Blogging makes me uncomfortable, but it’s a discomfort that interests me. It’s not the discomfort itself I find interesting (especially my own), but the experience of being a self in a public space, the self-consciousness that engenders, and the reflection that provokes on what it’s like to be a conscious self.
When I first started blogging, I didn’t feel self-conscious. I was probably too preoccupied with identifying and pursuing my subject matter. Within the first year, however, the idea of “the self-conscious blogger” started to appear regularly in my private journal. Why am I doing this? Should I be accomplishing something? How much should I care about not accomplishing what I only vaguely perceive as my intention?
Self-consciousness is usually associated with self-presentation: How am I perceived by others? How does that make me feel? I had no interest in blogging about my personal self, i.e., my private life. By the time I’d accumulated a year’s worth of posts, however, I could see that 1) my choice of subject matter revealed my interests and 2) what my interests conveyed was an incomplete picture of how I understood myself.
Externalizing my thoughts in a blog allowed me to see myself. While I didn’t necessarily dislike what I saw, I felt like I’d fenced myself into a small plot of land in an infinitely large garden. All too frequently the flora and fauna looked more interesting on the other side of my voluntarily created fence.
Expectations of the imagined reader
Part of the problem may have been that I was not an expert writing about specialized knowledge. If I had been, I might have been satisfied to limit myself to a well-defined topic. With health as my basic subject matter, I was free to pursue many of my interests. In addition to healthism, healthy lifestyles, personal responsibility for health, and neoliberalism, I wrote about antibiotic resistant bacteria, cosmetic surgery, the pharmaceutical industry, medicalization, overdiagnosis, the doctor/patient relationship, the impact of climate change on health, death, tobacco, inequality, and the social determinants of health. And for most of 2009, I couldn’t very well avoid writing about US health care reform.
Somehow that wasn’t enough. And this is where the self-consciousness came in. To write in public — as in a blog or any other social media — is to be aware of the potential reader. As a writer, I had developed the habit of taking the viewpoint of the reader. This happened to me during a stint as a technical writer in the computer industry, an occupation that requires imagining yourself as a naïve reader who knows zip about what you need to explain.
In my blog, I felt that my accumulated content created an expectation in the reader of what my subject matter would continue to be. This expectation existed solely in my own head, yet I found it constraining. I didn’t feel free to deviate from the imagined expectation of an imaginary reader.
Of course it’s also possible that, over the course of several years, I simply outgrew my initial subject matter. I know my interests change over time and that I have a history of not staying with one career — let alone one set of interests — for very long. (This actually relates to my Chinese horoscope; more on that later.)
Learning in public
What made me most self-conscious about blogging was what I came to call “learning in public.” As I say, I’m not an expert, and yet I live in a culture that places a high value on expertise. I’m an ex-academic, and it’s embarrassing for academics to reveal in their writings – over which they presumably have full control — what they don’t know about the subject they’ve freely chosen to discuss. It elicits a tut-tut.
I’m always interested in new things. I enjoy intellectual stimulation. I wanted to use blogging to learn about new things. I wanted to learn by the very process of writing (a form of active learning). I saw other bloggers I admired summarizing books they’d just read, providing value to both themselves and their readers in the process. I wanted to do that too. But by the time I recognized the constraint I was imposing on myself, such a change felt inconsistent with my sense of the blog – perhaps more accurately, inconsistent with the self I felt I had conveyed.
It’s been over a year ago now since I wrote something that I hoped would clarify my thinking on this (see the next post). I considered posting it on my obscure Tumblr blog, but I wasn’t ready to be even that public on the subject of learning in public.
Now it seems that I am. I started my previous blog in 2008. That’s quite a while ago. I’ve changed. In this new blog, I hope to give myself permission to learn in public to my heart’s content.
Image source: This Good Steward