I often catch myself with an uneasy feeling when people talk (write) nicely about my weblog and treat me as an expert as a result of what I write here. Of course, it feels nice and rewarding, but it’s uneasy: sometimes while writing another “struggling with PhD” or “raw thinking in progress” post I really wonder why I still have all those smart people subscribing to my feed.
It’s difficult issue to talk about: I don’t want to get compliments or try to be too modest or something like that. It’s not that I think that my ideas are worth nothing or that I have nothing interesting to say – I don’t think I’m a novice in the areas I write about, but there is something uneasy in putting my own self-image next to how (I think based on the feedback I get) others perceive me.
Last week, while talking about those things between all other topics with Stephanie and Jill I’ve got one step further, realising that I actually wrote about it before and that I have conceptual categories to think about it. When I worked with Andrea on a book chapter (will post a version online very soon) co-constructing a story of our relationship we discovered exactly the same asymmetry of perceptions:
At the beginning of the relationship Andrea’s comments were carefully shaped, indicating respect of Lilia’s position (‘a proper researcher’, not a ‘mere student’), experience in blogging and assumed expertise. For Lilia this degree of ‘being treated as an expert’ felt strange.
Reflecting on this difference we found it useful to distinguish between writing as knowing and writing as learning.
Our experiences with written (especially academic) texts taught us to perceive them as a representation of authority and expertise of their authors: writing on a topic as an indicator of confident knowledge about it. For Andrea reading Lilia’s blog posts about online research shaped an image of her as an expert on the topic; Lilia had the same (but not explicitly expressed) respect for Andrea’s knowledge of ethnography.
However, our own self-images did not correspond to these perceptions: we were still exploring the respective fields using weblogs to documenting those learning experiences. Blogging as learning, very formative, uncertain and in-progress was perceived as blogging as knowing – summative and confident.
For me my weblog is a learning diary – things that appear here are pretty much thinking in progress and me-who-writes-this-weblog is a struggling PhD researcher, who has more questions than answers. It seems that me-whom-people-imagine-while-reading is a bit more of an knowledgeable expert, confident enough to present even unfinished ideas to the world. Of course, I’m a bit of both – in offline world I would adopt different roles (identities?) while discussing specific difficulties of data analysis with my mentor or while presenting finished piece of research at a conference.
It’s just uneasy and interesting to look how the way (I think) I present myself in my weblog is different from how (I think) others perceive me while reading it – I haven’t experienced much of it offline…
Archived version of this entry is available at http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2006/08/28.html#a1822; comments are here.