Who is this for?

She left the Door open

Image by Hartwig HKD

And through the door
What do I see? 
Something is happening
Is it for me? 

At our last Thoughtvectors/UNIV200/Living The Dreams meeting, I asked the team to start blogging our work together. After the logistical questions–where, how, etc.–the bigger, most Internet-mystical question came up: who is this for? Is it for us, as a record of our work? Is it for the students, as a model of the work we want them to do? Is it for the audience of onlookers, well-wishers, resisters and skeptics and nay-sayers? Who?

I’m always puzzled by this question, but I recognize there are at least two reasons for my puzzlement. One is that I began blogging by understanding that this was my blog, so it was for me, but the work I do for me has the potential to be of interest to others as well. I knew that without being able to explain it, largely because my experience of reading other bloggers had made that impression on me. This is his blog, or her blog, and they write out of their own experience, narrating their work, wondering aloud, bringing things to light the way a good late-night conversation will–anything, really, so long as the origins and purposes had something to do with what Dave Winer has called the defining characteristic of blogging: the unedited voice of a person.

Since I began, nearly ten years ago, my blog has been the main place for me to try to work things out for myself. Almost all the time, I write my posts in one sitting and publish them right away, going back to fix typos as I see them later or as people point them out to me. Sometimes I’ll rephrase a thought or two, or try to clarify a murky point. I fix any factual mistake I catch. But there’s really not very much of that, and because my blog is fairly essayistic, I don’t do much editing here at all. Given that the value of editing is deeply embedded in academic culture–for many good reasons, of course–for a scholar to commit to trying to work things out for himself or herself in public in this way can be very daunting. My longing for connection finally overcame my fear of humiliation, though that’s a constant struggle. More to the point, I discovered very quickly that working things out for myself in this way, with the fresh provisionality of the thinking still clinging to the thoughts, had the magical property of bringing other people who were doing the same thing into a distributed conversation that took on a life of its own far beyond anything I could have imagined.

I don’t try to work everything out here. I recognize the difference between personal and private, and I need that difference to exist. But to a greater extent than I had ever dreamed, working things out for myself with a questing, probing, sometimes halting voice brought me to a community where collegial inquiry and most of all connected learning became the norm, not the exception. Something like what I’d always thought a university could be.

Which is the second reason for my puzzlement–though I recognize that a university can be a very difficult thing to imagine.

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