Who Are You? Weblogs and Academic Identity

Rory Ewins

This is a modified version of a paper presented at the ICE2 symposium on 25 February 2005. The final version is in the journal E-Learning, Volume 2 Number 4 (2005).

Abstract

The weblog format has increasingly been adopted by academics in recent years, both as a teaching tool and to disseminate and discuss their own research interests. Academics are turning to blogs to exchange ideas about their discipline, their wider field, the academy, and beyond. Doing so, however, raises questions about personal identity with implications for life beyond the blog. Academics, because of the public nature of weblogs, the self-reflection encouraged by the form, and their analytical frame of mind, serve as useful case studies in exploring these questions.

This paper explores what it means to have an online identity in the light of works by two commentators on identity in the postmodern world, Madan Sarup and Walter Truett Anderson, and of the author’s own experience of blogging over the past five years. Weblogs, while they afford opportunities for identity construction and reconfiguration, can end up changing their authors’ sense of identity in ways they may not expect.

1. Introduction

People from all walks of life are using weblogs to create a presence for themselves on the Web and to participate in online debate. In recent years the format has increasingly been adopted by academics, both as a teaching tool and to disseminate and discuss their own research interests. Academics are turning to blogs to exchange ideas about their discipline, their wider field, the academy, and beyond. Blogging, however, raises questions about personal identity with implications for life beyond the blog.

Anyone who has written a weblog over an extended period has confronted, consciously or unconsciously, questions of online identity: not simply about what it means to be labelled a “blogger”, but about the role of one’s track-record and accumulated posting history in creating a sense of personal identity. Academics, because of the public nature of weblogs, the self-reflection encouraged by the form, and their analytical frame of mind, serve as useful case studies in exploring these questions.

This paper explores what it means to have an online identity in the light of works by two commentators on identity in the postmodern world, Madan Sarup and Walter Truett Anderson, and of the author’s own experience of blogging over the past five years. Weblogs, while they afford opportunities for identity construction and reconfiguration, can end up changing their authors’ sense of identity in ways they may not expect.

2. What is a Weblog?

Weblogging’s focus on links and commentary is a step towards the realisation of inventor Tim Berners-Lee’s vision for the Web itself:

Our minds hold thousands of ephemeral tentative associations at the same time. To allow group intuition, the Web would have to capture these threads—half-thoughts that arise, without evident rational thought or inference, as we work. ... This all works only if each person makes links as he or she browses, so writing, link creation and browsing must be totally integrated. (2000, p. 218)

In its main sense, the weblog is a format: a website, or part of one, containing a series of entries arranged in reverse-chronological order (or, rarely, chronological order), where each entry is a piece of text, a link, an image, a sound or video file, or a combination of these. Weblog entries are usually time- or date-stamped and arranged so that the most recent appears at the top of the blog’s front page; older entries are archived on separate pages. Blogs often carry comments links allowing reader responses to appear as footnotes to their entries.

The single-author weblog is an ideal format for creating a sense of individual presence on the Web. It allows its author to build up over time an archive of thoughts and writings; when regularly updated, it gives its readers a strong sense of the author’s presence. Weblogs also help create a sense of community among people with similar interests, by facilitating discussion between author and reader, and between authors and other authors. Although the format has been popularly identified in the news media with political punditry, it can be and has been used to cover any topic, including an increasing number of academic themes.

Early academic blogs tended to address Internet-related issues, but many now concentrate on other academic subjects. Examples include:

The attractions of the format for academics are many (Ewins 2003c). Weblogs enable academics to be both author and audience, and to communicate readily with their peers as either or both. Previously, we would read and write books and articles and dissertations, and respond to them in published or unpublished letters, in books and articles of our own, or in conversation at seminars and conferences. Weblogs can provide a single context for all of this activity, increasing the chances of discussion and allowing for greater cross-fertilisation of ideas.

