the danger of blogging as an academic

When you’re communing with like-minded souls, you feel like you’re accomplishing something…

Oh, love to the Clay. In deconstructing the role of social software in the Dean Campaign, Clay teases out something very important: talking amongst yourself is not action. The digital world magnifies homophily (birds of a feather stick together). You can find like-minded souls and never have to interact with anyone who is different than you are. You can feel like you’re doing something by preaching to the choir. This doesn’t make change.

Of course, this realization also makes me ::cringe:: I was moaning to a friend about how much i loathe trying to formalize my Friendster material, about how i’m soooo tired and cranky about thinking about this space. He was like, of course you are. You’ve justified blogging as writing and feel like you’ve been there, done that. But you haven’t. He’s right. The rigor of academic writing is a whole different ball of wax. My blog is simply rants, not analysis, predictions, theory. It might be sometimes useful to business people, but mostly, it’s fodder for the entertainment of folks i know. And it’s of no use to future designers.

As a few astute readers noted, i haven’t really been going into detail about “what does this mean” and “where is this going.” It’s true. I need to back away from that in the blogosphere right now, focus on formally getting this material out the door. Living in clear homophily is dangerous for me right now.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

12 thoughts on “the danger of blogging as an academic

  1. Joi Ito

    Veeery interesting. I was thinking just the opposite. I was thinking about how academics talk to each other with shared rules and more context than blogs and how it must be easier to write an academic paper for your peers than blog something.

    I can see how academic rigor can be more strenuous, but doesn’t the low barrier to entry for people to comment about your blog posts also “open you up?”

    I’m not denying the echo chamber effect of blogs, but I never thought of academia as open compared to blogs. Having said that, I guess I’m being “binary”. I agree that more rigor will add value to your thoughts and is useful, but I’m not sure whether sharing it in the academic context is necessarily more useful or that a rigorous treatment of your work for non-academics would be of “no use to future designers”. I also think that your rants are reaching a wider audience than a rigorous treatment would and from the “listen to your customers” persective, influencing the average user this way probably has a lot of short term impact.

  2. joe

    hear, hear… plus you can use your blog to throw out a few theories (or parts thereof) and have us give you feedback.

  3. Lawrence Krubner

    I’m of two minds. When I need to get a major project done, I walk away from my blog. I wanted to finish a novel this last month, so I walked away from my blog for most of the month.

    But the blogosphere, I think, makes it easier to get other people’s views. It’s made it easier for me to find out what conservatives think – easier for me to find conservative blogs. Most people have wonderfully inclusive blogrolls. And comments allow feedback. With my novel done, I’ve thought seriously of putting parts of it up on the web, so as to invite feedback.

  4. jcwinnie

    I have to agree with Joi and disagree with your post, Danah. Clarifying and confirming are important activities in academia, business, etc. The obvious danger is generalization.

  5. Cory Doctorow

    I’m with danah on this. On the one hand, fiction writing requires that I gather a lot of disparate factoids and throw them together and see what happens. Bruce Sterling does this in a commonplace book, and lots of writers I know keep a moleskine around full of notes. For me, the act of blogging gets that stuff in play and in my mind.

    But there’s a danger there — that blogging can diffuse the very need to write. Writing is a delayed-gratification undertaking, the ne plus ultra of delayed gratification, where editors can take three or four years to go from submission to publication. The hardest task of the writer is to go on writing when the rewards are so very distant — not quite as far away as heaven, but a lot farther than, say, dinner.

    This is a well-understood phenomenon in writers’ workshops, which can displace in its writers the need to write. Reading and critiquing your peers’ manuscripts — *talking about writing* — can be enough of a “writing-related program” (in SotU jargon) that it scratches the writing itch.

    It’s like buying gym clothes instead of exercising, or looking at personal ads instead of dating, or reading diet books instead of losing weight.

  6. Jack Dalton

    Agreed – talking to the choir doesn’t make things happen. But then maybe sometimes it can turn a thing and or slow it from happening. I’m thinking here of, say, the impact of bloggers like Simon Zadek from inside the Davos summit recently. It’s not academic in its rigour but it’s very far from homophily and fluff…

  7. zephoria

    Don’t get me wrong: i believe in the power of blogging. I believe that it can allow access to otherwise unaccessed material. I believe that it can help people flesh out their thoughts. But i also believe that, for me, it can be the biggest procrastination device ever by giving me the opportunity to wax ideas without solidifying them in a meaningful way.

