In November of 2008, Andrew Sullivan published an excellent article in The Atlantic, - Why I Blog, - in which he discussed the unique characteristics of a blog by reminding us what a web log shares in common with its namesake, the ship log.
“In journeys at sea that took place before radio or radar or satellites or sonar, these [ship] logs were an indispensable source for recording what actually happened. They helped navigators surmise where they were and how far they had traveled and how much longer they had to stay at sea. . . A log provided as accurate an account as could be gleaned in real time.”
“As you read a log, you have the curious sense of moving backward in time as you move forward in pages - the opposite of a book. As you piece together a narrative that was never intended as one, it seems - and is - more truthful. Logs, in this sense, were a form of human self-correction. They amended for hindsight, for the ways in which human beings order and tidy and construct the story of their lives as they look back on them. Logs require a letting-go of narrative because they do not allow for a knowledge of the ending. So they have plot as well as dramatic irony - the reader will know the ending before the writer did.”
“Anyone who has blogged his thoughts for an extended time will recognize this world. We bloggers have scant opportunity to collect our thoughts, to wait until events have settled and a clear pattern emerges. We blog now - as news reaches us, as facts emerge. A reporter can wait - must wait - until every source has confirmed. A novelist can spend months or years before committing words to the world. For bloggers, the deadline is always now. Blogging is therefore to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive. It is, in many ways, writing out loud.”
I have now been blogging since May of 2005. As Andrew Sullivan observes about blogs in general, my blog is a record of my changing interests over that time span, of the key items that were catching my attention, and how I felt about them at the time. Looking back at the many blogs I have posted, I am reminded of some of the major events of the past seven years.
The blog cover a major phase in my career, in particular, my retirement from IBM in June of 2007 and my transition from working full time in one company for 37 years to becoming a self-employed professional associated with a variety of institutions. This was arguably the biggest change in my professional life since I joined the Computer Sciences department at IBM Research in June of 1970 after finishing my physics studies at the University of Chicago.
The blog reminds me that I started preparing for what I call the post-IBM phase of my career by becoming involved with universities. First was MIT, where I was appointed Visiting Professor in the Engineering Systems Division (ESD) in February of 2006, and with which I continue to be affiliated, now as Visiting Lecturer in the Sloan School of Management as well as ESD. A year later, I became adjunct professor at the Imperial College Business School in London, and then, late in 2008 I joined SUNY’s Global Center as Senior Fellow.
As I fully expected, I really enjoy my university affiliations. Given the nature of my work at IBM, I was closely involved with universities through most of my career. IBM's University Relations program reported to me in my last few years with the company.
On the other hand, my affiliation with Citi, where I have been a strategic advisor for innovation and technology since March of 2008, has been an unanticipated surprise. It has led to my work on the evolution to universal digital money and related issues, including identity management, trust frameworks, security, privacy and global financial inclusiveness, which I find really interesting. In addition, my association with Citi likely accounts for my growing interest in economic matters over the past five years.
But a blog is not just a record of our shifting interests over time. In the end, the essence of blogging is its personal nature, a point made by Wikipedia in its definition of the term: “A blog is a personal journal published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete entries ("posts") typically displayed in reverse chronological order so the most recent post appears first.”
In your blog, you are making the implicit promise that you are personally writing the content and that you are writing about subjects you care about in your own voice and style. The blog should thus be conversational and informal enough to let your voice, style and personality come through. It should also be authentic, that is, you are sharing with others out there what is in your head, - your feelings and opinions about subjects you personally care about.
By far the largest number of of entries in my blog are about my professional interests, - technology, innovation, strategy, business and management, and so on. I do my best to write about these subjects, - however technical, academic and nerdy they might be, - in as conversational and informal a style as possible.
But, how about other personal interests beyond the professional? What about subjects I feel strongly about that have little to do with my work? Here, I am much more selective and careful about what I write about and how I do so.
When I first started my blog, I thought I would write about subjects totally unrelated to my career, like films and baseball. I did so for the first six months, but then stopped. At first, I was posting shorter entries twice a week, so it was easier to include posts on non-work interests. But, after a while, I settled on my present style, - posting relatively long entries once a week.
Over time, my blog seemed to take a life of its own. Writing and editing each post started to consume quite a number of hours each week, let alone the time it took to decide what to write about, how to best frame the subject, and conducting the necessary research so the blog was as well thought through as possible. I was not comfortable writing about subjects where I had no unique experience or expertise that I could try to communicate in my blog. I had no time or energy left for more casual posts.
From time to time, I do write about non-work related areas that I feel strongly about. Diversity and immigration issues are among such areas, not surprising given that I immigrated to the US from Cuba, and was quite involved in IBM’s diversity programs, in addition to my being Jewish and understandably sensitive to living in a well-functioning multicultural society. I also post entries on political issues I care a lot about. I try to be transparent about my own political beliefs. I was a member of President Obama’s transition team and have generally supported his administration’s key initiatives. It should be also be clear to anyone who reads my blog that I am not a fan of the Tea Party.
Every so often I post entries about more personal matters. I have written about my religious and ethical beliefs, as I just did last week. I have also written about my Cuban roots as well as about my parents. More recently, I posted an entry about my upcoming 50th high school reunion, which a friend pointed out in an e-mail “. . . I saw this blog post as a bit of an anomaly from all of your other posts as it is far more personal.” Let me explain.
My high school class, - the University of Chicago Lab Schools class of 1962, - is planning its 50th class reunion in June. For a variety of reasons, I have not attended previous high school class reunions and I would likely not have attended this one either. The organizers of our 50th class reunion set up a social media group that any member of the class could link to and participate in the online conversation. Even though I was not sure if I would attend the June reunion, I joined the online group site out of curiosity. And, after a while, I found myself really drawn to the discussions, initially as a passive reader, but later on as a contributor. As others in our group did, I wrote some details of my family life that I would never post in my regular blog.
I was actually quite surprised at my reaction to our group discussions and to the memories it brought to mind of this important period in my life. It caused me to think about events in my life I have not considered for many years. It has also been a catalyst for me to reconnect with classmates I have not talked to in fifty years, a few of which I have since met in person. In addition, I found it to be such a concrete example of the power of social media. This is why I decided to explore my feelings by writing the blog.
“I had forgotten how precious my time at U-High was, especially given the major transitions I was going through. These were important formative years which had a big influence in my future, from my eclectic professional career to my views on social issues. Our class-of-’62 group discussions have been really wonderful in bringing all these long forgotten memories to mind. I look forward to our reunion in June.”
In the end, we make personal decisions as to which subjects we choose to write about in our blogs, and which are off-limits. In my case, the bulk of the blogs are about my professional interests, a smaller number are about general, non-professional topics I have strong feelings about, and a handful are about aspects of my personal life I am comfortable writing about. Each blogger makes quite different such decisions about his/her choice of topics. These differences and huge variety is part of what makes blogging so fascinating.