I'm obsessed with my new blog. I spend hours devising tactics for directing traffic to it, then I pore over the results over at Google Analytics, where, for example, I can learn that on the first day in the existence of sleeping alone and starting out early, my site had 16 unique visitors and a total of 33 visits (I assume that the 17 extra visits all came from me). I'm aiming upward, upward, upward, and directing my energies toward herding the cats my way.
Why do I care? I mean, other than for the obvious reason that if I've spent all this time carefully and lovingly crafting a blogpost I want people to read it? The short answer is that social media makes us consider, and target, our intended audience in more complex ways.
New media guru Howard Rheingold has written about the participatory potential of blogging, explaining that "[b]ecause the public sphere depends on free communication and discussion of ideas, it changes when it scales—as soon as your political entity grows larger than the number of citizens you can fit into a modest town hall, this vital marketplace for political ideas can be influenced by changes in communications technology."
As bloggers are well aware, the potential is enormous for scaled-up communication via digital technology--but in a real sense, the true potential is never fully realized. It can't be: Among the constraints and affordances of new media technology is the fact that it enables nearly anyone to become a mediamaker. Cutting through the noise, reaching all members of one's potential public, is possible in theory but futile in practice. We don't any of us live anymore in a world where we can expect the person living, working, or studying next to us to have read the same news stories as we have, even though we all have increased access to the news.
That doesn't mean we can't try; and, in fact, Rheingold and others point to the "generative" power of public voice in a new media context. He writes:
In one sense, public voice can be characterized not just as active, but as generative—a public is brought into being in a sense by the act of addressing some text in some medium to it. Michael Warner has argued that any particular public (as distinguished from “the public”) comes into being only when it is addressed by a media text, rather than existing a priori—“it exists by virtue of being addressed.” By writing a blog post about an issue, a blogger brings together people whose only common interest is the issue addressed, bringing about “a relation among strangers” that would probably not otherwise exist. Creating a wiki about a local issue has the potential to precipitate a public that can inform itself, stage debates, even organize collective action.
So far on this blog, I've published a poem, written about boobies, spoken to my hope for the future of academia, and, now, pleaded for readers. I'm not yet sure who my public is; not yet sure what type of action I'm interested in engaging my public in, other than alerting them to my take on some things that have attracted my attention.
I wonder if I'll experience this blogging thing like I experienced teaching when I was new to the profession. Often, especially in my first few semesters, I would bluster into the classroom with some vague idea of what I wanted to do, what I wanted to teach; it was only after the class was over that I was able to work out what I was doing and how well I'd done it. I'd go back in the next day armed with just that tiny bit of extra awareness and confidence, which led to increased awareness and confidence, and so on.
For now, I'll just settle for readers. Please read my blog. You can also comment on it if you like.