The link-focussed nature of blogs helps academics to make the kinds of intellectual connections we have always striven to make, more efficiently—not just as readers using search engines to unearth new sources, but as writers referring to other sources or past works of our own. The link’s aspects of both footnote and citation lead readers to sources more easily than if they had to look up a footnote, write down a reference, and remember to find it the next time they visit the library.

Giving our thoughts a home online helps them to endure. We have all read books by authors who were long dead, and engaged with their ideas across a gap of years or even centuries; in that respect, books are a more proven medium than the Web. Where the Web has an advantage for today’s academics is in bringing and keeping together a wide range of disparate material, and in conserving snippets of thought that might never be worked up into a book or an article but are still worth recording.

The fact that weblog archives, as they grow over time, contain or link to things we have written in the past is of particular advantage, since so much academic endeavour is concerned with adding to bodies of knowledge and, on a personal level, building a reputation for our own contribution to knowledge. If others can see not only our presence in the sense of a contactable representation of ourselves and what we are saying now, but also what we have said in the past, it is easier for them to get to know us and our thoughts. In effect, everyone has access to our back catalogue.

A weblogging presence facilitates conversations that fall neatly between the real-time of a face-to-face discussion or a phone-call, and the drawn-out conversation of private airmail letters or replies back and forth in the letters page of a journal. We can talk about a subject over a few days—quickly enough that it stays uppermost in our minds—without feeling compelled to reply as soon as the other party has spoken. These discussions can stop and start, with periods of intense discussion broken up by long gaps, while still maintaining the thread of an ongoing discussion about a particular subject by linking back to archives of past comments. Just as significantly, these discussions can span space as well as time in a way not easily replicated offline. It takes a major conference to bring together academics from all over the world, and they can only ever last for a few days; but bringing them together in discussion online is possible at any time.

This “asymmetric conversation” feature of the online environment is often used as a selling point for online teaching. Unless one is studying at a distance or part-time, however, its advantages are often outweighed by the advantages of face-to-face contact. Academics, though, are in a different position to students: our peers, at least in our areas of specialization, are spread around the world, and opportunities to converse with them are sporadic. We do not always have a fixed time and place to meet with colleagues every week to discuss our particular intellectual concerns. The online environment, especially the blogging environment, allows us to regain some of the opportunities for discussion we enjoyed as students.

Because of the relatively recent rise of blogging, academic analysis of the phenomenon has only lately begun appear in print, although more can be found online. Even general books on the subject are relatively recent; Blood (2002), containing background and analysis of blogs alongside instructions on how to set them up, is the most cited and perhaps most thoughtful example.

A pioneering article by Mortensen and Walker (2002) examined the potential of blogs as an academic publication tool at a time when most academic interest had been in their potential for teaching:

There is a considerable amount of popular writing on weblogs, but there is to date no published research on the topic, neither looking upon blogs as an aspect of digital culture, as a media phenomenon nor as a method or a publication tool for researchers. Likewise, not many academics write weblogs yet. (p. 252)

Since its publication, more academics have embraced the research potential of weblogs, creating blogs of their own and treating blogging as a subject of research in its own right. The phenomenon naturally attracts considerable discussion online, with academics discussing it in their own blogs (as do many non-academics), in peer-reviewed papers at such sites as Into the Blogosphere (2004: “the first scholarly collection focused on blog as rhetorical artifact”), and at net-related conferences such as Internet Research 5.0 (Petric 2004; Schaap 2004) and 6.0 (Paulus & Dennen 2005).

