Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Why blog?

Although this is not a technical post, I thought it would be a good thing to write about from an "administrative" point of view. There are lots of reasons why people blog, and so I wanted to explain my reason for blogging, which is this: I blog to build online knowledge.

And here's what I mean by that...

For a very long time, human knowledge has resided in books. Very quickly, and almost by accident, human knowledge is now residing in books AND on the Internet. Unlike the book publishing enterprise, the web publishing enterprise means that the way knowledge resides on the Internet is very haphazard - thrilling and maddening at the same time.

So, my main goal as a blogger is to contribute to the sheer quantity of knowledge that is available on the Internet. I know a lot of specific things about some rather obscure topics, and most of the time when I am blogging, it is because I am adding some of that knowledge to the Internet, where others can find and use it.

Sometimes that consists of digitizing material from a text that is not available on the Internet, sometimes it is a matter of linking two items that are not linked on the Internet, and most often I am just providing some kind of commentary or explanation, taking specialist knowledge and explaining it for non-specialists.

Just imagine how great it would be if ALL academics were blogging, contributing to knowledge on the Internet! It seems to me that every single professor or instructor or lecturer at the university could share my reasons for blogging. We all have specialist knowledge, and blogging gives us a way to put our knowledge online, share it with others, link it up with other knowledge, and explain its importance in ways that non-specialists can understand. What an amazing thing!

Yet very few academics blog, and I think this is simply because they think that blogging is just about personal stuff, opinions, ranting and raving, etc. Now, there are plenty of blogs that take that route... but my blogs do not do any of that (okay, I rant and rave a little bit - like now!). Instead, my blogs are a way to share the kind of knowledge that normally would be locked inside my head, or locked inside my classroom. Blogging lets me set that knowledge free, sharing it with others online.

At the same time, I am blissfully unworried about whether people read my blog on a day-to-day basis or not. I am delighted if they do, of course, but I think it is more likely that someone will find individual blog posts on a specific topic in the future, say, when they are researching Moses and Pharaoh's daughter, or when they want to learn something about Fra Angelico's Annunciation in San Marco. There is nothing "timely" about the blog posts, as with news blogs or opinion blogs. Even if just one person at some point in time, a year or two years or five years from now, reads my post about the Marian hymns in the inscriptions added to Fra Angelico's Annunciation, then I will be happy!

Now, anyone who's an academic knows full well that there are books and journal articles galore about Fra Angelico's Annunciation already available in university libraries and in JSTOR, etc. True enough. But those materials are accessible to only a tiny number of people - and Fra Angelico's Annunciation is seen by thousands upon thousands of American tourists every year there in San Marco. When those tourists go home, they are not going to log on to JSTOR and read scholarly articles about Fra Angelico, but they just might do a Google search and find their way to my blog post... or to someone who links to my blog post, and so on.

I get emails every day from people using the materials I have published online to answer their scholarly questions, even though most of the people who send me those emails are not scholars themselves. Still, they have scholarly questions, and I am really glad when my websites and blogs can help them find answers to their scholarly questions, even though they do not have access to the scholarly tools, like JSTOR and university libraries, that academics are able to take for granted.

So, that's why I blog: it's based on an endless optimism about inquiring minds, and the ability of the Internet to let inquiring minds find one another in virtual space.

Plus, it's FUN. :-)

3 comments:

  1. I lived in Florence many years ago for a while. Thanks for summoning this lovely image.

    I'm glad to find this blog, with its admirable vision of knowledge and access to it. Cui bono is learning, locked away in books and journals under JSTOR's watchful eye?

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  2. thanks so much for your comment, Tom! with a Latin proverb even!!! (I am a Latin proverb maven in my other blogging adventures... AudioLatinProverbs. And lucky man to have LIVED in Florence. If I were living in Florence instead of Norman Oklahoma, I would no doubt be blogging less and exploring the real world more, instead of prowling the virtual world. :-)

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  3. Ah, Laura, I do understand - the rest of us now have a reason to be grateful for Norman OK!

    My Latin is very rusty - glad to know of your blog. There's a bit of the mother tongue on another of my adventures.

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