Author Archives: Kim Smith mccroryk0613

THE FINAL PAPER!!

I did it. I finished my final paper for my second to last course in grad school. The class is Communication Strategies in Emerging Media. We had a choice of class objectives from which to choose. I chose the following from Dr Daisy Pignetti at UW Stout:

Analyze the ways emerging media and digital technologies are changing our workplaces, classrooms, and social lives with emphasis on the technical and professional communication workplace.

I work regularly with engineers in my professional life, and I’ve always found them and their workplace norms interesting. I started to dig into best practices when communicating with engineers – how and when they prefer to do so, etc. This is a big ask of a professional technical communicator in today’s workplace, especially when they’re striving to appeal to a broad audience via emerging media. I found quite a few trends in the resources I collected. With the help of Dr Pignetti’s feedback, I narrowed my paper’s focus to two main points. One, engineers, surprisingly, largely prefer to work directly with others to complete the task at hand. Two, proofreading isn’t as common as it should be, but lots of authors mention it’s importance. This is the introduction to my paper:

While content and products tailored to distinct audiences is an archetype for business, today’s technical communicators are increasingly expected to appeal to a wide range of consumers via various emerging media and technological channels on behalf of their company.  In order to collaborate with diverse teams to produce the needed content, technical communicators must adopt effective collaboration methods throughout the life of a project, including how to elicit needed information from engineers and ensure that final products are useful to broad audiences.  Bridging gaps between creators and consumers remains a central role for technical communicators in 2020.       

The most intriguing new discovery I made is how some authors are automating the identification of expert jargon in academic and professional writings (see Rakedzon, T., Segev, E., & Chapnik, N. (2017)). The potential for utilizing AI rather than developing focus groups is definitely a topic I’ll be keeping an eye on.

Building 2-Way Streets

From 2005 through 2015 I worked for a local communications company.  Even though it was a fun job where I made a lot of lifelong friends, I have no illusions about how our customers felt about our business.  Not great. Not great at all.    

One of the most valuable things I learned at that job came from a higher-up at an all-hands meeting.  We were in the middle of a major overhaul of our practices, hoping to improve metrics across the board.  He said bluntly: “It’s not about improving the relationship between us and the customer.  The truth is that our customers don’t want a relationship with us.  They want prompt service and no problems.”  I thought that was brilliant.  Aiming to leave the customers alone was honestly a much better goal than trying to improve the quality of visits to their home, and it worked for all of our customers equally.

Technical communicators are also tasked with creating content to appease their audience.  This goal, however, is much trickier.  The audience is not face-to-face.  They do not all have the same goals for the same products, let alone the same background and knowledge base. It’s impractical to attempt a one-size-fits-all solution.  Spilka, 2010, says that “technical communicators might assume that they need not – and even cannot – analyze, understand completely, or consider the audience much at all in their work” (201).  Optimistically, she argues “we can predict and define, with reasonable accuracy, particular types of readers for specific product and instructional documents” (201). 

The biggest hurdle is getting audiences to participate so that we can understand their goals and experiences.  I’ll be the first to admit that surveys go largely ignored in my house. Unless it’s the national census, I’m out.  I know I’m not alone here.  So, what’s the answer?  I read two interesting articles from Technical Communication Quarterly that expound on the efficacy of PAOS (publicly available online sources) in fostering participation for, and from, technical communicators.  When workplace filters and restrictions are not a barrier, “social media provide knowledge workers new avenues to find and leverage resources, enabling work that is increasingly important in the new economy such as developing and strengthening connections, finding and leveraging information, and participating in a professional community consisting of a vast and varied array of people and resources” (Ferro and Zachry, 2013, p.9).  Having reciprocal relationships between users rather than a one-way information share with a company makes for more contribution and more enthusiasm.  People want to build a relationship because it expands resources for all participants, even outside of work.  “Networked spaces are not only increasingly integrated into many individuals’ everyday habits, but also have become crucial interpersonal communication tools that span personal and work domains” (Pigg, 2014, p.70).          

