Hearth or Foe: professors blogging the real world

In response to Dan Cohen’s call for professors to start their own blogs, (www.dancohen.org, Professors, Start your Blogs), I have much to say. The fact “tens of millions of people now have blogs” isn’t necessarily a convincing argument. This type of thinking is why people still smoke or eat McDonald’s hamburgers. That is to say, tens of millions of people are doing it, so why shouldn’t you?

Interestingly, blogging brings up the question of audience. Why do we feel that what we say is important? Blogging pulls the invisible audience even closer to our home. The invisible audience is what dictates people to comb their hair before they go to the supermarket, despite not knowing a soul, or to hinder singing in a car, for fear someone might catch them. Blogging is more of the same. The blogger feels that their words will be read. It will touch another and create an emotion on the other end. But who? Who do you think is out there?

Cohen considers blogs to be another form of writing, like books. But this isn’t true. One must have a handle on language in order to write a book. Books are feted through editors who decide what the public will be allowed to read. Blogging takes little talent. One need not be a grammatical expert; one need not write in a comprehensible style. Nothing is edited. Being that it is uncensored has a bit of appeal.

Cohen cites writing in a “casual rationalist voice.” This may serve him well. I find that how a persons voice comes through in the written word is crucial to my objectivity of the person. Reading poor grammar from a professor of mine, isn’t going to make me feel my time is being spent wisely in hers/his class. Emails are tossed back and forth all day filled with uneducated sentences. Proper English is being driven away by syntax and shortcuts. Write in clear sentences. What’s wrong with using the education you have? Too many professors dumb down their work, now their blogs? And please, read up on the exclamation point… if you’ve used it once in a blog, it’s far too much. Unless you are shouting!

Sure, Cohen explains that there is no requirement of what to post on a blog. One can discuss their breakfast, or perhaps their experience as a waiter, one that farts past unruly customers. If you are such a blogger you will then be offered a book deal, and can quit your job. (It’s true. Such a waiter/blogger is now in print. You can search it on your own.)

Why do people blog and why should professors blog? Perhaps the blog offers us an opportunity to recreate the hearth, the open fire where stories were once shared among the village. What stories were told in those tribal days? Certainly more substance than most blogs. Smoke, mixed with the blue-glow of a chilly summer’s night. The unseen creatures, hidden in the dark, creating a perfect background of noise, as the orator’s words lift upward, through air, doubt, unhappiness, to lift the audience to a new place, a happy, contented place. Can a blog do this? Maybe.

The other side of this quaint ideal is the cowboy historian, the person who believes that just because they have an opinion, they are now a source of information. This is what Cohen eludes to as the “valuable expert.” Valuable experts have their place, but not necessarily in academia. My uncle can be an expert on medieval swords, but does this mean he’s entitled to head a college class or run an expedition? Debatable.

While it would be wonderful for professors to spend their “free” time blogging, outlining recent studies, sharing wisdom, experience, and the like, what will this take away from? Students? Local projects? Books? Their own life experience? What about professors that have notoriety in the field, but really are lazy researchers–do we need a lazy blog too?

Professors blogging brings up another issue. Will the blog become a source to quote from? Will blogs become the new norm for citing critical information? How much of the blog will be hearsay, opinion, and lacking substantial fact, that will then be misconstrued and used to support claims? Will the blog become a foe to the professor, who one day finds he was misquoted by his/hers blog?

Further, as a student, do I want to know the views of my professor outside of the classroom? What they ate for breakfast, their political preference, if they shop at Wall-destroyer-of-nations-Mart, if they watch Family Guy or Family Feud, or if they watch TV at all? Will this break down the borders of how students and professors interact? Will it be a positive or negative deviation?

If on the other hand, the professor blogging is a specialist, and is providing a valuable resource to the continuity of learning, which garners a specific audience, is using concrete, primary sources, then I shall take a step back and let them lead the way.

Sadly, like most books being published, people think they are cute and clever, and what they have to say is mightily important. In most cases, blogs are more senseless chatter, saved to the akashic energy, cluttering the mind and time for eternity.

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~ by disembodiedspirit on September 11, 2008.

One Response to “Hearth or Foe: professors blogging the real world”

  1. Like your mother used to say, “If all your friends jumped off a building, would you?” Blogging, like many things, are not for everybody. But to make a conscientious decision, one has to at least know what one is talking about. It irritated me to hear some of my old undergrad history professors dismiss the internet without at least taking a closer look at it and what it can do.

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