Blogging is innate to the human psyche and I’ll devour my own tail if I want to

22 April 2008

I wish I could remember where I read that blogging about blogging is the refuge of the truly desperate blogger. It has a terrible snake swallowing its own tail feel, like books about books, sitcoms about sitcoms, mirrors reflecting mirrors reflecting mirrors …

Nevertheless, today I am blogging about the process of blogging. Why, at what seems the embryonic stage of this blog rather than its death knell, do I choose to write about the process of writing? Am I determined to alienate my small but devoted band of readers? (I wouldn’t actually have thought I had any until I chatted with them over morning tea and hot cross buns at Easter, and there’s a good chance that not posting for almost a month might have disillusioned even that loyal following).

(‘Ouroboros’, from MShades’ Flickr photos and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence)

Readers of this blog — if there are still any left — are probably aware that a significant amount of what I do at work consists of monitoring the publication habits of Swinburne University researchers. This is mostly done automatically; I subscribe to table of contents alerting services for the major bibliographic citation databases like Web of Science and Scopus, and I have a Google Alert on the search term ‘Swinburne University‘. Google’s alert service notifies me when Google indexes a page containing my search term, while the citation databases notify me when someone affiliated with Swinburne University publishes in a journal indexed by that service.

Naturally, this method isn’t foolproof. As my colleague Sara mentioned some time ago now, Google Alerts are not always perfectly accurate. On average, I receive one or two unrelated alerts every day. One of the problems with my particular search terms is the existence of the philosopher Richard ‘Swinburne‘, and the fact that he works at a ‘university’. But if I just need a quick overview of who’s talking about us, it’s a good start.

Over the last few months, I’ve received well over 40 unique alerts for blog posts, newspaper articles and media contributions referring to a single piece of research published by two Swinburne researchers. Usually it’s our astronomers who attract the most attention here and overseas; our research centre is world class, and the stellar subject matter inspires an amateur cult following. It’s such a delightfully romantic Enlightenment Era profession, being a stargazer …

Yet it’s the humanities researchers who’ve been making waves of late (I hope the oceanographers will forgive me for that one). The Brain Sciences Institute researchers have recently discovered that Pycnogenol can have a significant impact on the cognitive ability of the elderly. Earlier in the year, a study conducted by Swinburne psychology researchers caused controversy in the international media as the preliminary results were (no doubt wrongly) interpreted as a third of Australians aged 18 to 25 cheat on their partners.

And the single most popular piece of research? An article published in the February issue of CyberPsychology & Behavior, which has generated a collossal amount of traffic on the Web (and in my inbox), the results of which have appeared in posts from bloggers as diverse as Welsh MPs, American cataloguing librarians, creative writing groups, marketers and the writers of the popular technology news blog TechCrunch.

So what do librarians and members of parliament have in common? What research discovery could have the power to create so much interest in the blogging world across such a variety of topics?

The answer is simple. Susan Moore and James Baker have given us all a reason to keep blogging. The study suggests that like keeping a diary, blogging can help those who feel alienated, lonely and distressed to vent their frustrations and build a support network through comments and feedback. Pseudonyms (increasingly called ‘netonyms‘ in an online context … shudder), allow bloggers to communicate thoughts and emotions that they may be too afraid to put forward under their own name.

It doesn’t sound like a revolutionary notion. In fact, it makes perfect sense. Many introverts like to write, and some of the world’s greatest writers use(d) pseudonyms when really they had no reason to be ashamed of their work. I suspect the reason that the meme (dare I use that word without fully understanding its meaning?) has appeared to reach such plague proportions in the blogging world is that for many bloggers, it gives a sense of validation to what might otherwise have been considered pointless vanity publication.

For that, I think bloggers can thank Swinburne.

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