The Tightrope of Blogging: A Week’s Adventure into the Public Nature of Social Software

Colin Brooke’s post today (his is one of my favorite academic blogs, btw) entitled, “Inching, Inching” is a wonderful reminder of the tightrope we walk as we blog (at least those of us inclined towards the long post, the discursive meanderings that are richly linked) between letting out the first inklings of ideas that have started to itch, and the need to write carefully considered, well-supported texts we can hang our EXPERT hat on. He opens his post with:

“It’s easy to come off, and to want to come off, as someone who’s already figured it all out–it’s a particularly academic attitude that’s all but hammered into us, that to “not know” is a sign of weakness. The unfortunately ironic part of it all is that not knowing is always an opportunity, for me at least, and yet I feel like I get caught up in papering over those times where I don’t know.”

It’s something we all blog about from time to time–something Chris Sessums considered a while back when he felt under some pressure NOT to blog or at least to rationalize the time he was spending blogging. I’ve written frequently about related tensions–here, for example in a post on the pull between time on- and offline.

All of these posts touch upon the individual as creator versus the group as creator along the lines of collective intelligence. Confused in Calcutta has a great post this week, called “Musing about Collaboration” in which he sketches a research project he wants to do about the nature of selection within collaborating groups. One line that really stands out is this:

What has entranced me since then is the magic of collaboration, the sheer unadulterated joy of co-creation.

How often do professionals say such things?! (It reminds me of Lanny taking me to task a couple of posts ago for using the term “authentic engagement” and not “falling in love”–it’s another side of the same issue of holding back what we know , this time by cloaking it in jargon vs. sharing it clearly, simply in hopes it will grow beyond us.)

Several moments this week during my whirlwind travels back out to California and back for the Center for Digital Storytelling’s three-day retreat pushed me up against the tensions between choosing to post, choosing to blog, choosing to read blogs at all due to concerns about boundaries of ownership and privacy. First off, it is still quite remarkable to me how many people I met in many venues really don’t get the potential of blogging and blogs even when they say they know a lot about blogs. Even people who spend a heck of a lot of time on the Internet reading blogs.
–I met with a lot of “Oh, right, you’re a blogger…I see…” during my travels as though that just about summed me up–they got the picture, no more info necessary. I also met with some hostility from people using fairly sophisticated digital tools when I talked about Web 2.0 possibilities–about putting stories and ideas out there for everyone to see, to respond to, to connect to, and to potentially build off of–well, there’s certainly the tricky arena of intellectual property–those who love and The Creative Commons, for example, and those who really really do not. It’s a vexing, thorny (but fascinating) issue that gets people rather heated.
–I heard a couple of horror stories about meetings being blogged (without anyone in the meeting knowing) the content of said kinds of meetings in the past having stayed safely within the group, or moving mouth to mouth rather than as they did in the stories, blog to blog to newspaper to television and ending up causing harm. As Henry Jenkins notes in the Introduction to his new book, through some astonishing anecdotes and simply-stated realities: Convergence Culture, Where Old and New Media Collide :

“When people take media into their own hands, the results can be wonderfully creative; they can also be bad news for all involved. ” (p. 17)

–I heard blogging being called navel-gazing by definition, soft, inconsequential–and I’m sure that’s true in a lot of cases. But what I find interesting about these criticisms is how they are evaluative according to some sort of scale that doesn’t suit this form. Blogs are being judged as though they are supposed to be printed media–finished, the end, the last word on a subject by an expert. But for me as a teacher, the absolute beauty of blogging is that it’s not that at all–it’s about developing thought, about pushing out tendrils to myself and the world in hopes that through collective intelligence and my own writing them down, the thoughts might both increase my own understanding of the subject at hand and even add something to the greater conversation by raising a question, reframing an idea already out there, contextualizing, adding extended commentary and case studies–we are building a wealth of new research and practice on teaching and learning through all of our reflective blogging chronicling our classroom practices; our reading practices; our conversations about these ideas; and our questions, doubts, concerns and fears about the whole messy business. It is about becoming, not about being there. It is about sharing and connecting and trying stuff out; not about knowing it first or best. It is learning in action. And so that’s why I urged a trio of remarkable teachers at the DS Retreat to take up blogging with their students and for themselves. They had great stories about how they are trying to change the educational system in their state, kid by classroom by school by schoolboard. But they feel isolated. Blogging could offer them a valuable approach: to help their students with a range of essential literacies while making the learning efficacious; to help themselves articulate and thus understand their own budding thoughts and lived experiences about how to keep passion for learning alive in their classrooms in spite of No Child Left Behind; and to connect with a community of other such teachers doing action research and trying to figure out this mess we call our educational system.

–And last night, back in Vermont, I urged our dinner guest who was skeptical about blogs for people in nonprofits wanting to convey ideas, to think of blogging in his world in pretty much the same way I explained to the teachers, instead of as just as another essentially static soapbox or as something potentially harmful because ideas could be co-opted or misconstrued. Don’t stay away, I say, but help us figure out the balancing act between private and public, between mine and ours.

I love the messiness of it–the need to let go of our perfectionist, achievement-oriented structures and mindsets, and play with ideas with other people who come to the work from myriad perspectives. It’s a bit like the Digital Storytelling Retreat, where the richness of the into-the-wee-hours talk with clutches of the fifty incredible people, who all worked with digital storytelling as an agent of change in schools and communities of all kinds, lay in the sheer smorgasabord of responses to the how, what, why, and the future of the work.

Indeed, here are a couple of the wonderful characters I had the pleasure of hanging out with and learning from–
bryan and helen.jpg Bryan Alexander and Helen Barrett.
(We were three of the few bloggers in the group, though I think we’ve made a few converts between us…)

For me, the lessons of the retreat will grow as I pull into posts from time to time some of the things I gleaned from my cohorts, weaving them into other thoughts I’m hatching, and then I’ll probably move some of the ideas worked on here into articles or presentations off-blog as well as on. But here, I feel absolutely free to post half-baked ideas I might even revise as soon as tomorrow once I hear how others respond–and there are many times when I have changed my mind about something I posted. And that’s fantastic. That’s what being passionate about ideas and learning is all about–and it’s okay if I get it wrong. We have to be okay about making mistakes in public, just as we have to struggle to articulate here as clearly and powerfully as we can our tender first stirrings of ideas or our considered responses to the ideas of others so as to use our and others’ time well.

It’s a tightrope I’m delighted to be on …