Using the thing I’m complaining about to do the thing it’s good at… explaining and apologizing

We had a visitor in class tonight – Jon Udell, who is a perfectly lovely and gracious guy. He was very open to taking questions from grad students who are used to picking apart every little thing and critiquing it… sometimes rudely, like I may have done this evening.

Udell was explaining to us the power of democratizing information through online community building. We all can have access to vast amounts of information online, and this can be incredibly empowering. I agree with him, but I think my dialogue with him tonight made it seem like I didn’t agree with him. So I return here, to my second blog post, to try to explain myself a little better (even if no one reads this), and to apologize if I offended anyone.

I was trying to ask us to be considerate of the transfer of power in our use of these new communication tools. I’m sure someone out there who is smarter than I am has probably investigated this more fully. These thoughts are merely my hesitations. But we definitely hear a lot about “The Digital Divide.” (That’s the link to the crowdsourced Wikipedia page if you’d like to have a little info about this). I think more and more people are conscious of that divide, no matter what side of it you’re on.

But these new communication tools create an interesting shift in power on various levels. I acknowledge that power structures exist in any type of society; I just think we should be aware of them and how they affect us.

On one level, our reliance on these tools for communicating puts the power in the hands of those who are creating those tools, which are ever more and more complex. There are the elite few who know how to build and maintain these tools that now manage a lot of our information. It’s fantastic that we all can have access to this information, but what is the infrastructure of that information management, and what power structure does that have?

Maybe I feel threatened by this technological control? Previously, information was managed in institutions that I am perhaps more comfortable with – academia, government. Traditionally these institutions have been pretty closed. Some would say that they still are. The pathways of interactive communication available to us online are definitely much more open. But I am cautious about the amount of control that the technological elite (people and tools) has over the tools we use to access that information. Apple has trained us pretty well to drool on command these days. Pavlov would love it. It makes me feel a little squeeby. (I know, I know… that’s not a word. And yes, I am writing this on a Mac. I am open with my hypocrisy.)

On another level, when we choose to communicate in a particular way, we often end up excluding some people. In some cases, it’s not a bad thing. Perhaps not all of the information in the world is applicable to every instance or is quality information. But when we choose these online tools for communicating, who does that exclude? The person who doesn’t have access to the internet. The person who is uncomfortable using or engaging with the tools. The person who, like me, is much more comfortable having a cuppa joe with a person. The person who doesn’t want a record of every online interaction they’ve ever made. As I stated in my first blog post, we hang ourselves out there to be criticized and questioned when using these tools. Perhaps there are those folks who are not interested in that much outside attention to their thoughts.

So whether we’re using these tools in the classroom or in the policy-making arena, it’s still important for us to consider these other folks. Some of whom may already be pretty marginalized. Do our choices in community engagement further marginalize these people, even as we’re trying to build online communities of thought? That, in my humble opinion, would be awful.

So Mr. Udell, if you read this, I’m sorry if I made you feel attacked this evening, but this is what I unsuccessfully tried to explain. And to my prof – I’m sorry that I’m always the naysayer. I know that my critiques could make me seem like a Negative Nancy. But as I am often told in class… we all have agency in our actions. I just ask us to think reflexively about the various consequences of our actions before we leap into new things.

So why am I called the Reluctant Blogger?

Well… frankly because I’m only doing this for an assignment. I can’t imagine having my own blog if it weren’t required for a class. Perhaps that’s too honest of a reason, and perhaps it’s a bit rude. I really don’t mean it to be rude… it’s just the truth. I’m just not sure I have anything of great importance to share with the world. Before you judge, let me explain.

1) There is a perfect story that I will steal from The Existential Buddhist:

“Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshicha (1765-1827) used to say that everyone should keep a piece of paper with “for my sake the world was created” in one pocket, and a piece of paper with “I am but dust and ashes” in another.  The Rabbi was expressing an existential truth: each individual being is important, but not self-important.”

I believe that much of today’s self-promotional culture pays too much attention to the “self-important” aspect of this story. There is a ridiculous amount of “Look at me! Look at me!” in the world: seeking external validation for who you are rather than seeking validation within yourself. Blogs (and many forms of social media) can feed that feeling of self importance. Now… I said “can feed,” not “do feed.” There’s a difference.

2) If you don’t have the time and energy to do something right, then it’s probably not worth doing it in the first place. And if you go through the thought process to decide that it is, in fact, worth doing, then you should try your damnedest to do it right. There are so many ins-and-outs with social media that I think it’s done poorly a lot of the time. This doesn’t provide a very solid presentation of the author. Yeah, yeah… things like WordPress have made things more accessible, but a poorly presented or poorly used social/online media platform reflects worse on someone than not having one at all. I’m pretty sure that I’ve been left behind by the social media technology train. That’s ok. I like a good walk.

3) I’m not really all that fascinating. But… blogs lead us to believe that we are. Check out this language from the WordPress tutorial: “…writing brilliant prose and designing the best and most lovely website possible.” Really? All of us will write “brilliant prose?” The brighter the stars surrounding the sun, the dimmer the sun seems. One could argue that the brighter the stars, the greater the overall light. Yeah… I get that. But I’m all about cooperation, not competition. I don’t have energy for a giant online competition.

I know I’m not horribly boring, but I think it goes back to the story above. There should be a balance. I won’t make ground-breaking discoveries or insights, and that’s perfectly fine. I’m not trying to be famous or convince the world that I’m brilliant and fascinating. Cause I’m pretty run-of-the-mill, and that’s AOK with me.

4) I’m completely annoyed that I keep using “I.” I, I, I!! ME, ME, ME!! Ugh… OK… so in future posts… since I do have to have them… perhaps there can be a focus on promoting others and their work/thoughts. Yeah… that seems to be a way to go…

5) I fully understand that the internet and all its wondrous functions have provided a space for us to have communities of thought, whereas traditional communities were formed around place. OK… that’s fine. I eagerly participate in my community of thought in my university studies, so I acknowledge that there may be a positive place for this sort of engagement online with a broader group of folks. But… right now, I’m pretty dang full of trying to gain a hold on everything I’m working on in my community of place and my current community of thought. I am not sure I have much time to devote to yet another community. I suppose that all I can do is try and hope that no one has too many expectations. I cannot stand half-a**ing things and over-promising and not delivering.

So… now that you may or may not have read through the whining, I’ll promise to reluctantly engage to the best of my ability in this community of thought. But I’d much rather have a conversation and coffee with you.