Monday, January 08, 2007

The Death of the Blogger

Today, Michael Berube wrote his last post. Berube's blog was one of the first "academic blogs" I encountered, and while I think I only commented maybe once or twice, I was a pretty faithful reader (though I must admit that I didn't get through some of the longer posts). When I heard that he was going to stop blogging, it made me feel a bit sad, and it also made me wonder whether and when a day will come when I, too, no longer want to blog. What purpose do blogs serve? What does it mean when a writer decides to leave the blogosphere? And what are the conditions that one needs in order consistently to write for an audience? Each blogger has to answer those questions for himself or herself. I wish that something I could write here could somehow make Michael keep blogging, though I'm not sure why I feel that way. I think in part it's because I'll really miss the posts about Jamie, such as this most recent one, which made me laugh my head off.

Berube's not the only one re-evaluating this week. Ancrene Wiseass, too, seems to have decided to leave blogging behind - or at least to put it aside for a long while.

On the one hand, we shouldn't be surprised. The medium of blogging is such that most blogs don't last very long. At least I feel like I heard that someplace. But somehow the loss of these two particular blogs from the (relatively) small list of blogs in my little corner of the Blogiverse has caught me by surprise. I always assumed that the prolific Berube would blog into infinity - that I would quit long before he would. And Ancrene Wiseass began blogging almost a year after I started, so it never occurred to me that AW would stop before I did.

So as I sit here writing this post, I'm wondering about the viability of this genre in the long term. Can we keep the community of academic bloggers alive? Is this, ultimately, a passing fad? I know that I still feel like blogging, but what if everybody else decides to stop?

Over at Acephalous, Scott wonders whether " "academic blogging" is strangling the life from "academics who blog." Careerists like myself may unwittingly pressure "academics who blog" into thinking their blogs must be more than mere blogs to justify their existence." I've got to say, I don't think that's happening. I think, at least for me, what's kept me blogging - pseudonymously, and in a more "raw" fashion (per Berube) is 1) that I value this kind of writing about my life and about the profession and 2) I was able to develop a voice that feels consistently comfortable. I think that #2 is the real key to keeping "academics who blog" blogging. I am in no way seduced by the idea of writing a purely "academic blog" that is inextricably linked to my real life professional identity, partly because I don't feel like I could be consistently comfortable with the voice that such a blog would require me to develop - at least not every single day. I think that one of the great things and one of the challenging things about this genre is that it requires one to make the rules of one's expression for oneself. Sure, there are conventions, like linking to those to whom one refers, or putting pictures of one's cats up on Friday or whatever, but ultimately, there is nobody policing one's blog - no peer reviewers, no editors, no publishers. Now, more solidly "academic" blogs do fit more closely within the conventions of academic writing and publishing, but if you take a look at some of those, such as Amardeep Singh's blog, you will still see that the form is looser - that it doesn't strictly adhere to the conventions of academic writing and publishing. So will the push to institutionalize academic blogs suffocate academics who blog - push them out of blogging altogether? I don't think that has to be the case. But I do think that blogs will continue to go defunct in this community of bloggers in part because finding and maintaining a writing voice for an audience is no easy thing to do. And sometimes we outgrow our voices, and it's not always easy to see a way to reinvent ourselves in writing, just as it's not easy to see a way to reinvent ourselves in our lives.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dr C.,
The questions you raise about academic blogging are excellent. I have a slightly odd view, as I am quite an elder 'nettizen'. I started on the net, back in 1988!

Things on the net often have a finite life. In the late 80s, mailing lists were the latest wonder. Amazingly, this is a technology that has lasted. There are many that have not. Up until the early 90s, Usenet was an interesting place. Now, for the most part, it is not -- it is full of spam. There are the odd news groups that have survived, but basically as a technology, it is done.

On-line journals are a phenomenon that will also probably survive, unlike Usenet, but there are battles over copyright with traditional publishers that have yet to be resolved, before we can know for sure. As the Editor in Chief of one of the oldest all on-line journals in my field, I worry about this.

