To publish or not to publish?

 

“When a tree falls in a lonely forest, and no animal is near by to hear it, does it make a sound? Why?” Mann and Twiss (1910) image source: Wikimedia commons

On the latest episode of our DS106 Good Spell we talked about ways to navigate our personal struggles when making choices to publish and share our work. We wanted to go beyond platitude and acknowledge that pit in the stomach that most of us feel when we hit publish.

It occurred to me that these ideas may be of use to CT101 as it is my understanding that some students are only just considering their strategy to working in the open web and not everyone is sure if this way of being is for them.

We started the show with a summary bullet from one of my old posts reflecting on my learning in DS106 a year ago,

“Doing DS106 is like becoming an actor, amazing when the crowd claps and ruthless when nobody notices your performance”

When it works well and there is a learning community around the students there is a magical quality to publishing your work. Strangers come to visit your blog, take time to read and comment on what you have produced. In DS106 my experience has mostly been a positive one. But not always. This is Jonathan Worth talking about his #Phonar (Photography and Narrative) course,

“When I talk about things like this to my students I describe them making a transition from being an edu-customer to a supplier – no one is contractually obligated to engage with their “work” – though I know they find it frustrating that no peers are throwing their weight in – its not an easy one.”

In DS106 we have the Inspire web site as a way of us recognising the work of fellow students that inspire us. My sad confession is that I have rarely used it.  Current UMW students are ‘having’ to use it as it is part of their credits to submit 3 items that have inspired them to the site. The site was designed by past students and it is lovely to find your work there.  In my case, much later than when it was submitted, as I do not often visit the site. Yet it is open to all of us to use.

DS106 seems to have a set of social norms that normalise failure as part of the creative process: we talk about ‘futzing’ on the radio as things go wrong technically whilst we learn to broadcast, we talk about #big fail, laugh when stuff does not go our way and publish anyway asking for advise on how to make ‘it’ work.

I have recently created an Art Critique project to force me to attend to my fellow DS106ers work. I am calling it DS106 art on the Couch and hoping others will jump in and learn art critique with me. It turns out that art critique is a domain of its own and that there is much to learn to do this well beyond just telling people we like/dislike their work. I am learning a great deal about art by paying undivided attention to one piece of art and writing about what I notice beyond an initial emotional response towards or away from it. I hope it will also teach me to speak to other people’s work beyond  the rushed    that seems to be so much of our online interactions.

Yet when it dos not work, that is when you publish and nobody is there to hold a learning space, it is ruthless. It is like the actor finishing what they perceive as the performance of a lifetime and nobody clapping.

My early experience of this was really tough. Whilst I can see the huge potential of a global virtual community, I do remember how it felt the first time I threw my party and nobody came. I also remember how grateful I was to the few people who did turn up. I make an effort to keep up with what people publish but there is so much more than I can spend time with.

One strategy human beings use to cope with that pit in the stomach feeling is rationalisation. We say to anyone who will listen “I really am only publishing for myself and I am okay if nobody comments”  or some version of that.  We believe our words consciously and as a psychologist I know well that ‘The Nile is not just a river in Egypt’ as the meme goes.

Remixed from Tumblr https://38.media.tumblr.com/7f952df7d8d8ec2a79ee256fe8801f8d/tumblr_n0yoioysWi1strhoco5_250.gif
Animated gif remixed by Gifadog  Source: Tumblr 

We say that we create for an audience or, failing that, the potential of an audience and that this offers a different kind of learning potential than sitting in a classroom or writing on my hard disk. I can speak a lot to the wisdom of that generalisation, but for now let me just say that there is a big difference to our psyche between writing on a private journal and writing publicly with the potential of an audience large, small, or non-existent. It is not trivial to learn resilience vis a vis all three of those options.

We formulate our ideas more clearly when we think of an audience, we shape our ideas as we speak on the radio and it is a performance. All this feels true and useful.

Yet, we do not say as much about the vulnerability this exposes us all to. The ‘Zero Comment’ dynamic Lovink discusses so eloquently. In the case of my first radio programme  last year, it was the ‘Zero Listeners’ dynamic compounded with Zero guests. I was very  grateful that 2 members of our community took time to listen and offer feedback.

Given that feeling that we get when nobody turns up. Is it surprising that we will go to any length to get attention?  Unlike its proponents, Lovink sees blogging as just another form of vanity publishing,

“Blogs have become more of a rat race for maximum attention, measured in links and friends.”

