What’s Next?

The humble blog, at nine years old, is a true outlier. Most bloggers sprint from the gun only to hit the wall quite quickly and bag their plans of blogosphere glory altogether.

So, props to me for the longevity. Correction, props to you for inspiring me to keep on keepin’ on. Whether you “like” a post, leave a comment, tell me about a post that made you think, or just keep silently returning, it’s all motivating.

I get inquiries from tech firms all the time that say they could help me grow the humble blog through their search engine optimization (SEO) expertise. I haven’t hired any of them because I’m an outlier in another way, I’ve never cared about monetizing the blog. Even to the point where I actually pay for it to remain ad free.

Being content with a small, internationally inclined readership doesn’t mean I don’t think about mixing things up on occasion. I suppose, that could mean enlisting the services of an SEO team, although I have no idea how to evaluate their relative merits. It could mean changing formats too. I could vlog (video blog); however, many people say I have the perfect face for radio, which brings us to the coolest kid on the “personal journalism/communication” block—podcasting.

When I think about podcasting, which I really learned to appreciate in 2020, I assume we’re just approaching or just past “Peak Podcasting”. There’s no danger in it fading away, but there’s definitely going to be a shakeout with 15% of the best ones getting 85% of the audience. And I have no illusions about what it would take to be in that 15%, largely a dedicated team outworking the 85%.

I suppose though, I could have a humble podcast, since I wouldn’t be depending upon it to feed my family. 

I’ve been contemplating what’s next when it comes to personal journalism/communication. Many would say the future is Substack. Substack is definitely a part of what’s next, but I anticipate some unknown format evolving to compliment subscription-based blogging, vlogging, and podcasting.

In the last twenty years, a significant swath of phone-less Sub-Saharan Africans skipped landline telephones in favor of inexpensive, cellular ones. Similarly, I could leapfrog podcasting and make a real go of the next format if I had a better, more concrete feel, for the future.

Is your crystal ball any clearer than mine? What do you think is around the corner? Five years from now, how might you “consume” news, hear stories about other people and places, and educate yourself about things you care about?

What is lurking on the personal journalism/communication horizon? Put differently, what should PressingPause become?

A One Act Play

The setting: Jeff Bezos’s and MacKenzie Scott’s Medina, WA kitchen. After working together to make Kraft macaroni and cheese with hot dogs, they serve themselves, grab two cans of Mountain Dew, and sit down at their formica dinner table. It’s one of their last dinners together as a married couple. A few days following this meal, they decide to pull the plug on their marriage. 

Jeff: Mac and cheese with dogs never gets old. [laughs uncontrollably] 

MacKenzie: No, it doesn’t. [inner voice. . . but your laugh has sure started to] 

Jeff: What did you do today?

MacKenzie: I spent most of it journaling. Which helped me realize I don’t want to help you turn Amazon into the world’s retail store anymore. I think $182 billion is enough money. I want to make the world a better place through writing and giving my share of our money away.

[All the while, Jeff texts Lauren Sanchez under the table.]

MacKenzie: [Softly, sadly, and with a deep sense of resignation.] Did you hear me?

Jeff: Yes, you said you want to help me make Amazon into the world’s retail store. 

[MacKenzie stares at Jeff in silence]

Jeff: [Head in his lap.] Can you pass the applesauce? 

 

“I Often Look Down On Myself”

Despite all the distancing, I’ve had many more meaningful interactions with my students this semester than I anticipated. Interactions that have left me feeling sublimely aligned with my life purpose.

I regularly challenge students to focus more on learning processes than outcomes. More specifically, I advise them not to focus on grades too intensely.  I’m not naive as to why so many of them do exactly that—scholarship requirements, good driving discounts, graduate school applications, and parents’ expectations for starters.

And yet, deep down they know their intense focus on grades often compromises their learning. Many still can’t help themselves.

“Why, do you place so much importance on your grades?” I gently probed with one of my first year writers last week during a one-on-one conference. I don’t remember what she said, but I’ll never forget her follow up e-mail.

“You asked me when we last met why I focus so much on my grades. I gave you the first answer to come to mind. I have put a lot of thought into it. I often look down on myself. I have a hard time telling myself, that I’m smart or interesting or pretty. I have a hard time accepting it when others say it’s true. Grades are the way, I can look at myself and say, ‘here in front of you is proof that you are smart, or at least smart enough, and that you can succeed.’ That’s all. Thank you for everything professor.”

I’m the one who should be thanking her for the single most honest, heartfelt explanation for grade anxiety I’ve ever heard.

Wednesday Required Reading and Viewing

1. Colleges Have Shed a Tenth of Their Employees Since the Pandemic Began. The Great Contraction gathers steam. Yesterday, my uni announced the formation of a Joint Faculty Committee which will decide which programs and faculty to cut. When we did this four years ago, I knew we didn’t cut deeply enough. I regret being right.

2. Italian Police Use Lamborghini To Transport Donor Kidney 300 Miles In Two Hours. Should help with recruiting.

3. Have rogue orcas really been attacking boats in the Atlantic? This story has it all including a “rogue pod” and marauding “teenagers”. 

4. Jason Reynolds: Honesty, Joy, and Anti-Racism. Great book, highly recommended.

5. The Secret to Deep Cleaning. Come on over if you’d like to practice.

Death By Lecture

I’m getting the hang of teaching on-line, but writing that is going to cost me. Bigly. Whenever I get the least bit cocky about my faux-electronic teaching skills, I almost immediately do something exceedingly stupid. My undergraduate Multicultural Education class is filled with bright eyed, smart, engaging young adults. Most of the time. On Tuesday, the proletariat staged a work stoppage. Meaning whenever I posed a question to the 22-person class, no one responded. “I’ll just wait them out,” I thought to myself. Had I not capitulated, I’d still be waiting.