Collective engagement for a better experience lies in knowing how and when to ask for input so that others are likely to reply.  Overkill, one-way relationships, and impersonal swaths of information don’t work as well as thoughtful, cooperative content that reflects who the reader and the audience are and makes them and their time feel valuable.   Perhaps compensation is a solution (the knowledge industry tells us that there are more currencies than money), so one’s time is tangibly appreciated?    

The Power Of People

So, I’m in graduate school, right?  During an aspirin-and-an-antacid-every-two-hours election year.  Drawing conclusions from the readings and sharing them will my class cohort is especially tricky when my mind is overwhelmed with social issues.  This week’s response is tangential, but it’s where my mind took me.

Our readings this week are about content management, information distribution, and the differences between ‘real life’ technical communication jobs and online collaboration needed to do them well.  The authors both go beyond the job site, though.  They discuss what it means to form a society, a culture, and the norms that take root therein. This happens almost anywhere people gather (virtually or not). Two quotes stuck out to me and had me thinking about how information moves groups to act, which is as important at work as it is in society right now.  First, Spilka (2010) wrote “from a cultural perspective, the important question is this: Who gets to decide whose culture and knowledge will prevail, and whose will be silenced?  Determining whose culture and knowledge will prevail will lead to decisions about which group of people has the power to make things happen and to prevent other possible things from happening” (153).  Spilka opines that culture and community are fundamentally built upon the inclusion and exclusion of different groups just as much as they are physically built upon concrete.  Second, Longo (2013), though she’s speaking about technical communications careers specifically, also has a view about human relations: “as connected and open as we would like our work to be, we still rely on the relations we build with people in a physical world.  The reality is slightly disappointing in the sense that it is still very difficult to build bridges across our global contexts” (29). Longo says communities are stronger when people can interact face-to-face (or otherwise foster personal bonds).  Only communicating perfunctorily online does not suffice for optimal knowledge making.

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The most visible niche cultures we see today are protests.  People participating are, in Spilka’s terms, trying to prevail, which often means overriding or silencing the opposition.  Longo is right in this context that it takes more than an online movement to truly connect others with similar views and force change.  I thought specifically about the protests in Poland, which delayed the implementation of a law and may well alter their constitution.  Women came out in droves. The sheer numbers gave them the power to make things happen, forced the government to acknowledge them.  Opposition was all but silenced in the coverage of the protests.  The Guardian described the protests as a “backlash against patriarchal culture.”  Norms were established to maintain volume and longevity.  There was indeed a community born.

Ok, so I know protests are an extreme example of how culture, society, and norms are formed, but they’re definitely not altogether different.  Spilka’s view that it’s about who’s included and excluded equally was a succinct eye-opener for me.  Longo’s view that cohesion is more effective IRL is definitely viable in this example, even when groups like Anonymous are challenging those limitations. I know there will be a lot more protests in 2020, and where and how they organize will be interesting.  

Many minds make better work.

I am always impressed by the ideas that come from a collective passion for a project. I like to watch clever people solve problems, elevating teams with their ingenuity and helping to build a better community in the knowledge industry. One of my favorite things to do is read through constructive (underline, highlight, bold, triple emphasize constructive) comments online. Open source software forums, innovation blogs, and advice pages are some of my favorite online places to spend time. Of course, there is garbage to be filtered out, but when I find nuggets of wisdom, it’s inspiring.

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Crowdsourcing has a foothold in the professional world, too. Not only do companies use online portfolios (like this one from Zendesk) to tout and refine their products, they’re encouraging companies to develop community forums to take functionality even further (another example from Zendesk) by asking questions, requesting features, and troubleshooting problems.  When the data in these sites are collated, a very useful overview develops; one that welcomes not only industry success stories, but customer experience stories, both of which help companies to remain competitive.

