Blog, Blog, Blog . . .
Rochester students are discovering that the latest form of online expression—Weblogs, or “blogs”—can be an intriguing and thought-provoking way to talk about themselves, their lives, and their interests. By Jenny Leonard. Photography by Elizabeth Torgerson-Lamark.
Monday, March 1, 2004
I’ve just finished reading the most incredible book. I feel inspired, not to mentioned wired after two cups of espresso, and I’ve got to tell everyone I know all about it. So what do I do???
Posted by Jenny | 11:43 p.m.
While blog writing tends to be personal and relaxed, many within the academic world think this new form of communication may spell a renaissance of sorts for writing and offer a new and effective tool for empowering students to become better writers. [More]
Welcome to the world of blogging. In this electronic room of your own, it’s perfectly fine to ramble, reflect, rage, recollect, and regress with or without focus, driven by a combined feeling of anxiety and excitement that comes from knowing some other Internet soul may actually stumble upon the blog and read it. This enigmatic act of self-expression is at once private and at the same time unapologetically public.
Dave Poulter ’06 would much rather scribble his emotions in actual ink on actual paper than bang them out on the keyboard. He’d also rather hold a hardbound edition of William Carlos Williams in his hand than search for that little red wheelbarrow online. But the not-so-high-tech musician/poet/marching band enthusiast from Belvidere, Illinois, has found that blogging suits him just fine. In fact, the modern-day Renaissance man is the author and caretaker of two blogs—one a personal journal site, the other a place to post his poetry.
Poulter started blogging during his freshman year after reading a dormmate’s blog.
“It seemed like a really intersteing way to communicate ideas with lots of people at once,” says Poulter.
So the guy who had always penned his thoughts, emotions, and poetical musings in notebooks or on handy scraps of paper, gave the online version a try and found it to be “a mostly wonderful way to share my poetry, ideas, feelings and to get feedback on the stuff I’m writing.”
On the site that Poulter describes as his “main” blog at www.xanga.com/theaphextwin84, he posts poetry and asks visitors not only to read but to post comments and to offer criticisms of his work. Scattered a mong the poems are passionate entries about events and ideas that inspire him to write.
“In some ways, the poetry site is similar to the journal site; they’re both personal,” says Poulter. “I usually provide some context for each poem, what it means to me, what inspired it. The site’s more than just a showcase; it’s a very personal expression of my work.”
On his more traditional (in a blogging sense) site, Poulter shares his personal, private side—at least some of it.
“Whenever I’m writing on the site, I always have in the back of my mind that what I’m saying is going to be made public, that people who know me are going to read it. For me, the blog is nto a confessional. It’s honest and personal but only to a point.”
Those more private, raw, and uncensored thoughts, Poulter says, he still saves for ink and paper.
Aaron Gallant ’05
For Aaron Gallant ’05, a political activist from Corvallis, Oregon, blogging isn’t just about communicating with the world; it’s about changing the world. Or at least, as he pragmatically insists, “putting a dent into it.”
On his blog, The Proletariat Network, Gallant shares his left-leaning views on politics and news. The goal, he says, is to address stories the media has overlooked or covered with what he sees as a right-wing conservative bias.
“I scan news sites such as Google, looking for stories that I think need to be covered in more depth or from an alternative viewpoint,” says Gallant. “I try not to just jump at the main headlines but to look for stories that are interesting. And I usually try to read two or three sources before I write my entries.”
The Proletariat Network, a fairly sophisticated site that Gallant customizes and maintains using Moveable Type blogging software, is actually two blogs in one. Imbedded in the political site is a link to Gallant’s more personal and typical Weblog, Aaron’s Life, which he describes as a “sub-log” about “the sundry details of my life as I choose to tell them.”
Gallant takes great pains to distinguish the two blogs, and his use of the term “sub-log” to describe his online journal is purposefully diminutive. In his opinion, most bloggers writing personal journals tend to ramble without much purpose. Gallant aspires to offer something more noteworthy, thought provoking, and intellectually valuable.
“Blogs have been around in one form or another for awhile, but the buzzword blog is fairly new,” says Gallant. “And frankly, I’m not sure I entirely agree with the way it’s been popularized. I’d say that the vast majority of blogs out there—I know this is going to sound pretentious—but really, most just aren’t worth reading. They’re personal and probably worth reading for a couple of friends, but for everybody else, it’s just not that interesting.”
Gallant, who says he makes a concerted effort to develop a blog that stands out from the crowd, tracks visitor traffic to the site. With hits from people all over the world, he’s proud of the site and the caliber of writing that he posts.
“This is probably the first Web site I’ve had that has somewhat decent visitor traffic—about 100 hits a day, which is more than the typical blog. It is nice that I can write something, put thought and effort into writing it well, and know that it will probably be read by 100 other human beings. That’s kind of cool.”
Arielle (Ari) Freshman ’06
“This is just going to be me logging the random and not so random thoughts that pop into my head at any given time.”
That’s how Ari Freshman ’06 greets visitors to her blog. The percussionist, who blogs almost daily, says she hardly knew what blogging was when she signed up for Being Digital/Digital Writing in spring 2003, a class that she says showed her how to take two things she loves, the Internet and writing, and meld them into a creative new outlet.
