The reluctant blogger

It seems like my question “to blog or not to blog” on Moodle created a fair bit of discussion. There seemed to be a 50/50 split between my fellow students on whether they embraced the blogosphere or not.

Now, I like to think I’m not a Luddite. After all I do have an O-grade in Computer Studies, gained in 1984. This was the very first year that the subject was offered as an exam option in Scottish schools. I learned Basic, watched in awe as my teacher booked a flight by connecting computer via a phone in an acoustic coupler and wrote an essay on an election simulation program that  I had to load up from cassette tape each time. And at home my brother had the classic Sinclair ZX81 which had to be connected to the TV.

At university for my first degree, (1986-1990) I quickly mastered the library’s fancy new computer catalogue, searching for and reserving books through it. However, all essays were still handwritten at that time – copying and pasting was literal. I would end up assembling a rough-cut by cutting up various drafts and sticking them together with sellotape. Then I had to make a clean copy, with any errors corrected via Tipex. Mmmm, love that smell – solvent abuse!

But my final long essay in Social Anthropology had to be printed out and bound, which meant evenings in the computer lab. I seem to remember that there were about 10 computers available, though I think the science departments had more available for their students. And the essay was printed off in that lovely green stripey paper with holes down the side.

Then it was on to a career as a subtitler with the BBC (1994). In the early days, we saved our unfinished files on standard floppy discs. We were all given a little box that stored about 10 discs, because none of the computers was networked so the only way to ensure you could access your work from a previous day if you were at a different computer was to save it to disc and carry it around. Even better was the format used to transmit the subtitles – 8-inch floppy discs! And the delivery mechanism? Physically handing them to the playout team. For late delivering programmes, we had to run down Wood Lane from the White City building to TV Centre. Since Wood Lane was a bit dodgy in those days, we were all issued rape alarms to carry with us. There was much rejoicing when the computers were finally networked and we could deliver our subtitle files that way.

Around this time, probably about 1996, a bunch of us at work realised while digging around on the shared drives that there appeared to be an application called Netscape that let us access the internet. We weren’t supposed to use it – it had been reserved for our managers – but once we had found it, there was no going back. One unforeseen consequence of this was our use of the BBC’s own library services dropped off sharply. No longer were we asking them to fax through sheet music when we couldn’t hear the lyrics of a song, we were looking it up online. Along with John Birt’s system of internal charging, where we had to pay for each of our enquiries to the library, this had a huge impact on the library. (Side note – the spellcheck on WordPress just tried to change fax to facts. How quickly technology becomes obsolete!)

Soon after, e-mail was introduced at work, and after we had all been sent on a one-day course in how to use it, it was goodbye to paper memos in our pigeon-holes. And the same time, I bought my first home computer – cost around £1,500, took me three years to pay-off and probably had about as much computing power as the most basic mobile phone these days. I e-mailed friends in the US, wrote on message boards about my favourite TV shows and used ICQ to talk to someone in Canada who happened to share my surname.

So after that enormously long pre-amble, I should come back to the question of why I’ve never embraced blogging. It’s certainly not through a fear of technology – I enthusiastically embrace Facebook and Twitter.

Using “real-life” analogies, I suppose I see Facebook as an interactive version of the Christmas round robin letter, sending out updates on my life to my friends, whether they want them or not.

My use of Twitter it is an odd mix of entertainment and politics. I first seriously started Tweeting when there was a movement to pressure News Of The World advertisers via Twitter to withdraw their support after the phone hacking revelations. And my next big tweet attack was during the riots of 2011. As we watched Reeve’s Corner in Croydon burn on TV, the twittersphere was full of rumours that Mitcham (where I live) was also erupting. Except it wasn’t, and some responsible tweeters were posting photos of an empty town centre to show that nothing was kicking off. I added to the tweets myself to pass on and strengthen the message that the riots hadn’t spread to us.

The other part of Twitter I love is watching something on TV and reading the Twitter reaction at the same time. A big part of my memory of watching the Olympics opening ceremony is the Twitter reaction – the shared love for the NHS and the lightning quick slap-downs of MP Aidan Burley.  And for me, watching Strictly or Bake-off without Twitter is like a meal without salt.

So why am I ambivalent about blogging? I wonder if it’s just not as much a good match for to my personality. Already reading this back, I think to myself, God, I must be boring the pants off most of the readers. (If anyone is reading this to begin with.) Who wants to read this stuff?

Maybe I’m too tied up in the idea of a blog being an online diary and I’ve never been a diarist. A few teenage attempts died off after about 10 days in all cases. Laziness or just an unwillingness to embrace introspection?

Maybe it’s self-censoring – do I want my innermost thoughts to be visible online? And if I’m thinking this but still blog, how accurate is the blog? We all have an online personality that to a lesser or greater degree isn’t our “real-life” personality. If I’m always thinking about who might be reading this, does it just become a fiction?

Maybe I think I don’t particularly have anything new to add. I had pondered a blog about my foraging, jam and wine making and baking, but do any search and you can find numerous blogs covering the same subjects already. Why repeat what someone else is already saying? I think back to many meetings I sat through at work, where one person would inevitably talk for the sake of being seen to talk. They didn’t add anything of use or interest to the meeting and just stopped me getting back to doing my work.

Will a blog help my studying? Again, I don’t know that it suits my style of learning. It would be interesting to see the reactions of my fellow students to the course as it progresses, but if each of us has a blog, how will I be able to keep up with 30+ blogs plus all the other reading? Isn’t this what Moodle is for? But I suspect that Ernesto has something up his sleeve to address this. A shared blog may be the way forward.

Will I have to blog in my new career? It’s highly likely, and I have no problem learning how to do it.

I keep getting back to the idea that it’s horses for courses – everyone has their own personality and everyone embraces technology to the degree they feel comfortable. Web 2.0 is lovely box of chocolates, with lots of choices, but for me at the moment, blogging is the coffee cream. I’ll eat it if there’s nothing left, but I’d rather have a hazelnut truffle.