Here are some others expressing the angst of zero comments, not just within DS106 but web wide,

“So I put out a tweet asking if anyone in the course was from a scientific, math, or engineering discipline rather than a humanities, arts, or even social sciences discipline. I got zero response.”  Bill Benzon

“I know exactly the empty pit feeling you describe, and it has been the course of my career littered with dormant discussion forums, ghost town wikis, unedited open docs. And I will try to say to let go of the disappointment, and in doing so will be a hypocrite, knowing what it does to my motivation to do a hangout where no one shows up or a live #ds106radio show where no one listens”  Alan Levine

And there are others who seem to believe they do not have a need for external validation. They just publish for themselves, yet admit to being grateful when seen by others,

“When I throw out a tweet or a blog, it’s more for me to sort through the ideas than for anyone else to take them up. I’m always grateful when someone responds and pushes my thinking, but I see the act itself as pushing myself to get clearer about something…get the idea out of my head.” Kim Jaxon

Others seek explanation for why sometimes our work goes unnoticed,

“Stuff gets lost, or submerged, or just put to one side because many of the folks involved are already doing many other such experiences. I’ve been trying to bring newbies into the fold by having periodic meetups at my school, but only a handful are engaging with blogs, and even fewer with tweets.” Gardner Campbell

Gardner also recognises what a tough thing it is to feel excluded and like nobody wants to come to your party. Yet he says that should never be used as an excuse to be a snark,

“Feeling excluded is a nasty feeling. Being a Snark is another matter. I don’t think it’s ever helpful, except as a conversation stopper” Gardner Campbell

Then there is what happens when we are noticed but the attention we receive is not wanted. I wrote about that in a previous post on this blog when I tried show that often troll or friend is a matter of perspective.

In that post I talked about how shocked I had been by stories like that of Kathy Sierra. The idea that has stuck with me in reading her work is her idea of the ‘Koolaid point’. She identifies this as the point when unwanted attention escalates. The point at which followers ‘are thought to have drunk the Koolaid’ is when a person starts to actually have an audience. Those who oppose their perspective feel the attention is not deserved and then start trolling more,

“From their angry, frustrated point of view, the idea that others listen to you is insanity. From their emotion-fueled view you don’t have readers you have cult followers. That just can’t be allowed.” Kathy Sierra

So when you are about to hit the publish button you think about the options. Lovely people engaging with your ideas, nobody engaging with your ideas and people who dislike you (or who you dislike) engaging with your ideas.

When I started using the open web to learn and publish I learnt a huge amount about expectations. Here is what I wrote in my blog after that failed radio programme,

“What was brought home to me was that I had expectations about how others would behave and these were not met. This led me to reflect on what is the psychological contract we have in hashtag classrooms. It is not clear and it can be tough to navigate the uncertainty and lack of guidelines.”

It is like my quote from Jonathan Worth earlier, nobody is obligated to engage with your work. Once you learn the resilience needed to work with this no obligation contract, learn that being a snark helps nobody, or a victim begging for attention, or that humans will avoid toxic people online as well as offline, then you are ready to join the global village and welcome the freedom it offers. But this literacy is not self evident and  some people never find it.

Developing in this way requires a level of honesty about our own behaviour, a willingness to look at the ill will we feel when our expectations are not met. I do not find much written online about this. One great exception is Pernille Ripp in a post aimed at open educators she talks about how it is just not all ‘cupcakes and rainbows’. I highly recommend reading it as a way in to the darker side of our human motivation: ill-will, jealousy, perfectionism, arrogance and more.

The point I do not want to lose here is that I have made a choice to engage with the open web even as I am aware of its darker side…. for now. I think it matters that we do not Pollyanna-like gloss over the difficulties. Particularly when we hope to educate new people to join this open web learning world. It is not all rainbow and cupcakes, yet is it still the most inspirational learning environment I have ever been in.

What helped me is to have great mentors and down to earth advise. I feel I owe that same thing to others who may be considering this option.

And the best advise for me has always come from DS106.

Here is Alan Levine offering kind advise recently,

“I don’t accept a lack of response as an invalidation of the effort. Quite often people come to an understanding or appreciation on a different time scale than you are moving. A lot more people look at the stuff than respond or participate, and often you have the impact you hope to have but you never see it. So f******** the low numbers of responses or lack of comments. That is not a measure of anything but a desire for some validation.”

My wish for anyone coming to learn on the open web is that they work with themselves in such a way that they can see the wisdom of the words above, instead of feeling they have to pander to a majority or find ever more sensationalist post titles to get somebody, anybody, to click on their post and comment. And that is all of us on a bad day not just ‘them’.

 

 

 

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