The Assignment: A technology ethnography; through first hand experience, I had to investigate, analyze and consider how a selected digital technology affects, and is affected by, our understanding of ourselves and our humanity. I decided to try my hand at blogging. I've been a fairly faithful journal-er since high school. I decided that for two weeks I would trade in my paper journal for a digital journal and see how it went.
After the assignment, I decided to continue my blog, as well as my paper journal. I knew I couldn't publicize everything on Blogger that I would normally write in my journal, and I missed the tactile aspects of the paper journal. But blogging was fun, and my readers kept asking for more... Now I'm a sporadic blogger, writing whenever the fancy strikes me.
It all began with a movie; my curiosity with blogging was first sparked by the 2005, Hilary Duff movie, The Perfect Man. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0380623/. Throughout the film, Duff posts her feelings, frustrations, and experiences on her blog: “Girl on the Move.” Several years later I ran across another, more popular blogging movie, Julie and Julia (2009), about a woman’s attempt to complete a cookbook full of Julia Child’s recipes while blogging about the process. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1135503/. The movies caught my interest in regards to relationships and personal writing. In my opinion blogging provides a forum that aids to sustain, at some level, long distance friendships, but that it cannot effectively replace more personal forms of communication. I also believe that writing habits and depth vary between blogs and paper journals.
In order to test these hypotheses, I decided to dive into the blogging world for a two week test period and record my experiences with planning, interacting, and writing. I created a blog for myself on www.blogger.com. I amassed a network of bloggers through Facebook with which to interact and gave up my paper journal for those two weeks to be replaced by my blog. My blog can be found at: http://toreadinthetrain.blogspot.com/.
Every blog, like every book, needs a good title. The title of my blog, “Something Sensational to Read in the Train,” comes from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. In Wilde’s play, two characters, Gwendolyn and Cecily, argue over which of them is actually engaged to “Earnest.” They both produce their diaries to compare entries. On doing so, Gwendolyn exclaims, "I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train." (Wilde, 65). This quote became the core of my blog planning. I selected this name because it comments on me, on my blog, and on the blogging world. Quoting Oscar Wilde implies that I value literature, it labels my blog as a digital diary, and it plays with the idea of narcissistic blogging. I made the decision to reference Wilde knowing that most of my readers would not know the source or significance of the quote; however, I attempted to compensate for this by providing the full quote and reference at the top right of the page.
After naming my blog and creating the URL, it was time to focus on visual aesthetics. My design goal was to emphasize the interaction of print culture ideals and digital culture practices in the blogging world. Blogger has a user-friendly template designer; I used this to select my template, background, layout, fonts, and color schemes. I chose a template called “Travel” which consisted of the photograph of my choice as the page background and a darkened transparent section as the text background. I searched through the many photographs provided by Blogger and decided on a black and white photo taken inside a train station. The photograph gives the page an artistic feel while also supporting the blog title, “Something Sensational to Read in the Train.” When selecting fonts, I chose Courier for the title and Arial for the body and headings—Courier for its type-writer appearance and Arial for its easy readability. I opted to add no additional graphics to my blog page, as they would create visual clutter.
The next order of blogger business was creating my profile. Admittedly, I dislike writing personal profiles, and this instance was no different. I provided a recent photograph of myself and listed a few favorite movies, books, and personal interests. For the “About Me” section, I merely inserted a pretty quotation. I possessed little motivation to invest time and words to describe myself to persons already my friends; however, were I to continue blogging it would be wise to more thoroughly define who I am to my potential readers.
Networking: Finding Friends
Most successful blogs develop a readership over an extended period of time. I, however, had two weeks to find readers; in order to speed up the process I put my Facebook social networking skills to use and created an “Event.” A Facebook event is a digital invitation to participate in something—it can be anything really. The event page provides guests with an event description, time, location, guest list (divided into “attending,” “maybe attending,” “awaiting reply,” and “not attending”), photographs, and a comment section. Events are the most efficient method of mass continuous communication on Facebook. Event administrators can mass message every guest regardless of their degree of attendance, the guest list is not limited to friends or numbers, and event generation requires little effort.
I titled my event “Amanda Needs Blogging Friends for a Paper.” I explained that I would attempt to blog daily from September 29th until October 13th, two weeks. I posted a hyperlink to my blog and explained the assignment and what assistance I needed: beginner bloggers, blogging buddies, and interviewees. The guests received digital invitations on September 28, 2010; I invited five hundred people. Forty-one people agreed to attend, forty-three said that they might attend, one hundred forty-six chose not to attend, and one hundred seventy-six people never responded. Twenty-two attendees provided me with links to their personal blogs, and thirteen attendees chose to officially follow my blog with Blogger.com. I was surprised when two strangers contacted me to help; apparently some of my friends passed the word along to others. I opted to follow twelve of these blogs; I would have followed them all, but not every blog was through the Blogger.com network.
