Old school nostalgia or not

Last night, I found out via twitter that my friend Collin was in town, and so, via twitter, I arranged to meet him for a drink. This is how I roll now. Collin and I go back a pretty long way in Internet time. I don’t know exactly when I first started reading his blog, but it was at least a year or more before we met in person at the MLA in 2006. Collin is a friend from another lifetime for me. He’s in my former field of rhetoric and composition, we used to blog together in the old days of blogging, and we used to play WoW together.

I’m still blogging (though not as much as I used to), but those other things? They’re mostly in the background. When I met some of Collin’s grad students and colleagues, I got a few weird looks, but not many. It does seem incongruous to most people that someone who started in rhet/comp, even getting a PhD in it, would end up teaching computer science in middle and high school. I contend that CS is not that different from rhet/comp, and that I use my skills from my PhD every day. I research. I write. I make my students write. I understand the importance of writing both as a skill in and of itself and as a process for learning a subject.

I’ve said before that I think the logic of writing, especially in the sophisticated argumentative style used in academic papers is similar to the logic of programming. Just think about an if statement. If some condition is true, then execute the code below. In papers, one often sees the forwarding of evidence in similar ways. If this fact or assertion is true, then you must accept the following argument. Now human thought processes aren’t binary the way computer conditions are, but the logical process is still similar.

It’s also true that the ability to communicate in technical fields is hugely important. In most of the jobs I’ve had, I’ve served as translated between techies and non-techies, something that is valued in almost every industry I know. I attribute those skills to my work as a writer.

Collin and I discussed a bit the bubble that academics are often in. They see things according to the logic of academia, unaware sometimes that the world around them functions on a different logic. One of the great things about blogging in the old days was that it brought a community of people together around blogging who might never have met each other. It looked something like this:

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So academics were exposed to regular people and vice versa. As Collin said, the landscape has changed. There’s very little left of that old community. A few individual bloggers are left and some people still congregate around their blogs, but the interlinking, inter commenting atmosphere of the old days is mostly gone. Partly it’s a result of the commercialization of blogging and social media more generally. It’s also in the rise of twitter and Facebook. There’s sort of the same kind of community there, but it’s not quite the same reflective space that blogging was or is.

Another online space that’s changed is WoW. I joined just after the first expansion (after, I should note, I’d finished my PhD). I became part of a community who explored together and had common goals, from which I learned an amazing amount about who I was as part of a group. I learned, for example that I don’t like to lead, a surprise to me, and something I might not have recognized otherwise. I can qualify that a bit, and say that I don’t like to lead when I feel unqualified or unskilled, and I felt that way in game more often than not. In life, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t put myself into a leadership role when I don’t know what I’m doing. Or I should educate myself. That sense of community, and group dynamics is largely gone. It’s both because of people that have left, but also because of the changes made to the game which made casual play less fun, and made the singular goal raiding, requiring a kind of grinding many got tired of (including me).

I do miss playing WoW. There was a wonder and camaraderie about it that’s hard to find. Just writing about it here gives me a sense of nostalgia.

Not all change is bad, of course, but it’s interesting to have been involved in some things since practically their inception and see how they’ve morphed and impacted society. I wonder if people who saw the beginning of the automobile felt that way (feel that way? Are there any living still?). Seeing and talking to Collin reminds me that I value the connections I’ve made, in former fields, former jobs, former virtual spaces, and that I should continue to find ways to maintain them.

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