A blogger's life
I have been blogging for almost three months now. And I must admit to being a convert. When I started out, I was in two minds.
The pros were clear enough: the potential of instant contact with anyone (on-line) on the planet; the pleasure of the immediate responses; the chance to set entirely my own agenda.
But so were the cons. While friends warned darkly about the perils of the public confessional, I had a nasty feeling that to have a blog might be the literary equivalent of owning a camcorder (life would suddenly stop being life and become a series of photo/blogging opportunities). And besides there was a sniff of dumbing down. What was worth saying in a mere 600 words or so?
Twelve weeks of experience later, I feel much more wholeheartedly positive. Why have I come round?
Some of the reasons are cheesy enough. It has proved more of a thrill than I expected to wake up and find an instant reaction to what I had just written from the USA or Swaziland. Thanks to all of you (and that includes my son, whose pseudonymous tirade had me fooled for weeks). I’ve also tried to follow the advice of an enthusiastic fellow blogger who urged me to use the blog as a good excuse to get up and do interesting things – rather than feel trapped by it.
But the dumbing down has proved the most groundless fear, thanks to the resources of the web. If you work in a field like mine, you are used to finishing off a newspaper feature with pious words to the effect of – “if you wish to explore these themes more, you can find a good translation of the emperor Augustus’ autobiography in …”. You know that almost no-one in practice will ever bother to look it up.
The web changes that, with its glorious power of what in other media would be called “foot-noting”. Now I can not only allude to Augustus’ autobiography, but – as I did a few weeks ago – I can produce the whole text for you at the click of a link. If I wanted to (and the Times site would stand it) I could take you to the full Greek text of Thucydides’ History or a complete Latin dictionary. Far from dumbing down, the blog actually lets you crank journalism’s intellectual level up a notch.
What I do still worry about is the kind of glamorous, globe-trotting impression I have given of my life: Los Angeles one minute, Bologna the next, with a few engaging donnish encounters amongst the dreaming spires squashed in between. Not a bit of it. The truth is that much of my life is either unbloggable or unblogworthy.
Many hours of each week are spent in activities that I am simply not allowed to share with the planet. My students would rightly not take it kindly if I discussed with you their exam performance, their essays or their individual career aspirations (and that forms a very big part of my day job). And if I were to leak the hot tips for the election to our Kennedy Chair of Latin, that would count in my neck of the woods as a worse act of betrayal -- even if somewhat less newsworthy in a national context – than leaking the latest news about rivals to Gordon Brown.
As for the rest, much of it is hard to capture in any interesting way. I suppose I spend a good two or three hours a day writing documents reviewing our course, bidding for money, or responding to various university or central government consultation exercises (on anything from access initiatives to methods of assessing University “research productivity”). What time is left goes towards finishing writing my book. For me, these can be the most eventful and exciting hours of the day – but the exciting events are mostly within my own head and I fear make rather dull reading.
One ambition for my next lap of blogging, is to capture something of the internalized excitement/mundane repetitions/deep personal satisfaction/solipsistic tedium of academic life – without being solipsistically tedious. It’s not all globetrotting.