Blogging puts a magnifying glass up to one of my greatest weaknesses: online levity. By that, I mean my ability to show an informal side with a sense of humour through any online platform, or even more broadly, any text-based content. Somewhere during my education and professional experience, I have learned to be formal, ‘professional’, and informative. But I have also lost the ability to speak my mind and connect with an audience through my words. Blogging clearly has a lot of potential to hold the writer accountable, increase visibility, and provide control over one’s internet presence. It also is not only a useful, but necessary tool for those pursuing careers in academia.
My current graduate assistantship requires me to promote study abroad opportunities for students through several online platforms. Just this past week in the office, we were faced with an interesting dilemma. There is a scholarship program run through the U.S. government called the Boren Scholarship. It’s deadline was coming up and a co-worker of mine edited our website to say “Boren Ultimatum” as part of the headline for our update. We all are huge fans of wordplay and absolutely loved the joke. But, we were conflicted by whether it was ‘appropriate’ to publish on our website. One of my co-workers finally made the point that it’s our website, and we can do with it what we want (within reason). It was then that I realized I have never thought of online content that way. It has never been ‘mine’. It has never been something that I was free to have fun with. I realized that the well-trained academic and bureaucrat in me subconsciously rejected the idea of having fun with content. I’m not sure if this is something that I will be able to overcome over time. But having a structured way to work on lightening up my online communication and sharing my thoughts with a community will be a much-needed first step.
Another example of this internal struggle of mine shows its head in my use of Twitter to engage with the academic and policy community in my field. People working in national security, foreign policy, and international relations frequently take their debates to Twitter. They debate contemporary issues and critique each others’ publications, not to mention building networks of colleagues and friends. It is a dynamic and very real community that holds its public forums online. I have been on Twitter for a couple of years now and I am still a lurker. I always find excuses not to tweet or comment. It comes down to fear of saying something wrong or contested, or simply just putting myself out there. But, as Tim Hitchcock explains, that is precisely what the value of Twitter and blogging is. It is a forum for academic engagement that is, at least somewhat, removed from self-selected filters we place over our work. It is open and available to other users of the interwebs and forces us to people and perspectives that will make us better in the long run.
This is the start of my journey to have a little more fun, knowing that I will still be able to get my point across while maybe entertaining a few of you along the way.