In a very real sense, blogging is good for your memory. It’s a shame that not more people know this, but I intend to make that point clear here. There’s an old adage that if you want to master something, you should teach it. Obviously teaching something doesn’t automatically make you an expert, but the fact of the matter is that in order to competently teach something, you must know it well. This is why many students study better when they know they have an upcoming test, and why science bloggers (if they’re competent) know plenty about what they discuss. The medium of blogging forces us to research, or else face the well-deserved scrutiny that comes along with public discourse. For this reason, blogging takes a lot of effort, but as you’ll see, it’s certainly worth it.
One Year on Blogging
Finding the Right Time
I’m not going to try to convince anyone to blog (…though you probably should!) because it’s obviously a big decision/commitment. I will, however, give insight into my experience and explain why I think blogging is now a very important part of my life. And I’m sure it’s not for the reason you’re thinking of.
While it’s true that Skeptikai turned 1 year old about a week ago, the first blog post I ever wrote was published a year ago today. Since then, I haven’t necessarily changed my research process, but I’m gradually cutting down the time it takes me to write. And with over several hundred article ideas on the horizon (indeed, I made a list; it is colossal) I’m sometimes worried whether or not I’m waiting too long to publish an article.
For example, I basically finished preparing the research for a killer article on studies that show how stereotype threat accounts for women’s lower math scores, when suddenly a few days ago, it was found that methodological flaws in prior research undermined those findings. I admit I completely believed in stereotype threat as an explanation, and I’m still not over my surprise. (If you’re really curious as to what I’m talking about, you can get an explanation from the main author of this new research here)
However, for the most part, the world turns in such a way that makes even the oldest of stories relevant again. For example, I’ve been meaning to write about the double-standard of domestic abuse, but I didn’t know what would be an appropriate time. Then I saw the sexist hypocrisy spewed on “The Talk,” and it became timely. I was also keeping a mass of great sources for an unapologetically scathing article on Dr. Oz, when I heard that Steven Novella would appear on his show; so I finished up the article and published it on the day of his TV appearance.
My point is that the information you amass and the knowledge you acquire won’t be wasted if you can use it in a way that’s relevant. And I keep finding that things tend to become relevant again if you wait long enough.
The Blogger’s Life
Obviously blogging isn’t for everyone. So who blogs, anyways? According to 2007 research from the University of Alabama:
“The results of two studies indicate that people who are high in openness to new experience and high in neuroticism are likely to be bloggers. Additionally, the neuroticism relationship was moderated by gender indicating that women who are high in neuroticism are more likely to be bloggers as compared to those low in neuroticism whereas there was no difference for men.”
Let me just say that I have reservations about this study, because they use what’s known as “The Big Five.” Every psychology graduate knows about these personality traits, and most of them use them quite seriously. But I don’t like the Big Five in general, and depending on what’s being researched, I don’t think it’s helpful at all (maybe I’ll have to write about it sometime).
The five traits are: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. So as “open to new experiences” and “neurotic” as bloggers may be, the researchers were really only looking at these five traits. Perhaps results would be different if it included “willingness to sit at a computer for hours on end,” which I surmise – with an undeserved sense of confidence – would be rated quite high. Nevertheless, I’m sure some would argue openness + neuroticism fits my description (though, come on, who’s not a little open and neurotic from time to time?).
Many people now think that blogging is a very important aspect of our now technologically intertwined world. In 2009, researcher Carlo Scannella wrote an interesting paper called “Virtual Memory: The blog as a technological prosthetic,” in which he said:
As the political impact of blogs in the real world have made clear, there is a potential embedded within the blogosphere, a new kind of hyper‐politics made possible because of the blogger’s virtuality. Life as a blogger, then, requires living virtually. It is a life not of physicality but of virtuality – of space, not place.
Well I don’t want to get too philosophical, but I would prefer to add “time” in there as well. The life of the blogger entails a virtual world of space and time.
The Memory of Blogging
Scannella also wrote elegantly about the connections in which a blogger finds him/herself:
Both the medium and social practices are essential components – without the medium, without the website itself, the blog’s community has no sense of place. Without conversational social relations, there is no basis for community.
There is, in fact, an orality to blogging, an orality that recalls the manner in which non‐literate cultures rely on speech for their existence. It is a form of speech, though, that is not ephemeral, but permanent and instantly retrievable, and, in this manner, the blog provides a space to create for its users a collective memory.
The blog’s shared memory system defines the blogger’s very being, as the stored database of conversations and comments is needed to accumulate knowledge, build reputation and trust, and maintain identity. Without this collective memory, then, the blogger does not exist.
If you read my article on 100+ Japanese students seeing Black Friday and Boxing Day for the first time, you’ll know that some of my articles (or at least portions of them) are informed by events in the real world. For that article, I surveyed students from a senior high school in Kanto, and I translated many of the responses and discussed them. My article on Flower Essence, which I wrote after a colleague of mine asked me to investigate it, is another example. But what non-bloggers probably fail to realize is that the opposite is more often the case.
The research I do for my blogs inform much of the information I use when I educate people in person. In fact, by the time I actually want to pull up an argument, I have most of what I need already researched for me and put the way I like it (because I wrote it; and obviously I wouldn’t publish it if I was unsatisfied). So if I were to, say, become a professor, I would have the background already researched if it’s a topic I intend to discuss. I would therefore only need to look up updates that may have happened since my Skeptikai article.
People don’t realize how astonishingly beneficial this is, but it’s a reality that I have experienced many times already. So when Scannella talks about memory, he’s not just referring to a whimsical metaphor. Based on the number of my own articles I have already cited above, you can tell that I have created a network of information, which I use effectively. And I’m not talking about using it effectively to make arguments, but to simply remember what I have learnt. I’m one of those people who have a relatively bad memory, so it helps to see the words I painstakingly chose (as is often the case) with the links I remember investigating. This is why we can call blogging a technological prosthesis, as Scannella does:
It is important to note this prosthesis of memory – the comments that exist within the blog’s database – is not an “archive,” a set of data called upon intermittently, but something much more alive, something that requires con‐ stant engaging. As Andreas Huyssen (1995) has remarked, the “past is not simply there in memory, but it must be articulated to become memory” (p. 3). For the blogger, this articulation is a proactive process – as the blogger speaks in hypertextual conversations, the construction of links requires frequent navigation through the blog’s database.
[…] The blogger exists in bits and atoms, that is, both virtually and in real life. The blogger forms online social relations, friendships, and connections with others – these create memories, both perceptively, in episodic memory, and virtually, in the cyborg memory of the blog. The latter, though, is distinctly different from the former. Virtual memory, cyborg memory, is perfect memory – permanent, instantly retrievable, indefinitely recallable, a model for the type of memory we are creating in the digital age.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “perfect memory,” but it is definitely useful for us mere mortals.
The Bottom Line
Most people know the basic benefits of blogging – you can make more connections, you can become part of a community, etc. But non-bloggers don’t usually think about the less obvious benefits, which include, as I have expressed above, the fact that this record of information can be like a prosthetic memory. A public and external store of memetic information that can be used not only to spread the word but to keep it alive.
There are of course many benefits to blogging that I haven’t mentioned, including the fact that a blog is a great way to not only force you to learn, but to demonstrate the extent to which you have done so. But more than anything, one of the best things about blogging is that it is a way to express your thoughts and feelings. That doesn’t mean writing about your personal life – I don’t blog about mine – but the articles a blogger creates are automatically imbued with the ideas and mental subscriptions to which they adhere. That means that blogging is not just an exploration of the world, but of oneself.
It’s no wonder so many people spend this much time doing it.