Rachel Spilka, from UW Milwaukee, wrote about this trend back in 2010 in her book “Digital Literacy for Technical Communication: 21st Century Theory and Practice.”  In looking at internal business cases, she wrote “using databases to publish content lets the company welcome contributions from people outside the technical communications department, including those who work for the company in technical and marketing capacities and customers who have developed expertise with the products and services who have a first hand user’s perspective” (29).  In my professional experience, this is the norm, one that has provided value and reduced duplicate work.  One tool I’ve used to encourage this type of inter-departmental communication is Confluence, part of Atlassian’s suite of products.  Their product allows teams to publish project tables, wiki pages, schedules, historical data and trends, and knowledge bases. Each of these publications comes with a comment section at the bottom.  Anyone could comment on any page at my company.  This helped most notably, in my mind, when designers were working through a project and someone from customer service chimed in with concerns or praises about how a change may impact the customer experience.  Their knowledge of the UI and developers’ knowledge of system dependencies helped to find an acceptable solution, thus avoiding costly redesigns and disagreements before they happened. I also saw a very scary maintenance schedule altered after a conflict between teams surfaced.  Because one team’s schedules and plans were published, others could search for key words to ensure their own work in the same network spaces weren’t at risk. Instead of weeks of undoing the changes and follow up meetings, the teams simply changed their schedules by 4 hours each, allowing both of them to do their work in the same 24-hour window without incident. 

I’m curious about positive, specific experiences others have had with crowdsourcing.  Do you have an example of a clever solution that was contributed by a user?  Perhaps a responsive employee helped to prevent a problem?  I could use a dose of human ingenuity and innovation.

Surviving Virtual Life

There are a lot of conversations happening, and evolving, around the use of technology in scholastic settings.  Before 2020, there was a majority opinion that phones and laptops can be disproportionately distracting during classes.   Kentaro Toyama, Associate Professor of Communications Information at the University of Michigan, sat down with James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, at a 2015 talk presented by the Aspen Institute where they discussed their preferences for the students’ use of technology in their classrooms.  Overall, they didn’t support it, saying that it can distract from the lesson and the student interactions. They asked students to refrain from using cell phones and laptops during lectures, saying that when screens are on, our tendencies to wander through social media are stronger than the desire for deep learning.  Though putting screens out of reach can cause some distress initially for the students, by the end of the course most expressed appreciation for the ability to focus solely on the content without the temptation of social media distractions.   

The drive to be constantly entertained by screens, and an equal apprehension about giving that up, is perhaps most common with younger generations, but it’s part of everyone’s life to some extent.  It’s part of our normal, both when seeking out information and maintaining relationships. Mary Chayko talks about this quite a bit in Superconnected (2015): “we require some kind of continuity and sameness from day to day.  Taking part in techno-social life online can provide this type of constancy for it is always, dependably, there” (202).  Additionally, “being plugged in can provide us on a very deep level with the comforting feeling that we are not alone” (201).  Nevertheless, Chayko touts the benefits of unplugging: “it can be enriching to be bored sometimes” (200). 

Today, however, things are different.  Students are online remotely from kindergarten to graduate school because of the pandemic.  It’s no longer a conversation about avoiding distractions in the classroom; it’s about being online in order to participate in the lessons overall.  Even Steyer’s Common Sense Media site has been overhauled to support remote learning for students and parents alike and provide support during Coronavirus.  There are new challenges now – how can we do MORE online while maintaining a healthy life balance?  Common Sense Media offers advice on motivating students, taking care of our mental health, even hosting and attending remote birthday parties. 

It’s counterintuitive when Chayko declares “while modern people certainly experience their share of stress, digital technology and social media users do not generally have higher levels of stress than those who are less digitally connected” (192).  For me personally, this isn’t the case in 2020.   Reading the news, not interacting with neighbors, working and studying remotely – they all take their toll on my stress levels and I struggle to unwind.  The CDC site has an entire section about coping with stress during the pandemic.  Am I in the minority here? Are others settling into this normal better than I am?  I’m especially curious about how kids and parents are doing with online school, and how they’re balancing that with few social interaction opportunities offline.  I bought a bike to try and find some balance, but in WI that’s a temporary solution.  I am open to others’ ideas.

