Welcoming Difference: Being critical about why we blog.

Our reasons for blogging are as diverse as we are

Our reasons for blogging are as diverse as we are

Critical mass (noun)
Definition 1. point of change: a point or situation at which change occurs

Hello Again!
It’s been a long time since I visited my blog and wrote anything. I’ve been back several times and extended my own deadlines for return although I doubt anyone but myself would notice such details! It’s interesting that I feel responsible for making sure everyone is informed, sort of like a member of my family who I phone to say I’ll be a bit late home. Since the last post, I’ve had my baby boy Markos (born 3rd January 2011) and submitted the final version of my thesis with the viva scheduled for beginning May 2011. There has been a revolution in Egypt and mass protests in the UK against the imposition of university fees. Protest, it seems, has become the new lethargy in these exciting times we live – all good fodder for this blog and I will be writing on some of these topics in the coming months.  There has also been tragedy, most recently the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the earthquakes recently in New Zealand. The goals that took me away from the blog have been achieved. Thanks to all of you for your best wishes and for keeping up your visits in my absence.

Continuing the Blog?
While I was away I thought about whether to close the blog down a few times. Sometimes it can feel like a responsibility I could do without, but at other times, like now, I realize that it offers me something I can’t get through other types of writing and discussion. That is the essence of this post – what do I/we get out of blogging? I hope you will consider contributing your ideas I as expect that it’s different for all of us. And that is my point – looking at this issue of difference critically. I am sure that all of us who have blogs have at some time felt that we can’t cope with them. What are the reasons you have found to keep yours going? And should there be a standard way of blogging in terms of frequency, length etc or should we embrace the vast variety of styles that we see around us?

Reasons for blogging
While I was on blog sabbatical I visited other people’s blogs all the time and tried to keep up with discussions (though I confess leading up to the end of last year I did in fact switch off from blogging completely as my PhD needed my full attention). On the whole I stopped contributing as all my writing energy was being expended elsewhere. A discussion took place on Alex Case’s blog where he explored the idea that some people blog consistently, and other people are sort of fair weather bloggers – he lamented the arrival and disappearance of quite a few EL blogs. I responded here http://www.tefl.net/alexcase/tefl/bloggers-who-carry-on/.  I know what Alex means and I think the question of what keeps people blogging is really important and interesting (though I would question the category ‘proper writers’ being used solely alongside those published in the real world). Alex is one of the few people who has the right to ask such a question given that he posts almost every day and never seems to take a break even when moving country. What I am pretty sure about is that there is no simple answer to this question as it really depends on who you are and what the rest of your life is like. I’m not sure its necessary to measure commitment to blogging – or at least its not important to me.

Phases of my Blog journey
My own blog journey, like so many things in life, has been a process of reaching a balance and my views have evolved and moved on substantially in the last year or so. There are some distinct phases that I’ve gone through and I find myself wondering if any of them seem familiar to you. I’ve put them in a list although of course they overlap in chronology to an extent. But roughly speaking this is how I have experienced blogging:

  • Observer: hanging around looking at blogs whilst still remaining quite sceptical about blogging as an activity. Getting drawn into discussion and realising that there were exciting things going on that I hadn’t known about. Feeling confused that I was starting to like something I’d been critical about for a long time
  • Contributor: started to post some responses – usually short. Felt completely panicky about possible reactions. Spent too much time worrying about whether I had said anything stupid. At roughly the same time had my first blog “sting” when someone published a private email correspondence with me on their blog. It didn’t implicate me particularly but the organisation I was involved with at the time. Started to comprehend there was some nastiness around in blogging much like real life. Chose to ignore it and look on the bright side of the blog world much like in real life. Had long and really exciting discussions with people on all sorts of fascinating EL related topics – often with people who I probably wouldn’t have ever had the chance to chat with in real life. Other people commented that I was spending too much time blogging.
  • Initiator: took the plunge and started my own blog (during work sabbatical for my PhD write up). Spent hours designing the first post. Expected to receive blog traffic immediately. Realised fast that that’s not how blogs work. Was thrilled when first traffic started coming in and obsessively started checking blog all the time. Daughter said “mum, you’re not going on the computer again are you?”. Spent substantial time thinking about next blog posts. Realized that blogging was providing an antidote to the rigidity of academic writing – I was exploring the same ideas as those researched in my thesis but using different language and dialoguing with others about it.
  • Born again Blogger: told everyone I came into contact with that blogging is great. Felt close to my blogging pals (still do actually!). Contributed daily to other people’s blogs. Overall got less sleep and stopped watching TV. Listened to music all the time (while blogging). Started to wonder how I’d managed to get to the age of 40 without blogging. Saw my blog as a long term project which I would stick with into the forseeable future. Started writing and presenting about blogging in the real world in an attempt to convince others of its wonders.
  • Disillusioned Blogger: had my first bad experience of being bullied online during a discussion thread on a controversial subject. Realised that in cyberspace you can neither control the dialogue nor be certain of people sticking around long enough to notice if things are becoming aggressive. Spent a bit of time licking my wounds and feeling sorry for myself and trying to understand what had happened but was overwhelmed by support from lovely blog colleagues. Decided that it was a one off incident that didn’t represent my overall experience. Adjusted my view on how to handle online dialogue and took some self-protection measures in future postings (perhaps a blog post in its own right). Returned to work full time after sabbatical.
  • Withdrawn Blogger: realised fitting in really active blogging with a full time job, having kids, finishing off a PhD, being active in lots of other things was impossible at the pace I’d set up before unless I ceased to sleep altogether! Slowed the pace down. Got pregnant (I don’t suggest one is connected to the other!). Decided to take a blog break initially for 2 months. Felt withdrawl symptoms. Resisted withdrawl symptoms. Began enjoying break. Started considering whether to return. Extended self-imposed deadline. Waited. Started to miss blogging. Had baby. Finished PhD. Really started to miss blogging. Returned.
  • Returnee Blogger: that brings us up to date. I have returned fully recharged and excited about blogging again but at a pace that fits in with my life and with a view to enjoying intelligent discussions with colleagues and friends online.

Have you been through any of these stages yourself? Please add in your own experiences as I am fascinated by how each of us subjectively interacts with the blog side of our life.

A Final Word

On balance, blogging for me is about sharing ideas with people across time and space and engaging with a variety of thinking on important questions. This is its strength. Its immediate and its free of charge – and its a space where I am able to ask critical questions and hear what people have to say. This feels like a great alternative to publishing research and articles in academic spaces which is what I do with my other hat on. The former is equally important to me but engages a different audience who on the whole have to purchase the publications the articles appear in and this is something I don’t really feel comfortable with. I don’t want my work to be accessible only via a fee so to speak.  I have really missed blog chats and surveying the wealth of information that is available around me. But I embrace different styles and types of writing as they are all important.

I don’t see blogging as a diary – and for this reason I don’t imagine I’ll ever write posts every day. But I admire those who do. The sheer length of my posts normally means this is practically impossible. I also don’t feel inspired to write posts every day, but again admire those who keep coming up with new things to say. I would rather write a post that I really *want* to write than because I feel I should which is what would happen if I posted regularly. The quality would be affected. As achieving widespread appeal has not really ever been a goal, I am happy to attract people who want to move beyond the ‘road more travelled’ in ELT.

So the critical bit of this post is (for me at least) a step away from trying to define what is the ideal post, blog or blogger and the setting up (albeit unwittingly) of ‘norms’ regarding what people should or shouldn’t aspire to. I am going to reject those categories and urge others to do the same.  I very much like the fact that there are so many different voices reverberating around the blog world in so many different ways. Ultimately, I guess I tend to assess blogs on content so one thought-provoking post in a year can keep me going in the same way as two/three posts a week on blogs that I like. For different but equally important reasons. I like them both because what matters to me is the ideas, which exist beyond the concept of time.

Look forward to hearing from you!

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