When I began this blog, this is a question that I imagined might be posed by my invisible audience (for some reason, I also imagined a slightly derisive tone and a raised eyebrow). My short answer to the question “why blog” is: because I can. My long answer, however, is more about thinking, community, and digital literacy.
Because you can. Though we may take technology for granted today, the introduction of social media tools with Web 2.0 has revolutionised how we access information and our social practices. Being able to ‘create’ content without the need to learn html code means that now anyone can contribute to the web and the world of knowledge. Indeed, your ideas can be big or they can be little- you can even create a webpage for your cat should you choose to. The main thing is that while many of us are consumers of content, there is no reason now why we can’t also be ‘creators’, and participate in sharing and generating new ideas.
Writing and thinking. My more considered reason for writing a blog is essentially because of the writing process itself. Planning, writing, revising, editing and polishing a piece of writing all involve thinking deeply about a topic and the most effective way to communicate it. By transferring our thoughts from pen to paper, or in this case from keyboard to screen, it is necessary to create a coherent order from the various threads of things that you know. Reflecting on what it is you want to communicate, evaluating what is important to convey, synthesising various complementary or contradictory elements, or critiquing ideas, all involve a lot of thinking and rethinking. In this way, as Richard Menary argues in Writing as Thinking, writing is not a simple transmission of what we know, but ‘writing is thought in action’, and actually contributes to our own understanding. So for me, writing this blog is about establishing for myself more coherently what it is I know (or think I know, anyway).
Community. The second reason to blog is community. Writing always involves some type of connection to others as when we write it is (consciously or unconsciously) with the presence of a reader in mind. However, some types of writing are more interactive than others. Writing an essay, which will probably only have one reader, or writing an article, which may have many readers – although they don’t get to read it until some time after you have written it – are both genres with quite static forms of communication. You might get feedback, but more often than not it comes a long time after the writing.
On the other hand, writing a blog provides the possibility of instant feedback from readers, which can turn writing into a much more stimulating, connected activity.
The presence of an audience in other writing situations is also different than a blog audience. For instance, writing an essay is to impress the reader with your knowledge (and hopefully get a good mark). Writing an academic article is to share, but also justify, the validity of your research or knowledge (and perhaps increase your chances of getting a good job). Writing a blog, though, is more about sharing your ideas with your community of readers- people who are interested in what you have to say because they share a similar interest to you. In this way, writing a blog can increase your sense of community, which is important for stimulating your own engagement with your ideas and with others.
So while I might be writing a blog to help me order my own ideas, hopefully I am also sharing something with you (who are now my community) and in the process establishing a sense of connectedness to others.
Digital literacy. My third reason for writing a blog relates to improving digital literacy. Digital literacy has many definitions, from technical skills (what happens when I press this button?) to network behaviour (how will people react if I publish this online?) to critical understanding (Is this information reliable?). I like the definition from Gillen and Barton’s report on digital literacies as “the constantly changing practices through which people make traceable meanings using digital technologies”. This means that though we may be comfortable in traditional communication modes, being able to participate in new ways of making meaning involves increasing our skills in digital areas.
Though I sometimes view technology with suspicion (I was born into generation X and still remember the first computer introduced to my primary school), as a teacher and a parent, I can’t deny that there is little choice but to embrace it. The way I see it is that we’ve all arrived at the digital technology party, some of us came willingly and some of us were dragged, either way it will be much more fun if you join in on the dance floor, instead of sitting on the couch moping.
Go forth and blog. So, if you’re reading this as someone who enjoys writing, but has not done so in an interactive arena, I would urge you to get out there and have a go- there are plenty of blogging tips (advice on anything and everything is another benefit of blogs!) And who knows- you just might find that in communicating your ideas you come to understand yourself better, connect with others, and increase your understanding of this brave new digital world we live in.