In math, we sometimes talk about breaking up a set into separate components, much as one might take a bag of candy and sort it into different flavors; there might be milk chocolate, dark chocolate, fruit flavored candy and candy filled with cream or caramel inside. Each piece of candy would belong to one subset, and none would belong to more than one. I thought of this recently when my dean asked me to speak at a meeting of Arts and Sciences about my life as a “blogger” for IHE. She asked me to talk about “the good, the bad and the ugly”. Hum… a division into three subsets, I thought. I agreed to do this, and, since I suspect that many of my readers are also bloggers, I wanted to throw the question out for comments.
When I think of the “good” aspects of writing a blog for IHE, I recall the many times that people have posted insightful comments in response to something I wrote. Most recently, I received comments to a struggle about first generation college graduates who went on to join the professoriate that resonated with me, as I am also a member of the first generation to attend college in my immigrant family. And I was thrilled when one reader used my blog posting about miserable weather to announce the birth of her son, born while the Hudson River froze over. I hope that my columns help to encourage conversation about matters related in some way to the challenge of being a professor while also raising a child. No, the two roles are not mutually exclusive, even if “the good” is very distinct from “the bad.”
Ah, the bad. While I don’t actually see a lot of “bad” in writing for a blog, I do find it challenging some weeks to come up with a topic. What is more, since I always try to relate my topic back to some aspect of math or economics, finding such a “hook” can be difficult some weeks. However, as long as I have a few days to roll the ideas over in my mind, I can usually come up with something, even if it is farfetched (as was the case when I related “set theory” to the emptiness I felt when my sister, my only sibling, died last year.) So I guess I will tell my fellow faculty members that the “bad” piece of writing a blog is that it is a commitment that is added upon other commitments, and, as they know, we all have a lot of those already.
I am also wary of the fact that my blog puts my life “out there.” As someone who never joined Facebook because I value my privacy, doing this while blogging is actually difficult at times. However, without lying, I try to keep some details of my life out of the blog, and tend not to include actual names in my columns. I don’t want the privacy of my friends or family to be compromised by anything I say in my column.
As for the “ugly” that is another story. I was reminded fairly quickly that posting in blog columns can be read (and re-posted) by anyone with access to a computer or a smart phone. Those people may or may not share my perspective on life, and I may or may not be aware of social norms that they take for granted. Thus, it did not take long for a few columns I wrote to draw fire from readers. When this first happened, I was disturbed and responded to comments, even apologizing at times. It took a note from my editor, Scott Jaschik, to remind me that not everyone is going to like everything I say, and that drawing criticism is actually part of being an online journalist (as if I can ever earn the right to call myself by that title.)
I have a week before I need to speak to my fellow members of Arts and Sciences about this, and would love to hear from my readers, especially those who also write blogs. What are the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of this endeavor, and what would you say to fellow faculty members who may or may not be contemplating doing the same
Wishing all of my readers a Happy Valentine’s Day!