Bloggers Block: a philosophical argument

The topic this week in #etmooc is “Connected Learning’. We have been asked to consider ideas around openness, privacy and vulnerability in our online interactions.

In formulating my response to this question, I was prompted by a tweet earlier this week from Maria Popova @brainpicker foucault

Michael Foucault was a French philosopher and contemporary of Jean-Paul Sartre. They each had different views about how being under constant surveillance affected members of societies.   Although their opposing views were based on pre-MOOC societies, they can still be applied to our online behaviour.

Foucault was influenced by Jeremy Bentham‘s Panopticon, a building designed to ensure that inmates are kept under constant, unobserved surveillance.  It is implied that the ‘watchers’ are in a position of power (think CCTV).  Foucault argued that this type of surveillance suppresses freedom of action, causing the ‘observed’ to behave in an ‘acceptable’ way as ordained by the authority figure(s).

On the other hand, Sartre’s view was that if we think we are being observed by others, we put ourselves in the ‘watcher’s’ position, and therefore are actually observing ourselves.  Sartre started to develop his philosophy of existentialism during the German occupation of France during World War II.  “We were never so free….As when we were constantly watched, every gesture we made became a commitment

And where do I stand on all this?   I have no problem posting to Twitter. Indeed, I think that it is the sheer volume of  voices in the Twitter Panopticon that makes me feel safe.  Although I am careful to act within the norms of that community, any transgression I make is likely to pass under the eyes of the ‘camera’.

However, when I put my thoughts down in a blog post I am making much more of a commitment, and here I most definitely put myself in the position of Sartre’s observer of the self.  In fact, although there is a Preview button here in the draft version of WordPress, it is only after I have pressed ‘Publish’ that I feel able to critique and correct what I have written, [I hope you are not reading this too soon after I have pressed the button!], and a typical blog post will take me hours, even days to write.

Where do you stand on this? Who is watching you, Foucault or Sartre?


11 thoughts on “Bloggers Block: a philosophical argument

  1. I am really impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your blog.
    Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself?
    Anyway keep up the nice quality writing,
    it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one nowadays.

  2. Hi, Debseed I like your questions. Questions are better ways to go on than facts. Sartre and Foucault did not mind writing and publishing, they just did. Foucault did look for means to fight power that want to discipline the common people. Do not let the powers withheld you from blogging.
    Sartre did celebrate independency and originality of the individual, be independent and blog independent and without fear.
    Blogging is social, commenting on blogs, asking questions, writing as a response on a twitter message or a couple of blogs is a fine way of moocing.
    (is Debseed your name or is it the name of the blog?)
    Thanks, happy etmoocing.

    1. Thanks Jaap. The problem is that I am not sure who the ‘power’ is that is preventing me from blogging. My tweets are always fairly innocuous and lighthearted so don’t really show any depth of my character. It is only when I want to write something more serious that I get stuck, although I’m fine with academic writing. But then I know who my audience is, and so can select an appropriate ‘voice’. When I’m writing a blog post about something that I have thought deeply, it needs to sit between my Twitter voice and my academic voice, which is in fact, probably approaching the authentic me, and that is Debs Seed, Deb Seed or Deborah. No wonder I can’t find the right voice, I’m not even sure of my name!

  3. Thank you for your post. I have started to share my reflections through blogging. I, too, have grappled with putting my thoughts out there. I think you’re right. Writing a blog post is more of a commitment than sharing tweets. For me, I think Sartre was onto something. Opening up, sharing through writing in a longer format (more than 140 characters) provides me with an opportunity for deeper reflection.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jennie. I’m sure we are not alone in our struggle! I’ve had the same problem whenever I’ve started to write a diary, which by its nature would never be read by anybody else. It is exactly the same feeling I get when trying to write a blog post, so its definitely something to do with the Sartre’s philosophy of consciousness: http://www.mwelzel.de/sartrebeing/ I’m going to be having a bit of read, I might be some time…

  4. The more I participate in this type of connected learning, the more I feel the gaps in my own educational experience. And this is one of them: When we really scratch beneath the surface of some of the questions we MOOCers seem to get at, we land in the laps of the philosophers. (I actually am most reminded of this by my two adult sons). So thank you for opening this line of thought (and for Alison Seaman for pointing me here).

    To answer your question. The more I participate, the more I see myself nudging toward Sartre. Maybe it’s less about my digital presence and more about my age/maturity. But I think not. I think there is something about connected learning that — once embraced — really allows you to observe yourself in the act of finding freedom.

    1. You might have struck a chord there, Jeff when you mention the gaps in your educational experience. I’m not sure what your gaps are, but I have returned to education as a vocational teacher and as a student many years after leaving school with results too embarrassing to reveal. I am now studying for a masters degree and love it all: the reading, the research and the writing.

      However, perhaps it is that I am not yet confident in expressing my views outside of the rigors of an academic essay. Hopefully, I will gain that confidence by more blog posts about ‘serious’ issues that interest me. Then I will find my authentic voice, and yes, I imagine that would give a wonderful sense of freedom.

  5. Blogs are the perfect place to put down ideas. Write a little, ave the draft, write some more, save again, etc. There’s no real way of doing this on Twitter. We can spout off on a blog, sure. It it also a place to organize thoughts. What about using something like Evernote to keep future blog posts. This might feel safer.

    1. Hi Michael,

      I’d argue for riding the wave of these half-formed ideas rather than hiding it, though I can certainly understand the impulse to hide it away in an Evernote (I have done it myself). It’s from these places where interesting things often come, though—your thought reminds me of something, I respond with my insights… and it goes from there. We just have to take that leap of faith for it to happen.

      My question: What kind of effort/thinking/environment/something does it take to put ourselves out there? Is it a matter of trust?

    2. Unfortunately, writing in something other than a blog post wouldn’t work. In my reply to Jennie I mentioned that I have exactly the same feeling whenever I’ve tried to write an off-line diary. It’s definitely something to do with Sartre’s existentialist philosophy, and I would like to read more around this.

      For example, from: http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/sartre/themes.html

      “This difficult paradox—that one is responsible for one’s own consciousness, even though that consciousness is never quite graspable, since it is based on nothingness—goes to the heart of Sartre’s existentialism and is crucial to his conceptions of human freedom and moral responsibility”

      I wonder if anybody can recommend any other readings: Dummies guide to…… would be a good starting point.

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