I recently assigned students in my “Writing and Technology” seminar the task of posting one of their class journal entries or other commentary on Found in Translation. I have mixed feelings about imposing this kind of top-down directive when it comes to blog-writing. After all, aren’t blogs supposed to be bastions of free will? Personal sites where people contribute spontaneously because they feel moved or inspired to do so, not because a teacher told them to? It seems so old school and blatantly anti-blog culture to require participation. On the other hand, sometimes asking people to do a new thing, something they wouldn’t ordinarily do of their own volition, can be an eye-opening experience. Students in the past have remarked on how useful it was to be pushed to write on the blog, because it made them think longer than they would about a journal entry, and because they found it was fun! And isn’t it the role of e-ducators to lead their students out of their status quo existence and shake things up a bit, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable at times?
From the underlying issues of interpersonal power (a teacher imposing a task, newbies joining the ranks of regular contributors already rich in blog-capital, etc.) arise subjective feelings of pressure. Part of the pressure comes from the teacher and the outside world–but significantly it also comes from the inner-world of the blog itself. In the early days of blogs there seemed to be an unwritten rule that if you read the blog you were expected to contribute by commenting (since feedback and community-generation are at the heart of blogging). This pressure has disappeared for mega-blogs read by the masses, but I think it still holds for boutique blogs, like FIT. That’s the first ‘internal’ pressure, conveyed subtlely, but palpably by the community of participants, pulling you into the blog. There’s also another internal pressure that can push you out of a blog like FIT. There are probably all kinds of factors involved here, but here are a few (and maybe others can add more here?).
1) Since FIT is an institutionally-sponsored blog (i.e., not a personal blog), it raises questions of what will be deemed appropriate (this is a question with personal blogs too, but it is felt all the more acutely when you feel like there’s an institution looking over your shoulder).
2) The need to disclose your real identity to the blog (to post or make a comment you have to sign on with your name and email address).
3) FIT defies blog norms by not being intended as one person’s domain, with lots of input from reader/followers, but rather as a hierarchically “flat” community resource open to participation by students, faculty, staff, and others (though in reality it has been principally nourished by two graduate students – is that because is is called a ‘blog’ and people have expectations of what a ‘blog’ is and is not?)
4) The design-structure-interface of the blog and the way that messages are published, highlighted, and archived (I think others can supply lots of detail here, but the key thing to note is that everything you see and everything that happens in the background is based on some people’s decisions of how things should work – it’s not just a machine organizing things). One problem: it’s not obvious how to post a new message (it’s clearer how you comment on someone else’s post).
I think this push-pull dynamic characterizes lots of different kinds of communicative situations, not just blogs, but perhaps blogging and other ‘new’ platforms for interaction make us sit up and take notice more. At any rate, I invite you (more pressure!) to share your own thoughts on the “to blog or not to blog” question, so we can learn more about what keeps people in–and out of–blogs.