    Remember: as an academic, my #1 goal is to generate meaningful theoretical contributions that are useful for ongoing research, to extend the body of knowledge. Musings, haphazard critiques and public contemplations of my neuroses are not research; they are simply an outlet to help me frame my reality. I don’t require comments or readers, but i’m very thankful for them for having challenged my framework. Yet, that as well is not research.

  8. zephoria

    Joi… if writing a blog entry is like stepping into the shower, writing an academic paper is like jumping into a tsunami. Writing for my peers is a million times harder and the critiques are much much much more poignant. The difference is that people don’t hide behind anonymity and they work to ground what they are saying with such clear logic and additional materials that it requires deconstructing the world to make a point.

    When i post a blog entry, i do not employ that rigor. I am an academic, but i would never consider my blog output academic. I say what i think, not necessarily what i can defend for the rest of my life. I am willing to say things and be told that i am wrong because they are musings. In fact, it’s fun to be wrong here.

  9. Joi Ito

    danah, I guess I was just reacting a bit to the notion that blogging was “preaching to the choir” and that “talking amongst yourself is not action”. I can totally agree with you that for YOU writing academic papers is a priority and blogging may be a diversion. I guess I am just aruging about whether blogging is necessarily lower impact or lower diversity than academia. I think that if academic writing causes you to render more rigorous output and fiction for Cory, I think this is great and something you should force yourself to do instead of procrastinating on your blog.

    I’m just reacting as someone who typically doesn’t write fiction or academic papers. My blog is my primary written output channel and I find myself rigorously deconstructed by a diverse group of people for what I write on my blog, much more than I do from my traditional methods of output such as mass media print, radio, TV or lectures.

  10. hakank.blogg

    Orkut och kritikerna

    Hr r lite mer om Orkut. (Orkut r invitation only, men se sist i denna anteckning.) Erik skriver i sin anteckning Kritik av kritikerna om danah boyd och andra som kritiserar formen och uppbyggnaden av de sociala systemen (ssom Orkut,…

  11. Andrew Fiore

    The ideas that are enforced and reinforced among semi-hierarchical status networks of bloggers naturally suffer from a lack of real criticism. Socially, the phenomenon is fascinating, but intellectually it becomes groupthink.

    Academic scrutiny forces you to justify every little piece of your research or theory; if there is a hole to be poked, someone will poke it. Anonymous reviewers — most good conferences and journals are blind-reviewed — usually have nothing to gain from supporting your ideas, no social capital to cultivate by fawning over you. They will remind you about segments of the literature you forgot to include, holes in your logic, tiny errors in your statistics or interpretations of data that may not even invalidate your findings but merely call into question your skill as a statistician. And, most importantly, they won’t let your paper get published if you don’t fix all these problems before it sees the light of day.

    Yes, this is gatekeeping, editing (god forbid), but it’s entirely necessary for the functioning of the academic world and for reliable research to be conducted.

  12. Andrew Fiore

    Clarification of what I mean by “reliable research”:

    You can find a researcher who will claim almost anything. The Bush administration excised a section about global warming from an EPA report on the state of the environment and replaced it with a reference to an American Petroleum Institute-sponsored study questioning the truth of climate change.

    So they picked a minority voice out of the chorus of researchers; clearly they heard from the entire spectrum of scientists. What’s the problem with this? The Petroleum Institute study is wrong. No honest environmental researchers believe that global warming isn’t real; it’s like microevolution — there’s political debate but no scientific dispute. But a layperson, even a very smart one, is in no position to judge the Petroleum Institute’s science on the merits. If we are going to trust that research is reliable in any of the myriad fields whose minutiae require an advanced degree to understand, we must rely on experts who can verify the validity of the work.

    Sometimes views from outside the academic edifice strike potent blows against the establishment. Sometimes, though, they’re just wrong. The public has no way to distinguish, because the right and wrong outsiders’ voices speak with the same urgency and passion. That’s why expert-vetted, reliable research is so important.

Comments are closed.