The Future 5000

The Future 5000

This post has one aim: to explore what I want to do with this blog, going forward.

This is a bit of metablogging, then—blogging about blogging. There’s a good chance none of this will interest you much; I won’t be offended if you click away…

I’ve used my blog to host a variety of different kinds of posts over the years, and I’ve never really limited the direction and scope, other than to say that this is my “research blog,” a way of differentiating what I post here from what I post (or might post) in other, especially shorter-form venues.

Two things have led to this particular post, however: 1. I haven’t blogged much this year, and 2. I haven’t been inspired to blog much this year.

Truth be told, I’ve been less inspired to publicly post much of anything, especially in the last few months. This may come as a shock to some who know me well, considering I have some 14,000 tweets, a few thousand Flickr photos (many of which are private, though), and I’m a fairly regular Instagram user/poster. But in reality, I tweet far less than I used to, I’ve never been on Facebook, I’ve essentially abandoned Pinterest, I never really got into Google+, Meme is dead, and Flickr is mostly for my family and very close friends.

For a while, I thought that I’d found a sweet spot with a shorter form blog, Notemaking, where I’d post more frequently about interesting current issues as a way of publicly thinking through items of potential research/practice interest. But really, that fell flat for two reasons: 1. I didn’t always feel like posting, especially when most of my time is far better spent working on (and writing for) my research program and working on teaching-related concerns; and 2. who the hell cares what I think about such things anyway? There are many awesome folks out there who maintain frequently updated short-form blogs; I’d rather read them than me, too.

One of the things I really admire about Clay Spinuzzi’s blog is the way that he shares his thoughts on scholarly research through his frequent reviews. I write annotations now (over 100 in the last year), and I’ve played around with formatting and posting some of them to the blog. But after writing many, many more annotations in DEVONthink than I actually posted to my blog, I realized that I likely read and annotate very differently than Clay, and so posting my annotations to my blog—even in revised form—just doesn’t accomplish the same thing that his excellent reviews do.

Moreover, my annotations are my annotations, and while I’ve long been a proponent of public sharing, my research notes don’t translate well to broader dissemination. I like keeping them in DEVONthink and using them the way that I do.

But this is all preamble to the aim I described above: what should this blog be, and how do I want to use it?

I’ve figured a lot of things out in the last couple of years. It took me a while to develop practices and routines that work for me as a professional academic. By no means do I have everything figured out, but I think I’ve got things pretty well sorted in terms of having a clearly articulated research program and well-defined practices for accomplishing things to push that program forward.

I certainly didn’t know what I was doing when I finished my PhD and took my first academic appointment in 2009. I didn’t really know what I was doing, actually, until sometime in 2011. Yes, I was still productive, and yes I did some things really well, but I didn’t have things really nailed down. There was a disconnect in many of the moving parts of my everyday practice.

Today, there are still a lot of moving parts in my everyday practice, but now I know how they are related; now I know what the effects are when I pull one string—how that act impacts the other strings to which it is connected. I come to work, and I know what the hell it is I’m doing. I don’t worry about what I should be doing, or what might happen in two months. I already know, because I’ve developed a research program rather than a research agenda; the program has tightly articulated, interrelated components rather than a series of projects that may or may not be related.

This is really important context for describing what I do with this blog, believe it or not.

You see, I’m not posting here much because this particular string is not really attached to the web of other things I’m working on. The future of the blog, therefore, will be literally and figuratively tied to the other strings in my professional web. And it will carry posts that are differentiated in important (and hopefully worthwhile) ways from the many excellent blogs run by my disciplinary colleagues.

I still reserve the right to post whatever I want here—I don’t want to limit this outlet and say “it’s only about x, y, and z.” However, I do envision a more coherent focus, for at least the medium term (let’s say 18–24 months—probably a bit longer, but we’ll go with that for now).

I’m not changing the title, I’m not developing some new, kitschy theme, and I’m not looking to carve out some niche. Hell, I don’t even care anymore about pageviews and such.

Instead, I’m going to post things here that relate more meaningfully to my research program—to current projects, to completed studies, to forthcoming work, to failed projects, to dreamed about projects, to the “b-sides” of published work.

Throughout my academic career, I’ve focused primarily on the everyday work, learning, and play of professionals and students. And beginning with my earliest published work, I’ve been a proponent of empirical visual research methods—even when I was too naive to know that this was a credible and well-established research methodology in the social sciences.

Many folks in my field work with, in, and through visual rhetorics. Comparatively few use empirical visual research methods (VRM) as a key form of inquiry. I do, and I’m working on new ways of tracing and studying writing and rhetorical work by using such strategies—visual ethnography in particular.

Going forward, my posts here will likely have more to do with VRM than other kinds of posts. That also means more visual content.

If you read this, thanks for thinking along with me!


Anonymous said...

Brian, this was very helpful for me to read as a Ph.D. candidate in the final year. In some ways, we're expected to be "finished products," but the reality is that we're really not. Thanks for sharing and for reminding me that we all continue to evolve as academics.

Brian J. McNely said...

Thanks, Ashley! Nowhere near finished products, by and large.

I have something in mind for early career academics—say ABD through year 5 of the tenure-track or so—that I hope to put together in the near future. It will be kind of like Silvia's _How to Write a Lot_ but targeted at folks in the humanities and social sciences who are looking at how to establish the practices of _being_ a professional academic (which includes writing, of course).

I was lucky in that I worked in finance for 9 years, 7 of which were in management and oversight. Many early career academics have no idea how to build and establish daily practices during and after the PhD, and I know of no strong resource that addresses this. Heck, even with my professional background, it still took me a long time to figure out how this gig works.

Not sure yet how I'll distribute something like this, but I've been thinking about a lot recently.

Unknown said...

I reserve the right to complain, loudly and often, about the direction that you've taken in this space!

Seriously, though, I'm with you on Clay's blog--it's wonderful, but every time I wish I could be more like him, I have to remind myself that my life/work/brain is just set up differently. Not better or worse.

It's nice to hear you thinking out loud about this stuff. As you say, I don't think we get a lot of guidance about how to be academics, and online spaces make it more complicated to think about.


Collin said...

Gah, I hate being "Unknown." Was/is me.


Brian J. McNely said...

Thanks, Collin!

Even with workshops and mentoring, my sense is that most academics have some difficulty in professionalizing. I would guess that quite a few contested tenure cases may be traced to this general problem—folks not really "figuring it out" until it was too late.

We all know, leaving grad school, that we need to write. I don't recall anyone, anywhere telling me "you need to *read*." I read so much in grad school, but it took me a year or so to realize that, in the scheme of things, I'd read almost *nothing*. Sadly, I think some folks never come to this realization.

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