file under: you can’t be serious.
Blogging, writes Jose Quesada over at the Academic Productivity blog, is not serious writing. Quesada references Jaron Lanier’s essay,“Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism,” in which Lanier argues that
writing professionally and well takes time and that most authors need to be paid to take that time. In this regard, blogging is not writing. For example, it’s easy to be loved as a blogger. All you have to do is play to the crowd. Or you can flame the crowd to get attention. Nothing is wrong with either of those activities. What I think of as real writing, however, writing meant to last, is something else. It involves articulating a perspective that is not just reactive to yesterday’s moves in a conversation.
Far from challenging either the notion that “writing meant to last” is not “just reactive” or that blogposts are somehow just reactive and not meant to last, Quesada agrees with Lanier’s stance and adds that
[a]ll academics are painfully aware that writing well takes time, and some know that writing well is not a prerequisite for having a successful blog.
So, basically, it doesn’t pay off to painfully slowly distill ideas for a blog post. In a sense, consuming blog posts –let alone microblogging 140-character blurbs- warrants you a so-so level of refinement…. Playing to the crowd –what bloggers must do, according to Lanier- does not require incredibly solid thinking; it’s a completely different skill.
Truly, I’ve had enough of this outdated stance with respect to blogs. It’s worth pointing out that Lanier’s essay dates back to 2006–eons ago, from the perspective of the social revolution. Here in 2009, blogs have come into their own as spaces for serious engagement with serious ideas. (Author update 9/27/09, 11:18 PM: Not to press too hard on this issue, but Lanier’s essay is so outdated that it refers to Wikipedia as “the Wikipedia”–not once, not twice, but twenty-one times. Just imagine the alternate universe where we talk about looking up information on the Wikipedia–akin to tweeting on the Twitter or posting a new status update on the Facebook. That would make for a very different the America, that’s for sure.)
Academics have embraced the platform in a variety of ways. Media scholar Henry Jenkins uses his blog for presentation and exchange of serious ideas. Over at the Tiger Beatdown, Sady Doyle takes on the outrages of a deeply sexist society with a playful tone (she explains her blog is about “ladybusiness”) that only heightens her deeply effective expression of rage. HASTAC co-founder and Duke University professor Cathy Davidson uses her blog to work through key issues (social media, literacy practices, academia) in an informal, inviting, colloquial tone. Though I’ve only offered three examples, academics are in fact embracing the weblog in their own interesting ways by the dozens–by the hundreds, perhaps by the thousands.
Quesada argues that “blogging will do nothing in an academic CV.” I couldn’t disagree more. While it may be true that blogposts don’t yet count as “serious” academic discourse on par with publication in peer reviewed journals, not having a blog is increasingly a glaring omission, especially for academics who are or should be focused on the role of social media within their discipline (which is to say just about every academic).
Career advancement issues aside, Quesada seems to be arguing that producing thoughtful, intellectually challenging blogposts is not a productive enterprise for academics–that if they choose to blog, they should use it to reach a popular audience instead of using it to present deeper intellectual work. “What I think could work,” he writes,
is a hybrid between a focused paper (that nobody would read other than a close circle of scientists) and a blog post that ‘plays to the masses’ and tries hard to capture attention at the cost of rigor and polish.
(Shut up! the blogger in me wants to holler. At the cost of rigor and polish? Do you even read any academic blogs? *cough* *sputter* ::regains composure::)
One of the most significant obstacles to intellectual progress is the difficulty of getting interesting but new or untested ideas circulated among other thinkers–academics and non-academics alike. This is especially true for young academics (like me!) who have an awful lot to say but neither the credentials nor the years of research to back up their ideas. My work in maintaining a blog–and using it to present ideas that I think are both rigorous and fairly well polished–allows me to not only offer up my thoughts for examination by thinkers whose opinions matter to me, but also to refine, build on, or dismiss ideas based on input from others. (I got Ted Castronova to comment on my blog!) Further, when other academics whose work I admire keep a blog, I have the opportunity to weigh in on and perhaps contribute to their ideas. (I get to comment on Henry Jenkins’ blog!)
In short, academic blogs drop the barriers to participation in productive, valuable and meaningful ways–and the more seriously academics take this platform, the more likely it is that blogs will increase in significance (and, incidentally, upping the odds that blogging will come to mean something on an academic CV).
We would do well to remember that academic productivity is about much more than finding ways to get your work done efficiently. It’s also about being a productive member of a larger community of thinkers and researchers, all of whom benefit from the wider circulation of more ideas, from more people, in more participatory ways.