Monday, 4 July 2011

The Difficult First Blog

Ok. So it seems I have been running the risk of hypocrisy for some time now.  In my capacity as a lecturer to undergraduates I have been espousing for some time the values of the internet and of the wide range of media it provides - not only as a source of information, but as a means of clarifying, sharing, and developing thought in intuitive ways.  This is all well and good, but for all my enthusiasm I have been terrible remiss at using the wretched thing myself.

I guess my main problem (and surely I am not the only one here?)  is the whole 'so here I am, what do I say now?' syndrome.  If I were one of my own students, I would be recommending forming study groups.  Writing up thoughts and reflections on classes, or books and chapters read (if they read any).  Either way, there would be a definite purpose to what they were trying to achieve.

So what is my purpose?

Well, I could argue that my hope is to develop something which might be useful to students - but frankly, my experience tells me that this is unlikely.  Students are very enthusiastic when new forms of information are provided for them, but once there do not tend to use them.

To share my thoughts, perhaps?  Yes, but with who?  What on earth makes me thinks the various renditions of circus music which rattles around in my head would be of remote interest to anyone?  It is barely of any interest to me!  This, in fact, is part of a broader problem I have with social networking.  It appears to be based on the assumption that my own random thoughts and experiences are inherently interesting to other people - which seems a little vain, or at the very least wildly optimistic.

Perhaps the problem here is that I am rather confused about what, actually, constitutes something worthy of broadcasting to the world at large.  Time was, people would take the trouble to publish something that they thought was of serious value.  A call for repentance or reform, perhaps.  An attempt to change the world, or to change people, or to get rich.

On my Facebook page (where I am linked to a number of friends, family and former students) I once asked a question about culture and truth, based on my reading of a Chomsky book (The Manufacture of Consent) which is frankly a very important one.  Nobody replied.  However, when I happened to post my disappointment because I had just leaned over for my cup of tea and discovered it was already finished, I received a bundle of enthusiastic responses.  A random comparison of my bread-maker to the chocolate biscuit machine in an antiquated children's programme (Bagpuss) was received with equal glee, and while I find this rather touchingly cheery I cannot avoid the conclusion that the realms of blogs and status updates is one which glorifies the inane and the trivial.

That sounds a little dismissive, which I did not intend.  The trivial can be elevated into art (depending on your definition of art and whether you are a fan of Andy Warhole), and it is no bad thing for the focus of a communication tool to be the act of communication itself, rather than the subjectively-determined value of any utterance made through it.  And if my experience of Facebook has tended towards the cheery and inconsequential, my experience of Twitter has been perhaps more broadly interesting - there seems a genuine forum on Twitter through which people tend to share information and thoughts which cover the spectrum of both the insightful and the trivial.

However, we are no nearer to finding an answer to the problem of what to include in this blog.  I may well, one day, fill an entire entry with musings on episodes of Bagpuss - but I would be contending with the sense that time could be better spent on something more constructive.

So for now, I will just write - always a good tip for overcoming any kind of writer's block.  It may well be vanity to think that what I am writing is of interest to anyone at all - and if you are a random visitor reading this and thinking just that, then I can only apologise and strongly urge you to read no further.

Because perhaps the purpose of a blog like this is, simply, to write.  The German philosopher Humboldt believed that writing (or at least, uttering) thought enables us to analyse that thought and to perfect it.  For Humboldt, this linguistically ideational function was what defined both the rationality and the creativity of human beings.  By writing this, I am allowing my thoughts to take shape - and when they take shape I can stand back, look at them, and decide whether those thoughts are useful, or just plain drivel.

Well, let's see...