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Easily Distracted on Feb 23

mkarol's picture

 The class was visited by the Easily Distracted "citizen intellectual", Professor Tim Burke. Several questions were asked and topics covered:

* How do the comments on his blog shape his writing ?
Sometimes the audience confines what he writes, because he wants to avoid "blog wars". In response to keeping a happy (or at least calm ?) audience, Prof. Burke says that he has carved out a "boring voice" of reasonability and rationality that his readers have come to expect. If he ventures away from that norm, readers are quick to become critical and confused, 'scolding' him in a way.
There are also times when what a commenter writes contradicts what he's saying, but makes sense, he'll own up that they're right and that they make sense. 

*Does he ever worry because he sometimes includes full names?
Prof. is cautious about using students' and colleagues' names or negative descriptions of people that could possible identify them. He's discovered that a fair number of administrators at Swat actually read his blog, (as a way of getting a view of how the faculty is working?) which makes it all the more important to be respectful.

*Why did he start blogging?
He originally just wrote reviews of restaurants, and blogged in "bulletin board" webpages. However, in these formats, the conversation is always affected by what other people say, since it's just one post after another, so it's extremely hard to establish one's own voice. A friend eventually suggested that he try blogging on his own, so he joined 3 blogs, before being asked to participate in a group blog. Prof. Burke says that he really grew to disliked it for two main reasons:
                  1. there was a tight control over who could comment. The site hosted writers who were very biased and one                         sided about topics, but banned anyone who would be a passionate commenter.
                  2. the format of the site was horrific
He notes that most group blogs are destined to fail because people get tired of writing in them, or else it becomes separate blogs tied together in a "group" only by the technicality that they are hosted in a "group blog".

*Why can't bloggers just ignore 'trolls' ?
There will always be people who post things just to get a rise out of you or to hijack a discussion. By now, you'd think that everyone would have learned to just ignore these types of comments, but sometimes it is actually welcome. To keep up a reasonable, intelligent conversation is HARD, and trolls allow a sort of recess for those taking part in the conversation. However, things start to get bad once a participant becomes obsessed with 'crushing the troll'. So it's really not the actual trolling that destroys conversations, but people's reactions to them. 
Also, bloggers are beginning to only participate in circular conversations, playing it safe by talking to people with the same viewpoints and beliefs, so a skillful troll may act as a necessary opposing force to stimulate conversation.


Throughout his blog, there are "layers of archaeology". He says that he's been blogging for so long that he doesn't remember a lot of the things he's said in the past, and upon going back, sometimes finds that his viewpoint has changed. Maybe this is a good thing, suggestive of growth ? 

A main goal that Prof. Burke expressed is a bridging of the gap between online communities and the academic world. However, he believes that there has to be a collapse of traditional academic practices before an academic individual will be able to rely solely on online publications for their dossier. 

Another important point that was stressed is FORMAT. The platform is the key to good blogging (and blackboard is "loathsomely designed". He wants to help students write for an open audience and move away from the "paper slipped under the professor's door" era. 

On Easily Distracted, Prof. Burke never forces himself to post. He only writes when he wants to, when something sparks his interest. He feels that this is why he has been able to stay interested in writing, and has also helped to maintain a following.


After our discussion with Prof. Burke, many students still expressed concerns about posting online. Most employers still do background checks on their applicants, and look at past "wrongdoings". What an individual said as a foolish 16 year old COULD still come back to haunt them, even if they have since changed their opinions. 

On the topic of our posted papers, most people liked the fact that they were online. it made the writing process easier, because we felt that we could be more open and friendly, since it would be for a wider audience (the entire internet !). However, several of us had problems posting (myself included). 


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