Personal Publication and Public Attention

So, is the academic attention to blogs the same as “selling out,” the way punk-rockers sold out when they received public acclamation rather than evoke the sensation of disgust? The attention given to weblogs in the media, elevating blogs to journalism or at least commentary, is one way of colonizing the field. If blogging can be defined within the known genres and boundaries, it can also be restricted and controlled according to known rules and made to submit to already predefined aesthetics. —Torill MortensenPersonal Publication and Public Attention (Into the Blogosphere)

This year, a significant number of students in my “Writing for the Internet” class had kept their own personal blogs. One had kept a public journal since she was thirteen. These students were immediately aware of the differences between the kind of journaling they were used to doing, and the kind they were expected to do as students at Seton Hill University.

Although I have given students instructions about polite discourse, ad hominem attacks, and the ethics of changing entries after they have been posted, I have never told students what language they should or should not use. Nevertheless, the students recognized that four-letter words were not in casual use on the blogs of other students active in the SHU blogging community. Several of these students responded by continuing to blog on their own personal sites.

Occasionally, online friends follow links from the personal sites to the “academic” sites, and leave comments that feature instant-message-style abbreviations and syntax, as well as in jokes.

A similar thing happens in reverse when students post comments here… strangers respond to what I said, calling me “Dennis,” but the students respectfully call me “Dr. Jerz” (even though I am invariably simply “Jerz” when students speak to each other informally offline).

Here I was about to reach back into Mortensen’s article for another quote, but since I’ve met the author, and of course because I read her weblog and see the daily tracks she makes in my server log, my first instinct was to call her “Torill”. Perhaps today I’ll call her Dr. Mortensen.

Dr. Mortensen asks whether the academic desire to categorize and define will kill the development of a weblog as a living medium.

[H]ow do we imagine a way to study blogs not colonized by the dominant culture? This is a matter of conviction. To a certain degree all cultural criticism is a matter of belief. Those who find that society is gendered will claim that the solution can be found in studying gender-differences, while others find that the alternative to the hegemonic study lies with the non-dominant ethnicities…. Ultimately, communication happens as human beings create meaning from a set of signals which we can call signs (or any other arbitrary collection of symbols we choose).