When I was younger, I used to play a science fiction role-playing game that was based in a near-ish future, where humans had widely adopted the use of electronic implants and computers were everywhere in a corporate-dominated world. The game was called “Cyberpunk 2013” and was heavily influenced by the work of William Gibson (“Neuromancer” and many other works), Bruce Sterling (“Mirrorshades” anthology and far too many to list), Walter Jon Williams (“Hardwired” among others) and many others who had written of a grim, depressing, and above all stylish near future. It was a product of the 80s and, much like other fashion crime of the time, some of the ideas that emerged were conceits rather than concepts, styles rather than structures. But, of course, back in the 1980s, setting it in 2013 made it far away and yet close enough. This was not a far future setting like Star Trek but it was just around the corner.
And now it is here. My plans for the near future, the imminent and the inevitable, now include planning calendars for a year that was once a science fiction dream. In that dark dream, 2013 was a world of human/machine synthesis, of unfeeling and mercenary corporate control, of mindless pleasure and stylish control of a population that seeks to float as lotus eaters rather than continue to exist in the dirty and poor reality of their actual world.
Well, we haven’t yet got the cybernetics working… and, joking aside, the future is not perfect but it is far less gloomy and dramatic in the main that the authors envisioned. Yes, there are lots of places to fix but the majority of our culture is still working to the extent that it can be developed and bettered. The catastrophic failures and disasters of the world of 2013 has not yet occurred. We can’t relax, of course, and some things are looking bleak, but this is not the world of Night City.
In the middle of all of this musing on having caught up to the future that I envisioned as a boy, I am now faced with the mundane questions such as:
- What do I want to be doing in 2020 (the next Cyberpunk release was set in this year, incidentally)
- Therefore, what do I want to be doing in 2013 that will lead me towards 2020?
- What is the place of this blog in 2013?
I won’t bore you with the details of my career musings (if my boss is reading this, I’m planning to stay at work, okay?) but I had always planned that the beginning of October would be a good time to muse about the blog and work out what would happen once 2012 ended. I committed to writing the blog every day, focussed on learning and teaching to some extent, but it was always going to be for one year and then see what happened.
I encourage my students to reflect on what they’ve done but not in a ‘nostalgic’ manner (ah, what a great assignment) but in a way that the can identify what worked, what didn’t work and how they could improve. So let me once again trot out the dog food and the can opener and give it a try.
What has worked
I think my blog has been most successful when I’ve had a single point to make, I’ve covered it in depth and then I’ve ducked out. Presenting it with humour, humility, and an accurate assessment of the time that people have to read makes it better. I think some of my best blogs present information and then let people make up their own minds. The goal was always to present my thought processes, not harangue people.
What hasn’t worked
I’m very prone to being opinionated and, sometimes, I think I’ve blogged too much opinion and too little fact. I also think that there are tangents I’ve taken when I’ve become more editorial and I’m not sure that this is the blog for that. Any blog over about 1,100 words is probably too long for people to read and that’s why I strive to keep the blog at or under 1,000 words.
Having to blog every day has also been a real challenge. While it keeps a flow of information going, the requirement to come up with something every, single, day regardless of how I’m feeling or what is going on is always going to have an impact on quality. For example, I recently had a medical condition that required my doctor to prescribe some serious anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers for weeks and this had a severe impact on me. I have spent the last 10 days shaking off the effects of these drugs that, among other effects, make me about half as fast at writing and reduce my ability to concentrate. The load of the blog on top of this has been pretty severe and I’m open about some of the mistakes that I’ve made during this time. Today is the first day that I feel pretty reasonable and, by my own standards, fit for fair, complex marking of large student submissions (which is my true gauge of my mental agility).
How to improve
Wow, good question. This is where the thinking process starts, not stops, after such an inventory. The assessment above indicates that I am mostly happy with what came out (and my readership/like figures indicate this as well) but that I really want to focus on quality over quantity and to give myself the ability to take a day off if I need to. But I should also be focused on solid, single issue, posts that address something useful and important in learning and teaching – and this requires more in-depth reading and work than I can often muster on a day-to-day basis.
In short, I’m looking to change my blog style for next year to a shorter and punchier version that gives more important depth, maintains an overall high standard, but allows me to get sick or put my feet up occasionally. What is the advice that I would give a student? Make a plan that includes space for the real world and that still allows you to do your best work. Content matters more than frequency, as long as you meet your real deadline. So, early notice for 2013, expect a little less regularity but a much more consistent output.
It’s a work in progress. More as I think of it.