I happened to spend all evening reading about audience. I’ll be posting research-related thoughts on the other blog, but all that reading got me to thinking about how I conceive of audience. Plus, I ran into New Kid’s post and this really struck me:
when I started blogging, I thought that this blog would be a place where I could vent all my anxieties and concerns and so on. But now I feel a certain (self-imposed) pressure to Say Only Smart Things here, not lame whiny things (though I realize that hasn’t stopped me before), or else I worry that I’m boring you readers out there, or blogging for sympathy – sucking for nice comments from you people who have no responsibility to be nice to me. No matter that I’m pseudonymous here – I still feel a certain pressure to maintain a certain kind of image, even if none of you may ever be able to connect New Kid with the “real” me. (I know some of you do know the real me, but I don’t think that’s what creates this pressure; I feel like New Kid has a kind of persona now that I need to stay consistent to. With. Whatever.)
Eh. Lest I be accused of self-importance, I realize there are far worse things to worry about than what people I’ve (largely) never met think of my imaginary identity. But sometimes it’s hard to know what to post here. I want to look smart, and insightful, and admirable. I don’t want anyone out here in the interweb to see my weaknesses any more than I want the people in my face-to-face life to. But it feels pretty dishonest not to talk about the times when I feel miserable, and anything but smart, or insightful, or admirable.
I actually don’t always feel this kind of pressure. And what’s even weirder is I’m not really pseudonymous here. Lots of people I know in real life, mostly people I work with in some way, read this blog. And I think they often get a different picture of me here than they have of me in real life. To be expected, I suppose since I don’t blog everything. I told someone on the phone the other day that Geeky Mom was like another person and sometimes I forget what she’s up to.
The standard ways of conceiving an audience are to address one, to think about who you’re writing to, or to invoke one, to conjure up in your mind an imaginary audience. Walter Ong famously said that every audience is a fiction while Aristotle insisted the best way to succeed in speaking is to know the details of your audience. In reality, I think we do a little bit of both. I’m imagining right now that I’m mainly writing to New Kid and to others, perhaps Bitch, Ph.D. and Dr. Crazy, who have written about the tensions they have with their blogging which is often related to their relationship with their audience. So I’m addressing an audience, but I also imagine an audience of smart people interested in this particular topic. And that leads, I think, to the kind of thing New Kid mentioned, wanting to look intelligent and coherent and not disapppoint that imaginary audience. And that can be a good thing, but it can also be detrimental. It can keep you from writing.
Honestly, my desire to “look good” to my audience here has helped a little in that I try to actually do the things I say I’m going to do on the blog. Think about how many people post their to-do lists to “keep me honest.” There’s something about public accountibility that is motivating. Another way having an audience has helped is kind of the opposite of wanting to look good. In writing my dissertation, I have always considered my audience my advisor and perhaps, the committee. In many ways, that can be problematic because I don’t want to disappoint them and I’m aware of the power they have over me (same for our students). I’m always thinking about how they might criticize my work. Now, I think about what my blog audience would say and since, through comments, I kind of know what they might say, I feel much more comfortable writing. My blog audience, which I’ve borrowed for my dissertation, is much more sympathetic and understanding even while they might give constructive criticism. I find that extremely helpful.
I know where New Kid is coming from. I feel inadequate when I write about political stuff, mainly because there’s so many good political bloggers out there already. I’m trying to live up to their standards. What I’m doing here most of the time is just being me, in front of a live studio audience. Scary, for sure. But mostly fun.