(May 2003 - March 2007.) Tama's thoughts on the blogosphere, podcasting, popular culture, digital media and citizen journalism posted from a laptop computer somewhere in Perth's isolated, miniature, urban jungle ...

Why I Blog

Friday, October 27, 2006
Michael Benton has been organising a special issue of Reconstruction on “Theories/Practices of Blogging” and has asked far and wide for bloggers to write or contribute a post on why they blog. This is mine ...

Beginning and Motivations

As someone whose doctoral thesis examined many aspects of digital media, you might imagine that my motivation for beginning a blog was obvious: in 2003 even though there were, by most estimates, less than two million blogs they had already become an important part of the digital media landscape. However, my motivations were less academic and more personal, and I remember three things which led me to Blogger.com in May 2003: firstly, I'd recently been travelling and was a little frustrated with mass emails as a means of keeping in touch with friends and family; secondly, I'd just returned from an academic conference and heard a few people talk about their websites and I wanted my own; and thirdly, and this was the main motivator, a friend of mine had been blogging for a while and it looked really cool! Initially, I had no idea what Ponderance would turn in to; I just wanted a place to write and rant. Since then, blogging has become an integral part of my academic life and has had social impact, too (although, I must admit, I do try and stay away from blogging too much about really personal stuff).

As I write this in October 2006, I've been blogging here for over three years (with more than 850 posts); I maintain another blog which looks specifically at digital tools and pedagogy; and I see blogging as a key part of who I am. I'm sure I could write a great deal about why I blog, and some of it might even be interesting. However, as brevity is often seen as a key blogging trait, I'm going to mention three aspects of blogging have been important for me: blogs as part of my teaching; the unexpected connections that I've made; and the use of my blog as a personal archive.

Blogging in/as Teaching

In 2004 I was fortunate enough to run my first full undergraduate course, entitled Self.Net: Communicating Identity in the Digital Age. Given the topic it seemed sensible to have a practical component which actually entailed some sort of personal experience of online identity so I chose to create tutorial blogs and have students post some of their thoughts and responses to topics, as well as their webliographies (critical annotated bibliographies of online material). For the most part the experiment was a huge success., with students getting more of a chance to interact outside of tutorials and, quite importantly, to constructively and critically engage with each other's work and writing. Pedagogically, this meant students were getting more feedback from each other, not just their tutor or lecturer, and more feedback is always useful!

There were some compromises when the logistics of assessment and pragmatics of a semester-length span restricted some of the more organic parts of the blog experience, but as a first taste (for many) at the stage, most students indicated that they found blogging a useful and rewarding part of the course. Their positive comments were reinforced by an anonymous exit-survey in which 90% of students said they thought blogging was an "important and useful part of the course".

In 2005 I was also lucky to be asked to run an honours-level course in Communication Studies. The course I came up with, iGeneration: Digital Communication & Partcipatory Culture, was looking critically at the cutting edge of digital media and with a smaller class I again ran the course via a blog, but this time with everything blogged: the syllabus, the weekly readings, students assignments and their many reflections all appeared in the blog. The course was fairly small, and the intimacy of interactions in the face to face seminar quickly mapped onto long conversations and comments in the course blogs. Also, iGeneration was the first tertiary course to ask students to create podcasts as their major research project, and the outcomes were very impressive with everything from a 'podplay' in the style of a 1930s RKO radio play, through to an alternative audio commentary for a particular episode of The Simpsons. As the iGeneration course blog remains online today, the materials and assignments have a lifespan as public resources and media, contributing back to the participatory cultural spheres which we examined. Also, with the use of a Creative Commons license, the students and I were pleased to be able to put the entire course syllabus online via the blog, and explicitly indicate that any other students or academics who wish to use any or all of the course materials are more than welcome (and legally able) to do so. In teaching and learning terms, when used well I think blogs are an amazingly useful teaching platform (when mixed with face to face contact still, whenever possible), with the social lessons of participatory culture meaningfully informing scholarly ideas and practices about digital culture and online communication.

Unexpected Connections

In August 2005 I wrote a post called "Citizen Justice or Opening Pandora's Box?" which responded to a Boing Boing story about a young woman capturing an image of a flasher abusing her on the New York subway. While I was impressed by the victim's quick-thinking, I was concerned that after she posted the cameraphone image of the man flashing her onto Flickr, both other blogs and print newspapers ran with the story as if the man had already been charged and found guilty despite almost no involvement by police of the courts at that point. A few people left comments on my post and a few linked to it and I thought I'd had my say. Then, a couple of days latter, I got an email from a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Robert Lee Hotz working for the Los Angeles Times. Hotz asked to interview me about my thoughts on the incident, which I happily agreed to, and in early September Hotz's piece "Camera Phones Give Flashers Unexpected Exposure" appeared in the print and online versions of the LA Times, complete with a quotation from me about the ethical issues this incident raised.

At that point I was still a postgraduate student and working and writing in Perth, Western Australia, which is a long way from LA or New York. On the basis of opinions and ideas expressed in my blog, my thoughts ended up in the LA Times a week after I'd expressed them in my blog. For me this was very real evidence that blogging made important connections and that blogging opened doors and made networks in entirely unexpected and unforeseen ways. Similarly, it meant that even though Perth (where I live) is the most isolated capital city in the world, when I'm blogging those geographic boundaries are easily overcome.

Blogging as Archiving

There is so much which takes place and is documented in various ways online, that keeping track is often a challenge. When you just want annotated links, then del.icio.us is your answer, but often I need more structure and context than the three lines of annotation which del.icio.us allows.

As an example, in the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina there were hundreds of posts that I wanted to comment on and more that I wanted to archive. Instead of just building a bibliography, I doubled archiving with making my own opinions know and wrote a series of posts under the title "Katrina: The Aftermath, The Politics & Citizen Media" [I] [II] [III] [IV] [V]. Apart from allowing me to voice my concerns, these links have proven an extremely valuable archive as I have referred to Katrina and her impact on citizen media in both my academic writing and my teaching. Every time, I find myself back at those posts to get my references and to remind myself exactly how I reacted at the time.

Open Conclusions ...

These are but a few examples of why I blog. If anyone has any questions or comments, they are most welcome. The more I think about why I blog, the more complicated the answer becomes, so this post may very well end up being edited a few times and growing in the near future ...

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At 10/29/2006 02:52:00 pm, Blogger TheRenYouKnow said...

Why I blog - to whine, to talk, to get some form of self validation, to gain more information, to ask questions I really couldn't ask anyone else, to expell rage/sadness/depression/worry and the occasional happy fart.

Oh, and also to sell my jewellery and meet new people. The net's been good to me like that.

At 11/03/2006 10:43:00 am, Anonymous Yucky Mummy said...

I am so with you. So many of my friends and family members think I am bizarre for being into blogging (I even write one on behalf of my three-year-old) but I find it liberating and loads of fun.I think the personal archive aspect is so worthwhile and hope one day my son will look back at his blog (www.worldsyoungestblogger.wordpress.com).


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