3. Identity

While the functional side of blogging is fairly straightforward, at least in its broader features, treating the weblog only as a format or even as an academic publication tool misses something of its essence:

[A blog] doesn’t have the kind of polish and refinement we expect of forms like the Article, the Book, the Movie. A blog is not a carefully constructed TV show; it’s not even an ongoing series, like a soap or a sitcom. A blog is a TV set with the tube ripped out and a real, unpredictable, changeable, attention-wandering, living, breathing person sitting inside it. (Ewins 2002)

This relationship between weblog and author makes blogging one of the more significant activities to have emerged in terms of constructing an online identity. Turkle (1997), one of the first main writers in this field, described how Internet users of the 1980s and early 1990s mixed and matched identities in the environments of e-mail and MUDs, the challenge being how to live as a “multiphrenic” or “protean” self:

Without any principle of coherence, the self spins off in all directions. Multiplicity is not viable if it means shifting among personalities that cannot communicate. Multiplicity is not acceptable if it means being confused to a point of immobility. How can we be multiple and coherent at the same time? (p. 258)

Turkle saw the construction of personal websites, then in their rudimentary stages, as one way of achieving this coherence:

On the Web, the idiom for constructing a “home” identity is to assemble a “home page” of virtual objects that correspond to one’s interests. One constructs a home page by composing or “pasting” on it words, images, and sounds, and by making connections between it and other sites on the Internet or the Web. Like the agents in emergent AI, one’s identity emerges from whom one knows, one’s associations and connections. (p. 258)

Before considering the implications of weblogs for online identity, however, we should consider the changing concept of identity itself. The subject of identity has been a particular focus of postmodernist theorists and commentators, two of whom in particular I have drawn upon here.

Walter Truett Anderson, one of the more prominent American commentators on the postmodern world, comes from a background in political science, which may explain his focus on postmodern worldviews and their effect on action rather than textual deconstruction. His book on identity, The Future of the Self (1998), is a succinct survey of the development of the concept, tracing it from a point before we really thought about “identity” as such, through to the contemporary (postmodern) world.

Once, Anderson argues, the group and one’s role in it shaped every aspect of life; the concept of self carried no capital “S” (pp. 3-12). The modern concept—that one’s identity is fixed, unified, and persists in a coherent, cohesive way throughout one’s life—is one of a defined self (pp. 17-21). This is a view of identity as something handed to you—by God, class, profession (which until recent times was more or less fixed throughout one’s life), and place of residence (also unchanging for most people until relatively recently).

From here, we see a shift to a slightly different perspective: that these defining characteristics might be in tension with one’s “true” identity, one’s “real” self, and that our mission in life is to find that self (pp. 28-30). The postmodern moment is when we realise that this idea of a single true identity is an illusion, and that our selves are constructed: that, in fact, we can construct our own self—or, like the rock star David Bowie or the actor Peter Sellers, our selves. By taking on multiple identities, anyone can become a “multiphrenic” self (a term coined by Kenneth Gergen, cited by Anderson on pp. 37-38); indeed, in a postmodern world saturated by media and social relationships, we have little choice but to do so.

Anderson points to a stage beyond this, however, when one starts to think of identity as a process, a constant reinvention, a coming into being (pp. 42-44). For some, this “post-self” or “no self” moment can be threatening; for others, liberating.

This is one of the key themes of the last, posthumous work by Madan Sarup, Identity, Culture and the Postmodern World (1996):

I want to argue that we do not have a homogeneous identity but that instead we have several contradictory selves. Moreover, I believe that two important features of the human subject are perpetual mobility and incompletion. ... In a sense, identity is a process; it is heterogeneous. (p. xvi)

Sarup was born in India but lived most of his life in England, and his book has much to say on concepts of home and place, Englishness, and the impact of emigration on identity. But of particular relevance to the present discussion are his comments on the relationship between identity and narrative:

We are all ... detectives looking for clues, little pieces of the jigsaw puzzle (stories, memories, photographs) about our parents and our childhood. The story gradually unfolds. But it does not only unfold; to some extent we construct our story, and hence our identity. When we talk about our identity and our life-story, we include some things and exclude others, we stress some things and subordinate others. This process of exclusion, stress and subordination is carried out in the interests of constructing a story of a particular kind. We are always asking: how did that happen? What happened next? (p. 16)