Blogging is quite new. Academic blogging is even newer. It is probably too early to tell yet how things will turn out. I keep up my blog as a place to say the things that I feel need saying, but would not be appropriate for more traditional publications. I don't know whether I will keep it up. For now, I enjoy the fact that a few people read my blog each day, although I wish more people would comment.

Some academic bloggers seem to use their blogs to live out an elaborate fantasy life, in which they are an academic star, even though they, in real life, have not published a thing in years. Thus, blogs can play a psychologically useful function for such individuals.

This phenomena represents a danger for academic blogs. If academics eventually return to the real job of publishing in serious refereed places and quit blogging, then the academic 'fakes' may be all that remain. On the other hand, should admin types begin to take blogs seriously, then maybe there could be a better future. Given the resistance to e-journals from the old guard, this could be a slow process.

Recently, I read a number of posts about academic blogs that were responses to the MLA event. In a couple of them (and I think that this may have been one of the blogs -- sorry for my poor memory), it was suggested that blogs should count as 'service'. This seems entirely correct to me. It is also an important idea. If blogs cannot find a way of fitting into the pre-existing administrative catagories, in a realistic manner, then they will be doomed as an academic medium. After all, assuming that one is not a total failure of an academic, eventually time will get too short and the blog will be abandoned.

I also think that the 'blog as service' model is much more sensible than those who try and claim that their blogging is a genuinely academic activity, in the traditionally understood sense. We are anticipating a fight on this topic in my College this year, as one of our 'poor teacher and no research' types has an active blog.

So, in conclusion, I would say that it is too early to tell about academic blogging. It is worth keeping in mind the history of mailing lists. Traditionally, only about one in one hundred survives as a viable entity for more than a year. Perhaps when all the hype about academic blogs is past, a few good ones will survive and a lot of the dross will go the way of all flesh. I do worry about the blogs that are fiction though. They may survive too and devalue the medium too much to make it viable in the long term. We shall see!

The CP

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Can we keep the community of academic bloggers alive? Is this, ultimately, a passing fad? I know that I still feel like blogging, but what if everybody else decides to stop?

That's my anxiety too! I've been a very pathetic blogger recently (I just completely ditched everything academic at the end of last semester, and I've also sort of been trying to decide what I want to do with the blog, but that's neither here nor there), but I don't want to give it up. But is blogging so 2005? It's weird when one of the pillars of blogging stops - this is really bizarre, but it reminds me of the first time I could stay up later than my parents, which was freeing and yet scary. God, that probably makes me sound psycho!

Anastasia said...

i often wonder if my blog will outlast the end of my graduate career. how will i transition from grad student blog to new professor blog...or will I? I have no idea.

I do have my own answer to this question:

"So will the push to institutionalize academic blogs suffocate academics who blog - push them out of blogging altogether?"

Yes. We'll be left with a brief shining moment when academic blogging was something special before institutionalization killed it.

Anastasia said...

ps. I had a seriously crazy dream about you last night. I'm going to have to blog it because it was so strange.

Anonymous said...

Heh, if memory serves me right, didn't you shut down a blog of your own in the not-so-distant past, Doc C? Maybe someday soon we'll be saying, "Le Blogue Berube is dead, long live Blog X!"

Personally, I started blogging myself b/c I got sick of just commenting on other people's blogs. I'm trying to stick to a daily writing schedule on my more professional one to help kickstart the critical juices and so I can finally finish turning that diss into a book (among other things), but then I just created one for fun so I could vary my voice and be more eclectic.

One thought on "getting credit" for being an academic who blogs or a blogging academic or an academic blogger or whatever is that there is some degree of quantification (visits, page views, comments, links) to it, so if we just ignore the crappy blogs and keep visiting and responding to the good ones, the problems CP mentions could work themselves out. That way, we're performing the "peer review" that hiring and tenure committees that have any sense of responsibility should learn how to read.

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