post about how horrible my post was.

    (mine: http://amandajwb.wordpress.com/2008/01/20/open-letter-to-an-highly-offended-internet-atheist/
    his: http://atheism.about.com/b/2008/01/28/open-response-to-an-offended-internet-theist.htm)

    It seems particularly funny in reflecting on that tendency to stubbornly argue a point and the need to be right because this post in general has made me realize just how sick of all that I am, yet it is very hard not to be that way. It is very hard not to call somebody out on the “weaknesses” of their point-of-view, or to insist that anybody opposed to my perspective is clearly an idiot.

    I have no idea why that is. I have no brilliant (or dim) insight into the issue. As the guy so offended by my blog post would say, this comment is highly irrelevant ;D. Maybe it’s culture. Maybe we are socialized to act this way… or maybe in the case of academics as you mentioned, there is a (feeling of a)danger of making yourself worthless when you can’t “win” and “pursuade”.

  2. Interesting post! And yes, I think acedemics should blog. I’m glad you do.

    “Don’t blog unless you have something to offer besides your opinion. Blog only if you want to teach and be directly useful to others.”

    Hmm… What if we’re not really qualified to teach anything? Are we only useful if we know something that most other people don’t? Can’t opinions be useful sometimes in giving a different perspective even if it sounds like we’re bullying? Just some rhetorical questions. I know that your post was directed at people who think that their opinion can or should change the world.

    I enjoyed reading Amanda’s comment and links.

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