I think Foucault’s remarks about discourse also apply to narratives: in any society, the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organised and redistributed. ... We know very well that we are not free to say anything, that we cannot speak of anything when and where we like, and that just anyone, in short, cannot speak of just anything. ... The stories we tell are often reshaped in/for the public sphere. And then, when these narratives are in the public sphere, they shape us. (p. 18)

Sarup discusses Foucault’s conception of the self in some detail, noting that in his later work, he

conceives of the self as constituted through certain “practices” or techniques which are determined by the social context but are mediated through an active process of self-fashioning by the individual. This reinvention of the self is primarily an aesthetic experience, an “aesthetics of existence”, the principal aim of which is to make one’s life “a work of art”. (p. 88)

These postmodern perspectives on identity are brought to life—in different ways, lived—by webloggers:

Things have changed since I launched [my site]. ... At first I was proud that it was journal-free: it was a home for my art, not for my self. Then, as the line between site and self blurred, I plunged into weblogging, turning my temporarily dramatic life into art in the process. ... But now I find myself caught by the very idea of weblog as public face. ... [I am] more and more aware of how much less of “me” is going into it—of the increasing distance between public face and actual self. (Ewins 2001)

4. Weblogs and Identity

In choosing examples of bloggers’ self-reflective entries to illustrate and develop these themes, I find myself having to step out of my academic voice and into my blogging one—or at least, to quote my own blogging self. As someone who has kept a weblog since May 2000, I have inevitably thought about these matters many times since, and like other long-time bloggers have left a record of those evolving ideas on my site. That record itself forms a rich seam of material, most of it subjective and less formally written than traditional academic work, but all capturing what it felt like to be this particular blogger at those particular points in time.

I could as easily quote examples of entries from the fellow bloggers mentioned previously, or from many others who have reflected publicly on the form and their use of it. An extended dissection of a fellow blogger’s words, however, without giving them the opportunity to see and respond to my comments on an equal footing, would feel like a breach of blogging etiquette. These are people whose work I have followed over years in some cases, and whose work I have commented on and sometimes discussed with them as it was being written, sometimes helping to shape their thoughts (or them mine) through that dialogue. Maintaining objectivity and tracing the originality of ideas to particular authors are both extremely difficult in such an environment.

The approach I have taken, then, is a form of autoethnography (Holt 2003), quoting mostly from my own observations during those five years: though they may not represent every blogger’s point of view, neither are they unique to me alone. (I should note, also, that these selections are drawn from a few entries out of hundreds, most of which contain nothing in the way of reflections on blogging identity.)

Sarup’s suggestion that the construction of identity is the construction of a narrative or story had particular resonance for me:

For me, the blog—or more properly, this whole site—was a way of reinforcing the thread of myself at a precarious time in my life. Because I’ve moved around so much over the years, and particularly in my first year or so of blogging, I found myself replacing connection with a place with connection with a narrative. This was something I’d experienced before with the letters I wrote to family and friends—a constant stream of them to my parents and close friends, and an annual epistle to my wider circle. But the blog took over that role, at least for those aspects of life I felt I could make public.

That isn’t to say that blogging was everything. The places I felt connected to were still there, of course, although geographically remote; and I still had family and friends, and especially my wife, to maintain a sense of continuity. But maintaining the site did help cushion the sense of disjunction you feel when travelling, and especially emigrating. Life became a story with two lead characters and a dazzling array of settings, instead of a story of a single place—home—and the people around you. ...

[Now], the narrative aspect of the blog has all but disappeared; ... more of my stories are shared with others, and aren’t mine alone to tell. More and more things are happening in my life that don’t get mentioned here (although some might be eventually); the blog becomes commentary and observation rather than narrative. In some ways, it’s less satisfying to write; I was close to abandoning it completely in May and returning to updating in a more ad hoc way. I was dissatisfied, I now think, with the unravelling of that narrative thread. (Ewins 2003a)

Diaries or journals can often serve as a form of self-administered therapy, allowing one to work through the issues in one’s life day by day, and can play a significant role in identity formation. In my own case, from my teens to mid-20s, the diary became not only a space for exploring myself but an integral part of my sense of self. Keeping it put me in the company of Samuel Pepys and Adrian Mole, making me different from everyone who didn’t keep one. Even the physical objects of the diaries themselves became like an extension of my “self”; I was always mildly paranoid about losing them in a house fire, which I imagined would feel like losing part of me.

