Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Pseudonymous Blogging

In this post, I mentioned that I didn't know who Jeff Rice is, even though he's from the department that granted my Ph.D (about two years before he arrived). I've gotten a few people asking if that link was an implied endorsement of his article -- and it was not. It was simply to say, "hey, here's a blogger from my grad school, but I don't know him at all."

So now I feel compelled to write about the two issues raised in his post (and the raising of hackles that followed): pseudonymous blogging and overly-serious blogging.

First, as to pseudonymous blogging: the short answer is that I think it can be both fine and terrible, as with any other pseud/anonymous activity. Though I blog in my own name (part of that whole "public intellectual" project), I don't have anything particularly against pseudonymous blogging. I know the identities of many pseudonymous bloggers (a few who don't know I know, too), and I feel no desire to "out" them. In one case, I have not blogrolled a pseudonymous blogger because I think she feared others might figure out her indentity by the connection (so I keep her blog in my "Favorites" file). Most pseudonymous bloggers I know blog to maintain a freedom to be honest without fear of damaging their careers; in the case of academics, this generally means that their institutions also go unidentified.

But, the protest goes, pseudonymous bloggers often use their anonymity to behave badly! Yup, that's right ... but I can think of a dozen academic blogs of the top of my head in which the blogger behaves badly in their own name, generally in the form of stupid political posturing protected by tenure. I can also think of a lot of pseudonymous blogs that behave properly, are always respectful of their audience, and use their pseudonymous nature to blog more honestly, not more cruelly.

Besides, I engage in all sorts of anonymous behavior besides blogging. Like everyone else, all of my electronic financial interactions are done anonymously (lest hackers steal all those big bucks we professors get paid). I have used anonymous e-mail accounts to subscribe to all sorts of online publications because I don't want to get a bunch of spam (Let us tell you about our latest exciting product!). I vote anonymously. In other words, I engage in anonymous behavior to protect myself from all sorts of threats, from major (hacking all my dough) to minor (getting spam). My children are required to remain anonymous/pseudonymous online, for the obvious reasons, a reputable websites for children forbid kids from posting identifying information.

My point is that anonymity itself is not a problem; the problem is people abusing that anonymity. Sure, some people use ski masks in bank robberies ... but then, a lot of people use them to keep from freezing. Let us freely condemn those who use anonymity (or tenure or sheer cussed-ness) to be mean, but let's not condemn all pseudonymous blogging.

Now, as to the second issue -- seriousness. I think it is true that a lot of bloggers take the medium (and by extention, themselves) too seriously. But we took down Dan Rather, but we're the New Media, but we are a democratizing force ... yes, all that may be true, but there's also a lot of blogging out there that is delightfully unserious. I've got a pretty serious project behind the Wordhoard (again, the whole "public intellectual" thing), but if I ever start falling prey to the idea that because of my blog I'm "Professor Awesome, Ph.D.", it's time for me to go back and read Plato's account of the dialogues of Aristotle, 'cause I'm not all that (nor am I with a bag of chips). I think a blogger can take the blog seriously without taking himself seriously.

So, to summarize:
Pseudonymous blogging = sometimes good, sometimes bad
Taking one's blog seriously = usually good
Taking oneself serious = always in moderation


  1. Thomas Elrod11:32 PM

    Not to be a prude, but don't you mean Plato's dialogues of Socrates?

  2. Yeah, it would have been a bit of a feat for Plato to write about Aristotle when he only knew him as a student, not The Philosopher. Plus, from what (admittedly little) I know about old Ari, he didn't much go for "dialogue" so much as "pronouncement."

    As an "unserious" blogger (who hopes he's "delightful" about it), I agree that those who take themselves seriously don't write good blogs.

    But who said you aren't "Professor Awesome"? I certainly think of you so! Any man who can rock a bowtie like you can is awesome in my book!

  3. Brendan5:25 AM

    Mr Elrod, not to be a pedant, but don't you mean a pedant?

    (This comment should not be taken too seriously)

    PS: Any blog written by 'Professor Awesome (Ph.D)' would have to join the Wordhoard on my must read list - he sounds like a tremendously clever guy!

  4. Me, be in error? Impossible! Therefore, the timewarping *Plato's Dialogues of Aristotle* must be what I meant to say.

    You see, the *Dialogues of Aristotle* is riviting, action-packed sequel to all those boring dialogues of Socrates. In terms of overall structure, it's much the same, but one bit of artistic license in *Platos's Dialogues of Aristotle* is that Plato and Aristotle are both armed with flamethrowers, and seek revenge against all those who voted for the execution/suicide of Socrates.

    The acting is sub-par, but the special effects are not to be missed, and you'll love the final confrontation between Aristotle (played by Vin Diesel) and Meletus (Jack Palance) after Meletus has taken sidekick Xenophon (Tom Arnold) hostage. I won't give the ending away, but it involves a nuclear warhead, a busload of orphans, and a strategically-placed vial of hemlock.

    Now, gentlemen, next time you think you've noticed me in error, think again. Only the Pope is more infallible than I, Professor Awesome, Ph.D.

  5. Dr. Nokes:
    That was very well put and intelligently thought out.

    However, I've noticed another error in this entry that seems to have gone overlooked:

    "'s time for me to go back and read Plato's account of the dialogues of Aristotle, 'cause I'm not all that (nor am I with a bag of chips)."

    With a bag of chips? The correct phrase is and a bag of chips. Is a lecture on ten-year-old slang in order? I must say, a professor that's truly "Professor Awesome" is down on all the happening jive. Dig?

  6. "Me, be in error? Impossible! Therefore, the timewarping *Plato's Dialogues of Aristotle* must be what I meant to say."

    Don't you mean "un-possible?"

    Seriously, though, anonymous or pseudo-anonymous blogging, posting, or gaming is a time-honored tradition on the internet. Yes, sometimes people use it to behave badly, but then again, one could argue that a person sometimes needs to act like that every now and then in an anonymous forum, lest those feelings start affecting a person's "real" life.

    Maybe I've just become jaded from being a part of the net for so long, but I hardly even bat an eye at anonymous threats or rabblerousing on the Internet -- the fact that the person is choosing to do it anonymously says to me that they probably wouldn't even dream of doing it when actually confronted face-to-face with another person.

  7. Good post. I feel semi-affirmed in my semi-pseudonymity.

  8. Thomas Elrod11:10 AM

    Ah, I see. It sounds like an excellent film. If you enjoyed that, I recommend "St. Augustine and Friends," in which Augustine and Martin Luther time travel to Berlin circa 1943 to fight the Nazis. Thomas Aquinas makes a special appearance as an RAF pilot and John Calvin runs a speakeasy.

  9. Brendan11:39 AM

    'Only the Pope is more infallible than I, Professor Awesome, Ph.D.'

    Dear Professor Awesome (Ph.D), while I know you can't be wrong, can you tell me please how can one thing be more infallible
    than another?

    PS: Is it really necessary for you to refer to yourself continually as both 'Professor' and 'Ph.D'. Where, I ask myself, is the humility?

    PSS: I still think you're really awesome though!!! - just not as much as before.... :(

  10. Naturally Xenophon was captured because he was so hung over from his Spring Break in Babylon. It was hard work educating Cyrus (Seth Green) in the fine arts of drinking 'til you puke and picking up on babes.

    You can naturally watch the film A History of My Times: 10,000 Babes and Too Little Time, the prequel to Plato's Dialogues of Aristotle to see the adventures of Xenophon (Tom Arnold). Christopher Lee was excellent as Agiselus.