It all begins with a horrific, overstuffed vision of the edublogosphere as the Land of Empty Calories: Supersize Me meets Blogger. What happens if you consume too many sugary blogs while neglecting more substantial sources of intellectual fiber? Are blogs the equivalent of junk food—i.e. McDialogue? Doug Johnson and Miguel Guhlin hashed over this question of the nutritional merits of blogging a few days ago.
Miguel quotes Doug elaborating on his pithy assertion that "[b]logging is the junk food of writing."
I get these little sugar high intellectual bursts reading
and writing blogs and am still not convinced they are good for me – junk
I really appreciate Doug’s skepticism on this—not to belabor the metaphor, but it seems to be a reaction that’s straight from his gut. Is there something we should distrust in the immediacy of blogging-as-medium, in those little cerebral sugar-jolts we get from discovering a new idea or new voice? He’s on to something that I’ve been trying to put my finger on as well. There’s an urgency and speed to these "intellectual bursts" that reminds me of the old circa-1980 Space Invaders video game. Endless rows of aliens march inexorably down from the top of the screen in a game of doomsday limbo where you can never shoot fast enough or get low enough. And as we rapid-fire ideas back and forth through the blogosphere, I have the nagging feeling we’re not getting. . . deep enough. Will Richardson talks about being stuck:
I’m butting up against some real questions, and the answers I’m finding
in the reading and conversations out there aren’t as satisfying as in
He continues, robustly skeptical that all of this talk is leading us anywhere:
There’s this niggling feeling in my brain somewhere that at the end of
the day, I’m totally missing the point. That for the most part, we’re
all missing the point. That we have to look further outside of our
current frames. That much of the structure we are building those frames
on is flimsy at best, that I’m too willing to pull pieces of the
experience in because they fit and not willing enough to grapple with
those that don’t fit. And that the echo chamber makes it all feel good.
Exactly. . . an echo chamber that reflects back our own voice, only in perfect multi-part harmony. A dull, euphonious, uncritical roar. What could sound better?
I took a passing stab at figuring some of this out in an earlier post, proposing a kitchen vs. living room analogy where blogging represents the informal exchange of ideas—an intellectual kitchen where messiness, mistakes, creativity, and pranks are embraced—and traditional professional journals are like the living room—a place for formal entertaining and discourse. After percolating on this a while, I’m not convinced this analogy gets any closer to what Doug asks us to gut-check. I don’t think it’s entirely about shades of formality, or about balancing sugary blog-fare with good-for-you-but-harder-to-digest reading. It feels like something different and new is going on that we’re not capturing. So let’s dust off another analogy, shall we?
The closest I can come up with is that blogging is like improvisational comedy. Like improv, it relies on a wicked brew of intangible elements. Something is being created that has never existed before, and for which there is no plan, no script, no editing. Neither performers nor audience members know exactly where it’s going. It relies on happy accident coupled with careful listening, absolute attention, and agile response; it relies on performers’ willingness to trust each other, take risks, and, through curveballs, ricochets, and glancing contacts, strike surprising sparks from each other. It relies on their eagerness to fail, the necessary strength and distinctiveness of their individual voices, their willingness to share the spotlight and the credit, their instinct for the synergies that happen through collaboration. Timing is everything. Once a fact is on stage, it’s there; it may be ignored, elaborated, explained away, celebrated, reiterated, transformed, or addressed in a zillion other ways, but it’s out there and won’t disappear. The lines between creators and consumers blur; a piece’s reality is formed by the interactions of everyone in the room. Sometimes, as Will Richardson says, the room is an echo chamber. Sometimes everything clicks and magic happens; but usually it doesn’t. And then the room fills again for another show the next night.
Is this in the ballpark? Maybe, maybe not. I’m still missing a definition of the intangible element. What is the result? What is the elusive thing that’s "written" through this counterintuitive melding of competition and collaboration? If you’re part of an improv troupe, it’s simple: you’re looking for a laugh. Can’t get much more ephemeral and gut-level than that. But if you’re an edu-blogger, what do you want to happen? What are you trying to spark?