Some of those same feelings have transferred to blogging and the weblog, but there are important differences. I no longer worry that I might lose it, and part of myself in the process, thanks to regular backups—although I have seen bloggers lose everything when a hosting service goes down or a server dies. Their reactions go through all the stages of the grieving process, shock, anger, denial, and eventual acceptance, as they grieve for their lost extension of themselves.

The main difference, however, is that most blogs are public, whereas diaries are private. In some ways, this makes them even more significant in terms of identity formation than a diary. For all but the most disarmingly frank writers, they lose much of the therapeutic aspect—the most personal and private elements—but substitute for them an outward focus that is often missing from a diary. A blogger’s commentary on the world, other websites, other people, other webloggers, helps to define his or her self in relation to the wider environment. A weblog is a public face—a presenting of oneself and one’s thoughts to the world, to an audience, however small (whether a few friends or a few hundred strangers), which significantly changes the nature of its writing and creation.

New blogs often feel diary-like and personal, but that tends to change over time. Day-to-day trivia is the first to go; nobody wants to know what you had for breakfast unless you can turn it into a good story. The stream-of-consciousness writing style also recedes, as bloggers feel compelled to make the connections between thoughts for the benefit of their readers before posting them. An entry or post to some extent has to make sense in isolation: after all, it might be the only one that a particular reader sees, if brought to the site by a search engine or a link on another blog.

In place of the stream of consciousness within posts, the weblog itself becomes the stream—a stream of individual posts, each of them representing a particular moment in time and moment of consciousness. By reading down the page and back through the archives, one can get to know a blogger better—her interests, her personality, her view of the world. Do the same with your own blog, and you can get to know yourself. Rebecca Blood (2000) has said that it was through keeping a blog that she discovered her own interests. Now that blogging software allows categories to be readily assigned to each post, it is easier to see from your accumulated category archives evidence that you aren’t really as interested in, say, fine art as you thought you were, and that you’re more interested in, say, politics—or you can see how your interests have changed from year to year.

There was no more striking example of this than the events of 11 September 2001 and the reaction of the blogging community. Many existing blogs dropped all other subjects to focus on what had happened, reflecting that moment when it felt as if the consciousness of the world was focussed on New York. Some found it impossible to let go: a moderately known designers’ blog, for example, transformed into one of the main online forums for the pro-Bush community (littlegreenfootballs.com). New blogs emerged as a vehicle for their authors to show their horror, outrage, and determination to act, at such a rate that many casual observers, particularly journalists, saw September 11 as the beginning of blogging.

Even today, many think of blogging as chiefly a political form—even a right-wing political form (Duncan Smith, 2005). Certainly, blogging can and does fill a similar role to pamphleteering in the 18th century, or broadsides in the early 19th century. But single-subject blogs can be constraining from the point of view of identity formation, at least for some. They serve as vehicles for people to find themselves—their political selves—or to express their defined selves, but can also constrain the self. The audience expects the politics-focussed blogger to write about politics all of the time. Similarly, the humorous blogger is always expected to be funny, and the academic blogger always expected to be thoughtful:

A colleague of mine who’s been reading around in here noted the other day that Planned Obsolescence has of late become much more about my personal life (not personal personal, but, you know, personal) than about work; I’m not blogging my thoughts about books, about academia, about writing, even about television anymore. (Fitzpatrick 2005)

It’s as if readers make up their minds about an author’s identity, and are annoyed to see it shift before their eyes. And bloggers—at least the postmodern, multiple-selfed bloggers, which if they keep doing it for long enough is almost every blogger—don’t always enjoy being constrained in this way by audience expectation. So they go on hiatus or holiday, redesign their site, tear down their archives and start afresh, or simply stop. I’ve seen bloggers do all of these things; apart from tearing down my archives and stopping altogether, I’ve done all of these things. Blogging styles can change drastically as people change jobs, change location, or change the people in their lives; the usual stuff of an evolving, malleable, 21st century self, but all contained in the bounded virtual space of the personal weblog, which serves as a cumulative representation of that self.

