public space

What’s my age again?

My blog, stutterstumblewritings (henceforth SSW), has been up and running in public since early 2013. Initially, it was a place to host my creative writing projects as I had been previously publishing on LiveJournal and FictionPress. This year I began a fast-tracked version of UOW’s Bachelor of Communications and Media Studies. Somehow I didn’t realise this included blogging and tweeting for grades until one or two weeks into semester. It was a difficult decision, one I wrestled with for a time, as to whether I wanted to subject my pre-existing (small yet established) audience to a completely different genre of writing by letting SSW host various intellectual ramblings related to media and communications for three months at a time. After playing around with the Menus and Categories settings in WordPress, I discovered it was easy to navigate my blog by creating simple filter systems in the menus.

As I take to Google to find out how all these words I keep throwing on the Internet contribute to this space that is “public”, I can’t help but find a bunch of unrelated search results. My favourite interpretation of what I thought were pretty basic search terms (“public” and “writing”) is Julie Shiels’ collection of discarded objects that she stencils words on.

Image of an abandoned couch with

“When I pointed out to the man who was berating me for vandalism that there was nothing illegal about stencilling a discarded couch – he shouted – ‘Why don’t you act your age’.”

Maybe we can call this the premise for this reflection. A lot of results are about overcoming the anxiety of publishing in the public, of making your work available not only to others but to any person with a wanton mouse and an internet connection. While anxiety has been a long term problem of mine, two years into carving out this little space of public the is SSW I’m not really fussed on putting opinions out there. My priority is that I enjoy myself when I’m writing and that what I write reflects myself as a writer.

This year I developed a new voice.

I will always tell stories. That’s not something I can shake off. However blogging is not stiff and structured in the way prose or poetry might be. I feel like this is a conversation, especially when comments are enabled. I’ve tried interviewing various peopletwice. Not an experience I readily enjoyed writing about. My induction into various ethnographic techniques, specifically collaborative ethnography with the intention of creating a piece of research that benefits both the researcher and the “subject”, gave me a new insight into a creative practice I had not previously experienced. In the past, research to me has meant Googling, consulting the reference list at the end of my required readings and conducting Boolean searches on Summons. This year has seen me interacting with the people around me to find out what they think and feel about media and how it influences the space around them. The immediacy and reality of these interactions have shown me how much more these experiences with other people should be valued at least equally with quantitative analysis.

“Public writing is a form of community service.”

David Leonard, a professor at Washing State University, wrote an article in defence of public writing. He says that by publishing online we don’t limit our readership to scholars. When employing the collaborative ethnographic approach to research, it’s more important for us to reach a wide audience than a few scholars if there is any hope to affect positive change from your research. There are a number of ways I have attempted to increase my audience. I share the majority of my posts on my Twitter account and my personal Facebook page as some of my friends find my writing worth a glance in between social media and Netflix binges. My posts are also shared to my Google+ page and LinkedIn profile. Of the 160+ followers my blog has, I would say the majority are students also in this degree. Sometimes I get random views from the United States, Malaysia or Russia. The majority of my readers are definitely within Australia though, which is probably closely linked with them being students also. Nevertheless I write for myself and I do have hopes to blog outside of class assessments because occasionally I have a good story to tell that I didn’t completely fabricate.

I think the last thing to consider are the changes I’ve made to SSW over the last 3 months. The long-awaited banner has finally arrived. I picked this theme at least a year ago with the intention to make a banner for it and only got around to it in a tutorial where we critiqued each other’s blogs to the point that I felt inspired to open Photoshop and throw together something semi-representative of myself. I’ve toyed with the widget bars but I most prefer the sidebar, with quick icon links to my various social media accounts, a 7-post Twitter feed so you can see me be pithy/shamelessly plugging my blog (blog-ception?) I leave the tag cloud there so you can see what topics I write about although I should be more thorough with tagging as that’s another way of reaching a larger audience. In general though, I rather like keeping things simple on SSW, with a slight hint towards my TV show obsessions such as in the hit counter of “fans” or the “previously on sswritings” widget at the bottom. That way if I grow overly verbose at least my audience won’t be bombarded by fancy themes and widgets and so on.

Media, Audience, Place has given me a lot to consider as a student of communications and media and public writer. I don’t think I really did it justice in this post but the topics we’ve discussed have resonated with me in ways I hope will continue to develop through my future writing. I don’t know if I’m the 22-year-old student I was when this first started; my about page certainly doesn’t say so.

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#iwishmyteacherknew how much this would have helped me 8 years ago

With the rise of the Internet and the reign of social media, the number of public spheres available to us as private citizens has multiplied. “What is a public sphere?” you may ask. A German guy called Jurgen Habermas fantasised about an 18th century coffee house where anyone could go for news and to debate about ideas. Hannah Arendt likened the public space to a Greek polis. Both examples are limited in the gender and class represented and, as a result, academics have disputed this theoretical framework on many levels. Nevertheless, I agree with Habermas and Arendt in that there are places available for anyone to speak their mind about “activities of the state, or issues of larger socio-political significance”.

If you want your opinion to be heard, just Tweet about it.

Kyle Schwartz is third grade teacher at an inner city school in Denver, Colorado. Every year she runs a writing exercise for her students, giving them an opportunity to tell her something they wish she would know. On March 27 this year, Kyle began sharing some of her students’ messages on her Twitter account. The social media trend has exposed some startling truths about the circumstances children are living in.

Many other teachers saw this and started running the same exercise in their classrooms. The hashtag #iwishmyteacherknew “caught fire”, with many news media websites publishing articles on the phenomena. Even the Sydney Morning Herald had something to say, showing how pervasive this topic of conversation has become.

Twitter has provided a public sphere in which these socio-political issues can be discussed and addressed. By trending on Twitter and catching the interest of news media websites, the discussion and awareness has spread beyond one classroom, a teacher and her students, to classrooms across the world. A Plus writer Mandy Valez is one of many writers using this as an opportunity to raise awareness about the state of living for children, citing statistics such as “one in five kids are supported by food stamps”.

In contemporary public spheres, there is always a level of mediation to be considered. There are certain gatekeepers who decide what does and doesn’t get to be discussed. In this example, the first gatekeeper would be Kyle Schwartz herself. She picked through her students’ responses and posted each individually over a period of a few weeks. Any ensuing discussion on Twitter would be mediated by certain formulas or algorithms built into the website code to scope out socially inappropriate content. Following that, the writers from various news media groups choosing to talk about this topic become mediators in sharing the information however they see fit, within the parameters of their editors.

From what I can see, this example of public discussion seems to be fairly unmediated in that most topics of discussion remain ongoing. I think this is because the subject matter was unexpected and garners sympathy from most viewers. A sympathetic topic of discussion is less likely to be silenced and, who knows, maybe some real change may come from this. At least these students’ secrets are finally out.