Freshman was required to blog five times a week as part of the class. She says it soon became a natural part of her routine. And the more she wrote, the more comfortable she says she became with her writing and with sharing her thoughts and feelings through writing.
“I wasn’t really that familiar with blogging when I signed up for the class, although I’d seen links to blogs on other people’s Instant Messenger profiles. I knew people wrote online; I just didn’t think I'd be one of them,” says Freshman, who grew up in Norwalk, Connecticut. “Blogging suited my style. I can pick anything that interests me and write about it. Now I write just about every day. Blogging makes the process more fun, especially when you know that your friends and other people are reading what you write. I like putting it out there and seeing what kind of responses I get.”
Freshman kept her blog going for several months after the class ended, but she’s decided to create a new site. Her goal is to move away from the structured record of daily events that typified her first site. With the new blog, Freshman hopes to write more passionately about the things that inspire and move her. She even alternates text and background colors for each entry to express her emotional state.
“I want the blog to be about things that I think are cool, things I wish I were doing, updates on topics I feel are important,” says Freshman.
Freshman has blogged about her performances with the University Wind Symphony, about long hours studying, conversations with friends, and her latest passion, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and its soundtracks. Whatever the motivation, Freshman says, it’s great to have a space of her own to share thoughts, be they about the meaning of music or the latest snowfall totals in Rochester.
Ben Heaton ’06
Ben Heaton ’06, a.k.a. Factitious, has taken a less conventional approach to blogging. On his Web site, Factitious.net, Heaton has created an online persona and a place to present his thoughts on life, differential equations, homework, Canadian police stations, photography, and other random bits of eclectic experience as well as a Web comic whose main characters are two gray rocks.
Heaton designed the site using traditional html coding, and he controls the site without the help of blogging software. That allows him to manage the way journal entries are presented and archived and also allows him to present both the blog and the Web comic as well as a forum for discussion.
Heaton began keeping an offline journal when he arrived in Rochester from Palo Alto, California, in September of his freshman year. After meeting fellow hallmates who were blogging, he decided to give it a try and says the transition to an online journal has influenced the way he writes.
“When it’s online, I write with my readers in mind. My parents read it. I don’t put things in there I wouldn’t want them to read. If I had something that personal, I wouldn’ put it on a public Web page. I do write personal things, but there’s a line I try not to cross. In the offline journal, I feel more comfortable writing my uncensored thoughts.”
The site, Heaton says, affords him an interesting space to express the less-visible sides of his personality, from his love of math to his quirky photo comic.
“Often it’s an outlet for my mathematical and sometimes unusual sense of humor,” adds Heaton. “I can offer odd problems, like a differential equation about the rate of my hair growth. These are the types of things that are difficult to express in a conversation with another person. Sometimes something amusing happens, and I want to share it or keep a record for myself. It’s pretty random and eclectic. I think of it as a creative outlet, a place where I can work out some emotions and give my friends and family a glimpse into who I am at that moment.”
While blog writing tends to be personal and relaxed, many within the academic world think this new form of communication may spell a renaissance of sorts for writing and offer a new and effective tool for empowering students to become better writers.
“I definitely see blogging on the rise inside and outside the classroom,” says Deborah Rossen-Knill, dean of freshmen and director of the College Writing Program. “And while some may view this as a negative change, I view it as mostly positive. It gets students writing and reading more, which is a wonderful thing.”
Rossen-Knill says it’s important to think of blogging in two ways—the role it can play in writing and the role it can play in teaching writing.
“For writers, it’s an incredible opportunity to communicate meaningful ideas and feelings to the world,” she says. “It’s a new context with new ways for the writer to define a relationship with the reader.
“For those teaching writing, blogging offers a new arena to explore what it means to write,” says Rossen-Knill. “There have been so many times that I’ve encountered students who have great technical skills and creativity, yet they have a mental block against writing—they don’t think of themselves as writers. Blogging redefines that relationship with writing for many of these students.”
Brandon Barr, a graduate student in the English department and an avid blogger, couldn’t agree more. His Web site www. texturl.net is an active blog/self-promotional site with lots of reader feedback dedicated to the discussion of all things “Internet linguistic,” including Net poetics—poetry designed and written for online presentation. Barr, who has taught several semesters of a College writing course Being Digital/Digital Writing, a class designed to fulfill part of the College writing requirement, decided to incorporate blogging into the class with the hope that it would offer students a new and perhaps more comfortable context to explore writing.
“I think in order to become better writers, students have to write every day, if possible,” says Barr. “After all, if you’re going to learn to ride a unicycle, you have to climb up on it every day, fall off, get scabs on the knees. That’s how you learn.
“In the past, teachers have utilized journal writing to encourage students to write frequently. I think blogging is a better alternative. It empowers students to write for an audience larger than themselves or a professor. Suddenly, they are writing for a wide readership—peers, friends, strangers. It’s not only a place where they can express opinions, thoughts, and feelings, but make those expressions public, which is a powerful way to elevate writing.”
Barr says he saw the proof that his experiment paid off in the change he noticed in students and their attitudes toward class assignments.
“I found that students who blog were much more likely to question the works that we were reading,” he says. “They no longer assumed that the published writer must be the expert. They began to see themselves as writers who can engage in a dialogue and question what they are reading. After all, that is the essence of a University’s goal, to empower students in whatever topic they’re pursuing.”