Sunday, February 26, 2006

Honesty and Policy

When you get asked a question over and over, eventually you come up with a solid, slightly snide, answer.... I had a friend whose birthday was April 1st, and ever year she walked around on her birthday with a checklist of the various jokes people invariably made (there were about seven, if memory serves). When someone said something, she'd pull out the list and check it off...

True story:
Scene: A coffee shop, early morning.
Customer: What did you study at LSU?
Barrista: Not much. That's why I'm here.
Another true story
(Found near the cash register of Bongo Billy's Cafe, Salida Colorado): "Unaccompanied children will be given an espresso and a free puppy!"
Similarly, another outbreak of academic metablogging has spawned, finally, a meme, "Inspired, of course, by the discussions about Jeff Rice's piece over at NewKid's and Dr. Crazy's." about pseudonymous academic blogging! The answers are a bit more complicated for me, because I don't actually do academic blogging under a pseudonym; that I do under my own name.

Is your blogging persona more serious than your real life persona?
No. Just as I have a professional life and a personal life, I have a professional blog and a decidedly unprofessional blog. Yeah, this one.

Do you think the only safe way an academic can write publicly is to write anonymously?
Of course not. But that's not the right question. The proper question is "Do you think an untenured academic can safely write honestly about academia without the cloak of anonymity?" Not really, is the answer. I've been known to do it anyway, but I never said it was smart.

Do you think that your blog could ruin your career?
Not as long as I recognize that
a. My pseudonym is pretty leaky, as cloaks of anonymity go
b. No matter how good my professional blogging is, the publication-teaching-service game must be played.
c. the danger of having two online identities is getting them confused...

Do you use a pseudonym out of fear?
Not fear as much as a desire to have an unprofessional public life which doesn't interfere with my professional one.

What is the biggest drawback to writing pseudonymously?
Not being able to argue from authority. (note: that doesn't actually work all that well even under my own name, due to the equalizing effect of online discourses)
Keeping track of who knows and who doesn't, and trying to avoid posting under both names in the same place.

Has anyone stumbled on your blog and found it accidentally?
If you mean, has anyone stumbled on it and figured out who I was, the answer is yes, but not in a while. When I first started doing this blog I was much less savvy about what I needed to do to anonymize, so I left some seriously obvious traces in the first few months. I've cleaned up most of them.

What would happen if an administrator at my college discovered my blog?
[added, when I found it on profgrrrl's meme via k8's roundup]
Since I don't write about academic things here, I don't think they'd care. I'm more concerned that colleagues would find this and use it to downplay my serious blogging (which, they've repeatedly told me, is nice but doesn't count for squat, professionally) or that students would feel uncomfortable with "knowing too much" about me. Let's face it, academia is more about persona than we ever admit...

Have you outed yourself to any other bloggers?
A few times. Once to make sure I didn't get counted as two people; once to give some advice and encouragement to another blogger doing high-quality work. I've never deliberately confused the issue (put false information here, or directly disavowed being Ahistoricality), either, though I have at times interacted with certain bloggers under both identities without revealing them, for different reasons.

Has your blog allowed you to experiment with writing?
I don't really "experiment" with writing; that's a literary thing, I think. I have used the blogs to build relationships, to share information, to catalog things of interest to me, to present my point of view to an amorphous but growing audience. It has made me more aware of the virtues of brevity, and better at getting to the point quickly, I think. It has made me more aware of the way in which my even more computer-oriented students read....

Why do you use a pseudonym?
Seriously, I'm not embarassed by what I write as Ahistoricality, but I don't want it to be my professional identity, either. This blog was created after I was already blogging under my own name, as a repository for stuff I couldn't, in good conscience, do in a professional blogging setting. It's become more than that, which is interesting.

I've been commenting more on academic blogs under this name, as a way of saying a few more of the honest things. I do appreciate what pseudonymous academic bloggers do, by way of forcing issues into the open. I wish more of our senior colleagues understood the issues, would take them up themselves. But eventually, we will be the senior colleagues....

No comments: