Writing as freedom
“Why do you blog?” a question I hear often since I started up. The bottom line answer to that is quite simple: because I can.
If a caged-bird finds the door of its cage left open, why would it not fly out? There are many reasons to explain why the bird may not fly free and another obvious reason why it would: because it can.
Writing offers freedom. Freedom of thought, of expression, of connection. Posting your writing on a blog gives that freedom increased potential. It’s about taking that offer of freedom and flying out the open door. Suddenly your possibilities are vast, you have a voice, and you can go where ever you chose, and say whatever you want.
So, blogging is a freedom I took, it is a voice I claimed. It is a liberty I felt I needed as an academic and as a person who enjoys reading and writing. Of course, with freedom comes responsibility and accountability. Are you willing to stand by what you have said and done? Are you willing to be attacked or ignored?
I decided to take up blogging at a time when I felt caged-in as an academic, and gagged by the massive systems I found myself part of. Academic institutions are large machines, with giant-toothed cogs. They are linked to other massive machines like the publishing industry, which is arguably even bigger since it is heavily driven by profit-making corporations. A person is easily crushed by giant-toothed cogs.
For academics, blogging offers freedom from the shackles of formulaic, turgid academic writing. Writing for journals and grants usually involves having all expression and creativity surgically removed from the language. It involves showing other academics that you are one of them: “I too can write robotically in the passive voice”.
Writing, for me at least, is like a thought experiment. Some vaguely formed thought comes to mind, and I can hash it out in writing. Maybe it goes somewhere, and maybe is doesn’t. With a blog, I can share the idea without having to research it thoroughly. I can see if anyone reacts and what they react to… I can change my tone from being academic, to being flippant. As a whim, I can tackle a subject using devices that are unacceptable in most professional forums via satire or pastiche. I can write about the things I actually care about, and not the things that will (allegedly) get me published, or get me a permanent job.
Yes, of all writing, blogging is an especially egocentric activity. Writing things down that are important or relevant to YOU. Making the basic assumption that what YOU say should be read by others. But if you are someone who thinks best through reading and writing – then having a blog is simply an extension of that. Reading blogs by others is fun, and offers exploration and discovery. For newbies and sceptics I have given you some suggestions of great blogs below.
I have written previously about why I think blogging might be a worthy activity as an academic, whether as a blogger who is an academic or as an academic blogger. Blogging is an activity that puts you out there, dangling for all to see, exposed to the elements of the internet. This is simultaneously terrifying as it is exciting. You take a voice, but it could be that no one wants to listen to you. Blogging is like talking to yourself out loud, occasionally someone might overhear, but most often no one will notice…
Blogging may be a release, or may result in cyberbullying. It may be dangerous; your stuff may get plagiarized. But the most likely thing to happen is, well… nothing at all. And frankly, bullying, plagiarism and being ignored, all happen with the traditional confines of academia as well, where your voice will be quelled more easily.
So now that I have taken this freedom, what have I done with it? In the grand scheme of things, I have done nothing much. But I have published posts about existing as a minor irrelevance in today’s academic system; about topics I have worked on as a researcher that I will probably never publish; I have responded to criticisms of my work; I have posted on things I think are fun, important, and compelling as a researcher. Some of the stuff has had a response and shown me that there are many of us out there with the same dilemmas. Some hasn’t had any response at all. But I feel now I have a voice that I did not have before. And for now, that is enough.
For academics who are new to, or sceptical about, an online presence:
Where I work, few researchers use social networks, blogs or informal academic websites. When we discuss it these are the usual comments:
For many, it’s too daunting: “there is so much information, you would spend your whole time sifting through it”. For some it’s pointless: “what can be usefully said in 140 characters?” “Anyone can have a blog, so there must be a lot of nonsense out there.” Others just don’t see what it’s all about: “What do people blog about?” “Blogging undermines academic publishing.”
Here are a few great sites and blogs that I have discovered since being on twitter and blogging that have opened my mind in many ways. In no particular order:
Mammals suck… milk!: This is an amazing blog by Katie Hinde, Assistant Prof in Human evolutionary biology at Harvard. She manages to keep an informal tone all the while providing insight and analysis into human evolution and lactation.
Brainpickings: This site is written and managed by Maria Popova. It is about all things related to literature, writing, art, thought… it’s hard to describe, but unmissable.
Pride’s purge: By Thomas Pride. The subtitle: “an irreverent look at UK politics” says it all. Usually the posts are written as satire, and if not, are highly sarcastic.
Cost of living: This is a group effort with blog posts on all the things I care about: economics, politics, health, and inequalities.
LSE impact blog: Features guest bloggers writing about the impact of social science research in the most general sense. It focuses on the greater good that such research can offer, and the trials and tribulations of academia.
To help answer some of the reluctant academic user’s issues, I give you… some useful blog posts! Sociologist Marc Carrigan has put together a page with a collection of titbits for academics to get started out in social media, blogging, microblogging etc:
Getting Started: Social Media for Academics
A blog post on why academics blog from the Guardian higher education network blog
A gentle introduction to Twitter for the apprehensive academic by DEEVYBEE Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology
Twitter: an evangelism-free introduction by Catt Turney