Blogger provides users with an overview of the statistics for each blog. In the two weeks of operation, my blog was viewed one hundred thirty-five times; only hundred fourteen of these views were from within the United States, meaning my blog is also read internationally. It has been viewed seven times in Greece, four times in Cyprus, three times in Italy, twice in the United Kingdom, and twice in Zambia. My Blogger statistics also show that the majority of my readers accessed my blog through links posted on Facebook. Ultimately Facebook served as an effective blogger networking tool. Had I not used to it to connect with other bloggers, I doubt my readership would have been half as large.
In order to broaden my perspective of blogging, I interviewed seven bloggers. I asked each of them the same series of questions and recorded their responses. The Questions: What blog site do you use? How long have you been blogging? Why did you start blogging, and has that reason changed? How frequently do you blog? How many blogs do you follow? How many people follow your blog? What is the purpose of your blog (personal journal, keep in touch with friends, topic oriented, etc.)? Are there limitations to how much personal information you are willing to disclose via blogging, if so, what are they and why? Do you keep a journal as well; if so, how do they compare (writing style, length, detail, etc.)? How do you see blogging affecting your relationships? Do you consider blogging to be an effective form of communication? Is there anything that you care to tell me about blogging that I have not already asked; if so, what?
Interacting With Blogging Buddies
Initially I thought that no one read my blog, but I quickly discovered that most blogger interactions are silent ones. In two weeks my blog was viewed one hundred thirty-five times, but it was only commented on three times; that is one comment for every forty-five views. Some for this can be attributed to the fact that many of my readers are not bloggers; they are Facebook users with the link to my blog. This became more evident as time went on. I periodically had friends comment on my blog in-person. Persons not included in the five hundred Facebook event invitees began to mention having read my blog. After the two week blogging period ended one friend, impatient to read more, asked when my next post would be up. Though my blog by no means turned viral, it certainly accumulated interest amongst my acquaintances.
I read and commented on fewer of my friends’ blog posts than I had hoped to. It took a while to learn how to use the Blogger “follow” feature to its maximum efficiency, and once I learned to use it, I found that seldom do my friends post anything.
Blog: a Digital Public Journal
I really struggled initially with how to write my blog posts; I felt like I was writing an essay for class rather than a personal journal. I disliked the fact that I was journaling for other people to read. I found that I thought more about my readers’ ability to connect to what I wrote than is typical for a personal journal. I was also unsure about my writing style as well as the boundaries for proper sharing.
I struggled with having an undefined and rather illusive audience. As a writing student, I have been trained to always think about my audience, to identify and write to them. When writing an essay I assume that my audience knows nothing and wants to understand everything. However, the methodology shifts significantly when writing in a personal print journal. When writing in a journal, one can generally assume that it will never be read; no audience exists because none will read. When writing essays I am accustomed to distancing myself as a puppeteer type figure; I affect progress and determine what is said, but my presence remains unacknowledged. When I journal, I am very present; each entry is about my thoughts, feelings, experiences, or questions. The problem became how to write for an audience which exists as freely as if it does not.
Not only did my writing method change, but my writing style changed as well. I felt as if my posts had a required length: a minimum of two paragraphs and a maximum of five. A one-paragraph post seemed not worth posting; while, a post, six-paragraphs or more, seemed excessive. Also, in academic writing, I often write to a formula, closely abiding by the rules of communication and grammar and focusing on topical guidelines; whereas, in my journal, almost anything goes. I can write about anything I choose any way that I choose to do so. While this is true of blogging, I struggled to write as freely as I would in my journal.
When I journal, I place my heart before a mirror and record what I see; however, there seem to be limits as to what one can and cannot say in a forum that the world can read. In my interviews, I asked the interviewees to identify the limitations to how much personal information they are willing to disclose through blogging. Each individual responded that he or she does limit personal information. Some listed security limitations, like a home address, while others mentioned emotional limitations. One interviewee explained her blog limitations saying,
I really don’t like having too much emotional content on my blog . . . I remember doing that in early high school with my Xanga, and when I look back on it now I cringe a little inside and wonder how anyone could have read that stuff without gagging! I was so cheesy! It’s not that I still don’t think those things, but now I have more of a filter to the extent that I don’t need to share that information with everyone.
Another individual told me that his method of handling personal content is to keep multiple blogs, some with open access and then one with no access. He explains that when information is too personal it goes on the latter blog; he calls it his “journal blog.”
I have regularly kept a non-digital journal since 2005. I asked interviewees if they also kept journals. Three responded no, and four responded yes. Of those using paper journals, three described the journals as increasingly intimate, and two use it as a forum to process through deep issues and life questions. What surprised me: neither the English major, the sociology major, nor the preacher uses a paper journal; however, three of the four journal users are engineers. I expected those who focus on interpreting human psychology to also value print culture; this expectation arose from assuming that because I value both, the two correlate. One of the interviewees is my older brother; his responses also surprised me. I expected that because we were raised by the same parents and with similar life perspectives we would value print and digital technology similarly. However, he responded to almost every question differently than I.
From my experiences and the responses of interviewees, I see that blogs are very effective for some types of communication, but they do not replace face-to-face relationships. I also see that blog posts generally are indeed shallower than paper journal entries—the more public, the less personal. Through this experience I have learned much about blogging. I plan to continue blogging; however, I also intend to use my paper journal.