Like Walter Truett Anderson, I am a political scientist by background, with a political scientist’s interest in ideas of representation. Political representation is often discussed in terms of a reflection of society, with parliament as a mirror and society’s different elements represented among its members; most elected chambers fall short of this goal, with too few women and too many lawyers. Then there is the Burkean concept of a representative being a proxy: a member of parliament may be nothing like his or her constituents, but represents their interests.

One could think of a personal weblog as both representative and representation: the parliamentary member for the seat of you. It develops over time into a representation of one’s self. A blog is independent of your mind and the sense of self that inhabits it, but interacts with it, revealing yourself—your selves—to you. And it is a representative of yourself, representing you to the world. Others interact with you through this representative—via email, comments, and trackbacks, a type of automated comment—and represents your interests in ways you might not have expected or planned. A stranger may email you because he searched and found an old post on a subject you had forgotten about, perhaps leading to new thoughts you wouldn’t otherwise have had. Who enabled this? You now? Your past self? If he had seen you on the street, he would never have known you had been to Madagascar, or once wrote a paper on identity, but now he does.

As with our political representatives, we can sometimes grow dissatisfied with these virtual representatives and what they say about us. “I don’t think that,” we might say, “or at least, not any more.” So we rewrite history, by footnoting or amending an old post, erasing an obsolete page, or in extreme cases dissolving our personal parliament and electing a new government.

The process of blogging makes obvious or overt the process of identity formation and construction and helps to create boundaries for and maps of the fragmented self, even as the self or selves it charts continue to change and grow. But there is a sense in which blogging and the world of weblogs—the “blogosphere”—point to the next phase of identity: the after-the-self phase described by Anderson.

With the boom in blogging of the past few years, tools have emerged to aggregate, analyze and manage information from the thousands of weblogs being updated every day. Sites such as blogdex.net and daypop.com track which blogs are linking to which, and which links are being linked the most across all the blogs they track. Blog tools now come with built-in RSS feeds that allow readers to view blog posts how they want—stripped of all design, back to raw text, and aggregated with the latest posts from other blogs in a uniform newsreader format, creating in effect a personal daily newspaper of personal daily postings. Collective blogs such as metafilter.com and tools such as del.icio.us allow readers to bypass personal idiosyncrasies and tap into the group-mind of the blogging community. The site flickr.com allows users to upload digital photos and share them with the world—and more significantly, for readers to tag and recombine those photos in ways that neither the author nor anyone else can predict. A tool originally taken up by bloggers as a place to store photos for individual blogs has taken on a collective life of its own.

So, although we bloggers may have thought we were building “shrines of self” in a thoroughly postmodern fashion, we have ended up immersing ourselves in a thoroughly post-self environment—one where the idea of an individual identity worth proclaiming, and (as readers) worth paying attention to, seems old-fashioned. What matters in the blogosphere is what the collective thinks, and individual thoughts, posts, and links themselves—not, particularly, what any one person thinks over time.

