Learning to have levity

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.


  • vibhav nanda

    I completely construe your fears of tweeting or commenting anything online, I have similar fears. Howbeit, my fears stem from the fact that if I post anything controversial, it could be taken out of context and I might have to face some serious repercussions for my words taken out of context or twisted in some bizarre manner.

  • vibhav nanda

    I totally understand your fears of being an “active user” of social media/online platforms. I have similar fears, but they come from a different place. I fear that my words might be twisted in a bizarre manner or taken out of context and I would have to face serious consequences for that.

  • Setareh

    I have the same fear of posting online but in more depth, as I sometimes do not feel confident enough to express my opinion in public and when I do so, I get obsessive about the comments and feedbacks.

  • Ben Kirkland

    I like this, and can relate. I’m conflicted in similar ways, and I have exposure to the other side. I’ve only just come back to academia after 15 years away. It’s different, and I am now paying more attention to the content I put out there. Now, as an academic, ‘Think before you speak’ is finally starting to kick in & I am trying to slow it down some. It’s just my opinion, but, as I progress more into teaching, the more I will be perceived as a purveyor of knowledge, and that means what I put out there matters. This requires me to pay more attention to what I am saying.

    However, I’ve had a separate persona for several years on YouTube and Instagram where I’ve freely expressed my understanding, my mistakes and my lack of knowledge, with 99.9% positive feedback from my viewers. The educational tutorials I give are for my hobby, not my profession, and certainly not my thoughts as an academic. If I make a mistake or show my ignorance, I’m not concerned my hobby is over. I take it as feedback, and I respond in kind so others also know mistakes were made. I’ve learned loads from it and can only hope others have too.

    Maybe this hybrid form of interaction through this class will allow us both to be more expressive where it counts, even if it contains some control on our part, even if it matters, because maybe it does or doesn’t, but it’s you and me and everyone together!

  • Cindy Klimaitis

    I can certainly relate to your comments. I follow more people on twitter than I have followers. I also prefer to read their stuff rather than posting too much. Of course, I follow leaders in my field, so I do enjoy and learn from what they have to say. I’m also somewhat reserved on Face Book because I do not want to offend people. I do believe the benefits of learning gained from participation in social media outweighs the bad (for now). Sometimes I find myself feeling challenged to do something incredible or I get an idea I might not have had when I started reading.
    I think we are both flying. We just need to continue to spread our wings a bit.

    • A. Nelson

      I think you’re both flying also! And I see no shame in lurking — indeed lurking without tweeting requires considerable restraint and discipline in many cases. Maybe someday you’ll want to opt in, and maybe you won’t. Either way is fine.
      And I really laughed at the Boren Ultimatum. Nice.

  • Ray Thomas

    I think that there is value in being a lurker, particular in an academic setting where you’re still “new” to the field (in the sense that you, like myself, are still a junior scholar). But Twitter is also great at breaking down the formal structures, as you noted, and thus can lead to a lot more interesting conversations than two people having a back-and-forth through journal articles or even conference panels.

    I also completely understand the potential anxiety of posting something publicly, I often feel that I have way more tweets than I probably should from trying to comment on on-going issues or events. Sometimes you don’t get positive responses (or any responses) but the only way to generate positive or constructive experiences is to get out there and try! As The Office so eloquently put it: “‘You miss 100% of the Shots you don’t take – Wayne Gretzsky’ – Michael Scott.”

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