It’s happened once or twice this semester. So I thought about what those class sessions had in common and formed the following hypothesis. If I start class by talking more than a few minutes, they all have the same inner dialogue, “Fine, if you like the sound of your own voice so much, just keep talking for the whole damn 90 minutes.” In medical circles, this is known as “Death By Lecture”.

It didn’t matter that my 30-minute presentation was clear, conceptual, and relevant, cross the 10-minute Rubicon on screen and Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount would’ve left his crowd mute.

So I came up with an experiment. I started Thursday’s class without talking at all. At 10:01 a.m. I wrote in our Zoom chat room, “Good morning. I have a hypothesis. When I begin class by speaking for more than a 5-10 minutes, a passive pall descends upon the land.” Sheepish smiles from those with video cameras on spread like wildfire. “So today, instead of talking, I’m going to use this chat room to begin class. I will type fast. I’d like to begin by having you think about the following questions. You successfully graduated high school and earned admission to a well-respected university. To what do you credit your academic success? Why? What constitutes ‘success in school’? It has to be more than just getting good grades doesn’t it? What else should ‘school success’ encompass? Why? All right, ready? I’m going to put you into groups now.”

Then I weaved and bobbed through uber-animated small groups. After awhile, I brought everyone back together and again turned to the chat room. They were clearly digging the fact that I still hadn’t spoken. This time I typed, “Okay, that was excellent, you’ve already confirmed my hypothesis, but let’s extend the experiment. Have your Berliner article in front of you to refer to when discussing these questions. Which outside-of-school factors most impact how well students do or don’t do in school? If outside-of-school factors impact student achievement three times more than in-school factors, how much should the public expect teachers to accomplish in any given school year?” Again, they dove into animated, energized discussions.

An hour into class I ruined everything by breaking my silence. After a mini-lecture, we were nearly out of time. I hurriedly asked a few questions, but was met with another stone-faced work stoppage. Their silence wrapped up the experiment and spoke volumes. I had resuscitated their surliness. What I heard was, “Answer your own damn questions.”

I’m Not A Political Consultant

But I could be. Imagine if Trump’s campaign was a bit more inclusive and I was hired to advise on messaging and strategy.

The incessant attacks on Biden’s character are a dead-end. A lot of Republicans fret about his probable policies, but they also know deep down, he’s a decent person. And human decency counts now more than ever. Instead, focus on real threats to American life by tweeting this out:

It’s grossly unfair that college professors have lifetime job security and an all-time great President has to reapply for his job after only four years.

Then just sit back and watch the “likes” and retweets.

And here’s how you blunt the criticism that the President hasn’t clearly communicated what he hopes to accomplish in a second term. Again, tweet this:

Authoritarianism. Just try it. What have you got to lose?

The first two-thirds of that would also make an excellent bumper sticker and pin.

Weeks ago, I also would’ve insisted on placing a voting box at every truck stop and boat ramp in Florida.

And lastly, that 400-person White House party planned for tonight, I’d trim that guest list by about 396 people.

How Far Do You Want To Go?

There’s a growing consensus that the only people who should be allowed to inveigh on, or teach about contemporary issues, are those with relevant, direct lived experience with them. This sentiment makes sense given powerful people’s propensity to marginalize people different than them. However, extend the idea, and a lot of questions arise.

Should Catholic priests be allowed to do marriage counseling? Should men be allowed to teach Women’s Studies courses? Should white academics be allowed to teach African American history?

Extend it a touch further as many progressives are and a logical question is whether old, wealthy, heterosexual, white dudes should be allowed to inveigh or teach about anything after centuries of dominating nearly every discussion of consequence.

In which case, I should probably cycle more and write less.

Don’t Write This Way

Positive writing models are the most helpful, but sometimes negative examples of what not to do are so glaring they just can’t be ignored.

From a lefty on Twitter, “I don’t want to be alarmist, but a GOP source just told me this: “Trump’s condition is serious. He can go either way. . . . ”

Writing at its worst. What’s more alarmist than “He can go either way”?

Own your ideas. One could write, “At the risk of being alarmist, . . . “, but if you truly don’t want to be alarmist, delete it all. Silence is often a great option.

“Teaching” On-Line: A Report From The Front Lines

Midway through week 3. In three words, a roller coaster.

Last night the graduate Sociology of Education seminar was a case study of incompetence. When exiting breakout groups I disconnected everyone from everything so we had to scramble to reconnect. For good measure, I added in some pedagogical incompetence by talking too much. One other student saw my blabbing and raised it, and I didn’t know what to do as his classmates, like dominoes, tuned him out one after another.

After class, I retraced my steps and realized the errors of my ways. And so today I was an online teaching rock star, turning off the waiting room, screen sharing, moving between small groups and large with aplomb. I damn well better win the prestigious “Most Improved Zoomer” award, Boomer Division.

I just unplugged from the First Year writers. I forgot to tell them they could jet after they were done peer editing, so they all returned to “office hours”. And they just wanted to hang out, which was cool. They’re a fun subset of the bad luck Covid Class, those 18-19 year olds who missed their high school graduations and have had to start college with electronic teaching hacks like me.

One of them had hilarious background images repeatedly rotating behind him last session. Today, another student did. How long until I lose complete control?

But their daring to be different provided much need levity. They’re not just funny, but resilient, still in good spirits despite “the invisible enemy which no one could’ve seen coming”. After shooting the breeze a bit, I had to tell them it was 72 degrees outside and sunny for one of the last times in a long time. I pleaded with them to “go outside and toss a frisbee.”

Thursday, we’re meeting in-person for the first time. Glory hallelujah.