I just sent off a draft of a chapter on scholarly blogging to Axel Bruns for his upcoming Uses of Blogs book, and I run across an article in The Scientist on science blogs called “The Power of the Blog.” The tag line reads: Few scientists have caught on to the Internet’s power of posting, commenting, and debating — where are the rest?
While they never answer directly, they do present an indirect answer:
As more academics pick up blogs, scientific publishing may also change. Not only can you bypass traditional publishing with a blog, but also tools are becoming available to better organize information.
Yes, blogging is a natural fit for the academic, the teacher, and the researcher, but somehow those who blog seem to miss the fact that it is threatening to those who are established in academia, to financial interests, and to… well to decorum.
Put yourself in the shoes of a tenured associate professor who has spent the last decade or two stacking up peer-reviewed publications. I won’t name names, but I can think of some faculty who have been publishing a half-dozen articles a year for many, many years. They are playing the game by the prescribed rules and doing a pretty good job of it. Then someone asks “why don’t you have a blog?”
The natural answer is “why should I?” From the perspective of the non-blogger, there are two possible paths blogging may take. First, it may be declared the Pet Rock of the aughts.
The other possibility is that it will have a significant impact on scholarly life, publishing, and institutional structure. In that case, the successful scholar is put in the position of someone waiting on line at the supermarket. You are near the head of the line, when a new checker opens up. He looks like he is super-efficient, and that line seems to be moving pretty quickly, but (a) he may keel over at any moment and everyone in the line will lose out, (b) even if the line is moving quickly, do you really want to be at the end of it? Sure, as a relatively big name in the field, you are going to attract an audience, but you’ll probably never pull the same kind of audience that some of the superstar grad student bloggers do.
Sure the decision isn’t that black-and-white. You don’t give up other scholarly pursuits completely to go “all in” on blogging (or, at least, most don’t). But the truth is, rather than writing this entry, I could be working on a half-dozen other projects that would actually show up on a vita. The direct payout is not at all clear.
Yes, there is the social networking aspect. And it is true that I have met people through this blog that have been really cool to meet, and who have helped my career. But I deeply suspect that the ROI is just not here. Academics don’t like to be made out as careerist, they are supposed to be above all that, but the modern university system can be cut-throat, and I fully sympathize with those who turn around and say “why should I waste my time?”
I blog for a three reasons.
First, I blog because I enjoy it. I am very opinionated and not very social, so it gives me the chance to mutter on about this or that without feeling as if I am buttonholing anyone. And there are other pleasures I derive from the process of creating a blog that have nothing really specifically to do with being an academic.
Second, I have a feeling that blogging is much better for me as a scholar than it is as an academic. That is to say, some of the people I have met and discussions I have had through the blog have really made me understand the world a bit better, and I hope that some of the things I have written here have helped others learn more about their own world, if only in a small way. None of these things are really related to my standing in the profession, or whether I have any chance of making tenure somewhere, they are instead more closely tied to why I became a professor in the first place: to profess.
Third, as I have written in the past, I am a true believer in social computing, and blogging in particular. I’m not sure quite the direction it will take or how it will affect information professionals, but I think the impact will be slow (by internet standards) and profound. The kinds of things we have been talking about for years — open access to scholarly product, individualized education, learning communities will happen. Not today, and not next year, but gradually and profoundly.
So, The Scientist writes up a story that says “This has the potential to change the world, why aren’t more people doing it?” and the answer is contained right there in the question. This has the potential to change the world, and not everybody loves world-changing. Those who do are probably already blogging.
I think what needs to be stressed is that blogging is another tool in the arsenal of a good academic. Email and listserves don’t get you tenure either, but no one says “I don’t have time for email.” (OK, everyone says that, but everyone still uses it.) Blogging is a communication tool with a unique set of characteristics that can be helpful in creating and maintaining distanced professional, as well as friendly, relationships. See? That’s not so scary. So, where’s your blog?