Writing Machines is the course website for English 170L at Pomona College in Claremont, California.
Why was this so hard?
If you've read my comments on anonymity on the internet, you might know why I've had such problems posting on this blog. If you've put up with me talking about it, I appreciate it greatly. So here are my thoughts on why I've had such trouble (or stop reading. also a feasible response)â€¦
Everything on the internet is tracked and permanent. Although I appreciate KF's gesture to our digital responsibility by giving us all pseudonyms, I have no illusions that there are any number of ways people can figure out who's who on this blog. From extremely technical methods to the very basic social engineering, it's fairly simple to circumvent the pseudonym system. So people can figure out who I am â€“ big deal, right?
For someone who's highly interested in remaining an academic, let alone an academic in this field, I'm fairly paranoid about making public statements that I have to back up. One of the privileges about being in a class is that we're allowed to make mistakes that (usually) don't have to stand up to public (i.e. non-class) scrutiny, let alone take personal responsibility for them. I can be wrong in class, and although it may make my teachers or peers respect me less, it probably won't hurt my resume or make me unemployable.
Lets play pretend for a second. In our pretend world, KF is a very prominent academic in the world of digital literature, and we're her class. Several of KF's colleagues are interested in her work, especially this class. So they read the blog. Then someone says something interesting, whether it be very bright or very flawed. This blog post gets emailed around the group of colleagues who are interested in this subject, and they all talk about it. Suddenly the positions the pseudonyms take on this site have a concrete relationship to academics beyond this class.
Can you imagine how our relationships with our professors would be different if we got to read transcripts of their undergraduate class discussions? Or if we read all their unpublished papers on the subjects we were studying before we ever talked about it in class? Suddenly we'd have a picture of what they are going to say, who they are, and how we are going to react to them, all before they've ever had a chance to present themselves to us in a contemporary context.
I see these problems as parallel to the problems of recording my undergraduate thoughts in the digital world. I don't post my papers online for similar reasons, and if you think I'm just going to send in a rough draft of one of my papers for grad school, you're sadly mistaken (you can bet that paper has been picked over a lot more than any of these posts).
Of course, the easy response to all of this is the accusation of egotism. Who cares? Who will actually go through the effort of finding out what your pseudonym is? I'm not afraid of a professor out there with malicious motives towards my academic career, but I have had the unfortunate experience of getting into an argument with someone online and then accidentally finding out who that person was in analogue life.
Perhaps my fears are totally unfounded (and I do hope that's true), but as a web designer without a website dedicated to myself, I have a sincere anxiety towards digital footprints. To that end I've found it really hard to post here like I would in a personal blog, and I'm very impressed with the confidence and candid tone everyone else has displayed.
Have a good break everyone.