blogging and work

Another post from my former New Media class. This one inspired my post on gender and documentation.

So many blogs, so many drupal sites, so little time. Ahem, do you ever have those moments when you realize that you’ve forgotten to do something (for several weeks)? Well, welcome to my moment and the moment finds me thinking about the nature of blogs. Now I know from my various readings and discussions that blogs started as online diaries. From there it was a short walk to social and political commentary, but what I’m wondering is: when did blogs become work? For some of us (myself included) our relationship to work is complicated at best. For example, it’s early Friday evening and my plans are:working on one of my web projects and grading student papers (oh, and writing this blog entry). Coffee and kitty cats are included in this scenario (and probably a little Veronica Mars), which only further complicates the matter. Lots of folks have been writing and talking about the way that work has permeated our personal lives, so that many of us never really leave work behind. I think that this is even more complicated for graduate students, educators, freelancers and other folks without distinctly set work hours. My laptop, my wireless connection, my Blackberry–all of the accoutrements of my postmodern existence enable me to work whenever and wherever I wish. It makes for a beautiful amount of freedom and flexibility while simultaneously altering how those words are defined. Free time isn’t something that has much meaning for me, making me reflect on how others, both current and past, relate(d) to the concept of free time. If I look to my personal, familial past, I cannot remember any time when my mother didn’t seem busy but I discard that as evidence because my mother is a workaholic (thanks for those genes, Mom) and it wasn’t really that long ago. What if I look back a few more decades and think about the lives of my grandparents (or at least the bricolage lives that I have built out of family stories). My grandparents were children of the Depression. Free time connotes a kind of frivolity that they could not afford. Although I don’t agree with Adorno’s assessment of hobbies as necessarily work, in the case of my grandparents the comparison is fairly apt. In her free time my grandmother worked on writing her novel (which under different circumstances might have been her profession). My grandfather hunted, but not for pleasure. He hunted so that they’d have food to eat. Of course later in their lives, when they were financially stable, there was time for leisure.

Financial stability is key to this discussion. Leisure is the luxury of those who have the money to afford it. Even as I talk about how “we” are blurring to boundaries between work and life/leisure, I am aware that “we” constitutes a particular population performing a specific kind of work. It’s easy for me to talk about the effect of technology on work and leisure because I belong to the “we” that constantly appear in the media (okay, I couldn’t resist, but to clarify: in magazines, on the news, in blogs such as this). This “we” is often represented as a totality when in fact those of us for whom the boundaries between work and life have blurred in this particular way, comprise a fairly small percentage of the world’s population.

It’s a truism that categories never really have definition in the sense of clearly defined/delineated differences between one category and the others. Binaries (as Morgan R. mentioned today) are indeed myths but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t useful as locations of inquiry. The tension that exists between (and around the concept of) binaries provides us with a space for investigation. It’s the only way to approach the world and still retain your sanity: all aspects of life have the potential to faciliate our learning, even (and sometimes especially) those things that cause difficulties in our lives. So, back to binaries. I’d take it even a step farther and say that binaries can be seen as locatable points on a much broader spectrum. I’m sure that the distinction between work and leisure has never been as clear as nostalgia may make it appear to be. I know that this isn’t a new phenomenon but the specifics are a sampling of the already new that when combined seem to create something whose parts may not be new but the whole that they comprise is a new combination of those parts. Can the whole be new even when its parts are not? I guess it all comes down to definitions. If something is only new when all of its parts are also new, then nothing is ever new and the term ceases to have much usefulness. Maybe its time to revise the way that we define “newness.” Or does its usefulness lie in reminding us of the kind of ambiguities that any discussion of “progress” includes?

I’ve been making a big deal about how nothing is really ever new. Even blogs can be seen as a hybrid of diaries, letters and commonplace books. Yet even though these are not new per se, the ways that they have evolved from older technologies and media have significantly affected the way that we experience our world. Our commonplace books can be shared across continents not merely within a household. Still all of the media that I identify as the progenitors of the blog are typically associated with personal lives. Blogs began as personal but have since expanded to include blogs for social commentary as well as those created for business. Companies who enlist bloggers to promote their products are continually increasing, so much so that there are blogs like this one that contain job postings for bloggers. Blogs have even become a source of income for the casual blogger thanks to Google ads and similar. The sales blogs can be clearly categorized as work. The blogger who blogs for personal satisfaction who also uses her blog as a source of income still fits on the leisure/life end of the spectrum. It’s blogs like Donovon Lange’s work blog. Lange identifies himself as a software engineer who works on Microsoft OneNote and he makes a distinction between his work blog and his personal blog; however, his work blog is maintained during his leisure time. (Or at least is not officially part of his work at Microsoft.) He doesn’t have to keep this blog; we can assume that he does so for his own personal reasons. Yet he still feels the need to make the distinction between Donovan the software engineer and Donovan the person.

My blog is blurry at best. When your work is what you love to do, how do you know when work ends and life begins or is it ever that simple? I blog for my own personal satisfaction; I have my students blog as part of their course requirements and my responding to these blogs easily falls into the category of work; I am also required to blog Technically, this is my free time and what I’m doing is work. I’m fulfilling a requirement of my work by writing this but I’m enjoying it too. How important is it that I reify these boundaries and binaries if I’m okay with the blurry edges?