All of which returns us, almost, to a time when individual voices got lost in a sea of mailing list and Usenet posts, and only the loudest had any hope of being heard or noticed. For the blogger this can feel deeply unsettling:

Pause and imagine the sound of a thousand taps running at full pelt for the next five minutes. Hello, Blogosphere! (Freeman 2005)

The deceptively simple practice of blogging may have left some of its long-term practitioners with the sense of post-self unease described vividly by Anderson:

Of all the concepts of postmodern psychology, the declaration that there is nothing more to the self than its description of itself in the moment seems to be the hardest for us to grasp. ... If you go far enough into testing—in your own consciousness—the proposition that your subjective sense of yourself is your present description of it, you are likely to experience something akin to what psychologists call an altered state of consciousness. Some people find the experience pleasant, bringing a certain sense of relief. Others report feelings of vertigo, confusion, even panic. Some say it feels like dying. ... There are positive ways of dealing with this ever-present death, overcoming the denial of it, making it a source of wisdom and even of joy. ... They come in different forms, but all require that you take the denial seriously, respect it. And this is something that, it seems to me, many of the postmodern theorists fail to do. Enthusiastically proclaiming the death of the self, they reveal a singular lack of compassion for real people who feel that their selves are dying and who don’t like it a damn bit. (1998, pp. 44-45)

5. Weblogs and Academic Identity

In a previous paper (Ewins 2003c) I encouraged academics to explore the potential of blogging for establishing an online research presence, for the kinds of reasons outlined previously. While I would continue to do so, it is worth striking a cautionary note for those who would plunge their students or themselves into blogging.

The usual cautionary notes relate to privacy and job security. The perceived risks to career and relationships of blogging your every thought under your own name have led some to blog pseudonymously, others to exercise extreme caution in what they post. Stories of bloggers losing jobs over what they have posted are now so familiar that the site-name of an early example has lent itself to the phenomenon: to be dooced, after dooce.com.

Similar concerns can also be heard among academic bloggers, especially those seeking employment or tenure. A pseudonymous column in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the grimly titled “Bloggers Need Not Apply” (Tribble 2005), seemed to confirm such fears:

The content of the blog may be less worrisome than the fact of the blog itself. Several committee members expressed concern that a blogger who joined our staff might air departmental dirty laundry (real or imagined) on the cyber clothesline for the world to see. Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum.

The blogger could reasonably respond that no academic is immune from “future lapses”, as many an academic battle has demonstrated. Such stigmatising by the uninitiated may well recede over time, as more blogging students and young academics rise through the ranks, and as more established academics experiment with the form. But Tribble’s concern about candidate blogs relates to a deeper and more lasting issue: that of blogging and identity.

Through candidates’ blogs, Tribble says, search committees get to know “the real them”—better than they might want. But who is “the real you”? Those who immerse themselves in blogging can discover sides of themselves even they had not known about, and can find that their many-sided self changes over time, becoming bound up with its own record. The promise of blogging for academics is great—exposing them to new ideas and colleagues, provoking new ideas of their own—but it brings with it the risk of the “ever-present death”: an awareness of the fleeting and fickle nature of the self, which can undermine the very attempt to establish one’s academic self online—or even off.

The post-self world envisioned by postmodernists is being built one weblog at a time, eroding concepts of self and identity that have served many people well. But, just as many of us now have no choice but to learn how to live as multiphrenic selves, bloggers can find that there is no easy way of going back to their old selves (Ewins 2003b):

Nowadays I find that ... the day-to-day journal side of the blog has disappeared, because the difficulties and joys of life are tangled up with other people (family, friends, colleagues, employers) ... and I find myself wondering what’s left to write about. I’ve given up reviewing, mostly, because I got sick of writing about other people’s creations instead of creating my own; given up writing about current events, because the web is awash with opinion already; given up linking to the usual stuff that does the rounds. ... So I’m left with the choice of limping on at quarter-strength, or closing it all down and turning back to fiction, where truth and experience can parade about confidently in disguise. Taking those blocks of text that would otherwise be throwaways and building with them. And yet, if the site disappears—if that continuing presence disappears—where am I?

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Paper submitted: 29 April 2005.
Comments received: 13 September 2005.
Revisions submitted: 10 October 2005.
Preprint posted: 20 December 2005.
Final corrections: 11 February 2006.
Link to final published version: 1 March 2006.