The Ongoing Discussion Around Online Content

There are a lot of high-visibility, high-impact cases happening right now regarding online content. From the battle over net neutrality, to copyright infringement cases (see Oracle vs. Google) to attempts at quelling fake news (see Facebook’s QAnon battle) to the ongoing battle to end cyberbullying, they all straddle the line between free speech and public responsibility. The outcomes will affect our experience online, and thus, as Mary Chayko discusses in Superconnected (2018), our online socialization experience.

Who we are online should not be considered different than who we are in our daily offline lives. “It makes sense to think of the self that is created, performed, and exhibited online as a manifestation of the self that exists offline as well” (118). This is especially true for those that are growing up in technologically rich environments. They “generally become rather comfortable with technology and are less likely to view the online and offline experience as separate contexts” (129). It is thus reasonable for us to expect the same litigious, participatory, diverse, and consequential culture online as we are afforded offline. It is also reasonable for communities to react strongly to the cases that affect their social development (how they see themselves and how they’re seen by others).

What is different is the amount of data mining and surveillance we’ve become accustomed to when we’re active online, and how this is used by others. “Online communities are characterized both by watching and by a high awareness of being watched” (89).   If this were to happen in our daily lives, there’s little doubt anti-harassment and anti-stalking laws would be leveraged. Instead, we participate in what Chayko calls an “attention economy” (76) where the attention we’re paid when we’re online is the real currency. This attention can empower us to reveal beliefs and habits that we may not otherwise find a niche for in offline society.  The more time and attention we invest in these niches, the more we’re likely to find groups of individuals with the same non-mainstream thoughts and habits.

Digital media provides individuals with platforms and tools that can be used to express all kinds of ideas and impulses.”

Mary Chayko, Superconnected (2018, p119)

The success and longevity of these groups, which sometimes develop into reaffirming echo chambers (82) and narrow agents of socialization (115), are affected by the outcomes of cases pertaining to our online experience.  In a litigious society like the US, this is unsurprising, but it nonetheless has an impact as to how we’re socialized and develop our sense of self both on and offline. We form opinions based on what’s legal, on what’s morally justified, on what feels like corrupt overreach.  Sometimes, a legal verdict is seen as biased censorship, forcing groups underground, sure of their oppression, an attempt to hide the truth (here’s an interesting conspiracy FB profile I sometimes scan).  Other times, it’s seen as a sensible means of protecting gullible consumers from being deceived or corporate developers from being deprived of what they’re justifiably (and financially) entitled to.   

I’m not sure how I feel about online censorship and copyrighted vs. public domain code overall. I think there is danger in misleading content around government and health, but I do not know who should act as the source of and enforcer of ‘the truth.’  I think net neutrality is crucial for innovation and healthy self-identities but can be harmful for kids if they stumble on the ‘wrong’ content.  I think the Oracle vs. Google case can create a messy minefield.  I think that conspiracy theories are endlessly entertaining, and I struggle with censorship.  I have also seen friends fall hook, line, and sinker into ridiculous echo chambers fraught with wild ideas that take away from genuine enrichment.  How do you feel about the pending cases, their impact on our online lives, and how this may or may not translate to our experiences offline?

Online vs. IRL – Is there really a difference?

I never really considered the ‘sameness’ of offline physical life and online digital life, because, duh, they’re very different. Mary Chayko (2018) disagrees, from both a social and physiological perspective, and she’s right. Now I’ve got to figure out how to relearn my entire paradigm. Hear me out….

Predictably for a text used in academia, Chayko begins Superconnected (also a blog) by running us through the history of societies, ramping us up to the way they’re formed and used today. She paints a broad definition of societies, saying that they’re “at their essence, large, collective, nonphysical entities” (39).  Thus defined, she argues societies are as relevant online as they are offline:  Physiologically, “the brain and body often respond to mediated and digital events in the same way that they would respond to those that take place face-to-face” (56).  Professional ‘knowledge industries’ coupled with social networking, news, mobile phones, and resource sites mean there’s space online for every aspect of our physical lives. “It simply isn’t helpful to think of digital, mental activity as a species separate from, outside of, or less than real life – not when real life is drenched in cognitive activity” (57). 

My knee-jerk reaction is that she’s wrong, and apparently I’m not alone, for she admits “in western society, the mental ream tends to be stigmatized  relative to the physical, so people often do not consider mental phenomena to be as consequential as the physical” (58). I believe life online is fraught with secrets, catfish, and omitted details.  Real life is verifiable, tangible,
less shifty.  Right? Even in my narrow experience, no in fact, that’s not right after all. Let me share some drama.

I have very good friend (double masters’ degrees, witty, hard-working, from a close-knit family) that met a guy at work in 2017.  They hit it off immediately.  Six months later we’re talking weddings and homeownership.  He moved in, they traveled, it was a wonderful time.  In 2020, she came home one evening to find that he was gone. So was a bunch of their stuff.  That was it. *POOF* Gone. Through mutual friends (online and offline) we eventually found out that he had moved in with another woman about 35 miles away.  As if that were not unbelievable enough, the next month a legal document arrived at her house, for him, with a different middle and last name!  We went online immediately, finding things that we never knew, including family details, legal woes, and two divorces!  WHAT!?

If they had met online, would this have been more obvious? Would we have dug for and found a digital trail that led us to these secrets more quickly? It’s counterintuitive, because I always felt like meeting someone online and moving the relationship into the real world was a way bigger (and less safe) ideal than meeting someone in the real world and exchanging online information. Again, it isn’t just me; Chayko says “some people claim that digital environments are rife with deception and hence less real than offline spaces – that the relative anonymity found in many digital spaces breeds deceit, falsity, and danger. Indeed, deception is a possible outcome fo digital tech use, given that face-to-face accountability is diminished” (57). This is what I always considered fact, until that whole crazy situation came into new clarity with Chayko’s book. Take it from this previously disconnected duo – don’t appoint online and offline different values when it comes to socializing. Your brain doesn’t fully differentiate, nor does the busyness of daily life: “digital environments are so fully enmeshed with the physical world that one need not even ben online to feel the impact” (64).

Most people use online connectedness to build, bolster, and give new dimension to face-to-face interactions and communities.

– Mary Chayko, Superconnected, 2018 p.64

In America, the telecommunications act of 1996 ensured our connectedness online.  Today, we are indeed superconnected.  While we may get away with different things when we’re online than when we’re offline, neither environment is exempt from elevating our relationships with others, for better or worse.

Lurkers Gonna Lurk

It’s been a minute since ‘Web 2.0’ (“the second stage of development of the World Wide Web, characterized especially by the change from static web pages to dynamic or user-generated content and the growth of social media” –Oxford) became our standard.  It’s hard to imagine one-way-Web at all, really.  How our online lives thrive (or don’t) is a precarious balance between lurking, contributing value, and damage control.

Howard Rheingold, in Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (2012) sets an excellent example of how collaborative actions online can contribute to a sense of community and confidence.  He discussed his online communities; how they have contributed not only to a collective knowledge bank, but how they have enriched each other’s lives IRL, too, by building trust over the years.  Trust is the tricky part of the equation, he acknowledges, as is true of our social lives overall: “social dilemmas are the conflicts between self-interest and collective action that all creatures face in daily life-situations in which a lack of trust in the potential cooperation of others prevents individuals from acting together in ways that would benefit everybody” (151). 

The simplest things can help to build trust in a network, be it online or elsewhere.  Rheingold outlines the basic tenets of doing so (p155-6):

  1. Small talk and idle chatter build trust and lubricate collaboration
  2. Move from mutual benefit to common interests by building trust and negotiating goals
  3. Take risks to demonstrate that you are willing to modify your own activity in pursuit of common goals
  4. Be generous
  5. Seek to learn from and teach your collaborators.  Be willing to change your behavior in light of learning, and be willing to help your partners enhance their own position

The common factor in Rheingold’s book is collaboration; contributing to live online rather than ‘lurking.’  You might even call this ongoing role User 2.0 in that the two-way street is dependent upon those at the keyboard.  Scott Kushner doesn’t like lurking, which he says is when “users read, watch, and listen to content, but they do not contribute any of their own.”  In his article Read Only: The Persistence of Lurking in Web 2.0 (2016) Kushner “argues that lurking posts a threat to the prevailing logic of corporate social platforms.”  But there’s a line between contributing value and simply filling space: “the true value of Web 2.0 platforms is derived from knowledge work, not mindless status updates.” This is where I latched onto Kushner: I don’t need to know what conspiracy theory is being perpetuated this week when I spend time online.  I (should) need to know how people healthfully navigate life, what they are learning that adds value, and what I need to change about myself to be a better citizen. Rheingold says to contribute in a healthy way to our online experience, we need to “pay attention to opportunities you might be given to improve the public sphere.  It’s not up to anybody else” (242). He doesn’t mince words that the responsibility is universal.

I’ll admit, I am a lurker on several social media sites (Twitter and Reddit).  I am a contributor on others (Facebook, certain blogs, Instagram).  This is mostly because I’m not pithy, not clever.  I am active and I do have a lot of friends with whom I share experiences, though, and everyone likes pictures.

I should try to do better.  I should ask more questions on sites dedicated to knowledge sharing.  I should look more closely at opportunities to answer questions about which I am knowledgeable.  Rheingold gives us succinct rules for developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN): explore multiple media, search for more after you’ve explored, follow, tune your network, engage and inquire, and respond (229).  I know where people can trust me, and where I am still learning.  I can embrace admitting this when needed.  I know darn well that communities based on fandom, crowdsourcing (I’m a huge fan of Michelle McNamara and her crowd-sleuthing contributions), forums, and open source coding will die on the vine if they’re not tended to.  These are huge parts of my life – am I contributing to their success, or gluttonously lurking?

No one is immune to 2020: Staying human online

For the most part, I consider myself resilient despite the political, social, and economic chaos that is 2020.  I’m not jaded.  I am optimistic.  I still believe in community. 

Well, as it turns out, I may have been kidding myself. 

I just read the first 3 chapters of Howard Rheingold’s book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (2014).  The idealistic way in which Rheingold describes online interactions is arguably NOT aligned with what I see post-2016.  He talks of a ‘culture of participation,’ fostered by online communities working toward knowledge sharing and critical thinking.  He speaks of digital knowledge sharing as a wonderous, limitless add-on to what and how we learn in real life, and how much we all gain by taking part.  “Knowing how to blog, tweet, wiki, innovate, program, and/or organize online can lead to political, cultural, and economic value” (111).  Even though I am a student, scholastic, reliable content is not the majority of what I encounter when I’m online.  I see throngs of anonymous contributors shitposting, sharing unsubstantiated “articles” and starting arguments in comment sections.  Rheingold, forging ahead, gushes about our potential: “web culture has made it clear that if it is easy and inexpensive enough to contribute to cooperative enterprises, many people will choose to do so for a variety of reasons, including reputation, altruism, curiosity, learning, a sense of reciprocating value to a community that provides value, as part of a game, and contributing something for public use that you had to do for your own purposes anyway” (112).  Rheingold doesn’t even use the words ‘toxic’ and ‘trolls’ until after page 100!  I, on the other hand, see people looking to stir the pot, using language not said aloud in talking to both their social circles and complete strangers.  My response to his reading got me thinking about my role and my responsibilities as an online presence overall. 

First, I need to be more optimistic and proactive – find and support online education communities like schools, Google Scholar, reliable news outlets, and constructive social media content.  I KNOW there’s good stuff out there.  I know I don’t just have to put on blinders and block everyone with whom I disagree on social media; I can be equally discerning and protective of what I encounter, and I should not expect the impossible from where I normally surf. I can find blogs, subreddits, and pages that are looking to inform, not upset. I can turn my time online into a more productive activity.  I can get on board with Rheingold’s ideas.

One place to start might be what Chris Anderson calls “The Long Tail” in his 2004 article of the same name.  For Anderson, the long tail is what exists outside of the most popular culture; “the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream” (1).  Finding your own healthy place online can take some digging, as what we’re fed isn’t always what we need.  “We equate mass market with quality and demand, when in fact it often just represents familiarity, savvy advertising, and broad if somewhat shallow appeal” (10). Anderson writes about how markets continually change with the ubiquity of availability and potential revenue online, where products are unconstrained by the size and cost of physical space.  This helps us to find what we should be consuming on a more personal level and engaging with others that also care enough to contribute to that community.  We can choose a new jumping off point.  “Great long tail businesses can then guide consumers further afield by following the contours of their likes and dislikes, easing their exploration of the unknown” (24). Before long, it’s possible to change your entire feed.

I want to be informed and rational (and maybe even a little happy?) when I’m online.  I want to support others looking to do the same.  Creating a new experience might be as easy as clearing my cache, cookies, and search history and starting from a healthier point, even if that point is obscure.  Using an incognito window to indulge in guilty pleasures and gossip can satisfy whatever brought me there while maintaining accountability for what I see most often.

Blogging: Stop Overthinking and Just Write

Reid’s 2011 article “Why Blog? Searching for Writing on the Web” resonated with me as a graduate student, even though it was written nearly a decade ago. While in the past I’ve mostly used blogs to find answers to specific, first-hand user experience questions (such as how to sync functionality between my laptop and my phone, or how to properly sauté’ mushrooms with an iron skillet), I’d like to focus instead on how personal blogging might help me in the future.

As I head into my final year of grad school, the pressure to narrow down my final thesis is building. I don’t feel totally confident in my writing ability, and I don’t have strong, lasting ideas for a central topic. What I have written up to now was always based on assignment parameters and grading rubrics; heavily structured, extrinsically motivating factors. For my thesis, I’ll need to embrace a subject that is important to me, that builds internal motivation; one to which I can dedicate my time and be proud of. To ferret out a central thesis I can commit to, and to further hone my writing skills, blogging may be the answer.  Reid says, “blogging is one good way to develop as a writer” (303). Regularly writing about personal experiences may help me to understand what kind of writing I’m best at.  I just need a spark.  For Reid, the challenges of starting a blog are where I, too, am struggling: “as with all writing, perhaps the most challenging task is finding a subject on which to write, or what we rhetoricians term “invention”” (311). Even with all the reading I’ve done and the new information I’ve learned, nothing sticks out as a viable scholastic option worthy of defense.  I may be putting too much emphasis on the professional aspect of a thesis and not enough on what elicits an emotional response.  The path to a strong, central idea is human for Reid, less intimidating and rigid. “Blogging has a special relationship with serendipity and inspiration” (312).  I see now that I don’t have to commit to an abstract concept and then dig for data; I can just start and see what shakes loose, which is liberating: “blogging gives you the opportunity to write many, informal, short posts over a long period of time” and thus, “as a regular writer or blogger you begin to trust that exigency or purpose will become clear through the act of writing” (313).

In short, my expectations for how to write my thesis need to change.  The limiting nature of expectations was the biggest take away for me in another article: “What Blogging Has Become: Why Medium’s new features are more important than they seem” (Meyer, 2015).  Let me put that into context.  A few years back I took an HTML, CSS course at Madison College to brush up on my basic coding literacy.  My professor said something that stuck with me: “expectations by the user do not influence tech functionality so much as functionality influences what we come to expect as users.” Meyer writes about a specific platform, Medium, and why and how it differs from other centralized social media and blogging sites.  Mainly, Medium prioritizes topics over author bibliographies, the latter of which tends to be most common.  Meyer goes as far as saying that “no one blogs anymore” and that “it was clear we were going to lose the reverse-chron, URL game.” Instead, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook became central hubs in cyberspace, offering exactly what Meyer said we’d lose and without the need to adopt a URL or a central theme.  Thus, no matter what we think we want as consumers, or what we think should be available, it’s what these big players offer that shapes what we expect despite how strongly we feel otherwise.  Sorry Medium, I never found a need to need you.

So, I need to figure out how to write a thesis worth defending. Blogging, which some, like Meyer, will argue is passé, may be the way to extrapolate a central theme in what motivates me.  I shouldn’t expect to have an earth-shattering idea fall out of the sky.  What I should do is change my expectations to how this process should be done and instead focus on how I can continue to improve my writing while being watchful for inspiration.