A room looking out on a garden of my own

Inspiration

A thoughtful piece by Audrey Watters entitled “Why ‘A Domain of One’s Own’ Matters (For the Future of Knowledge)” reaffirmed my interest in having a central website where I curate all my creative work.

Watters’ piece focuses on students and their need for free collaborative space to experiment and share information. A personal site/domain can be a corner of the internet that becomes a method for learning and interacting with content online that’s not quite so mind-numbing as social media can be:

“They can engage with that original purpose of the Web – sharing information and collaborating on knowledge-building endeavors – by doing meaningful work online, in the public, with other scholars. That they have a space of their own online, along with the support and the tools to think about what that can look like.”

Watters references Mike Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University Vancouver, on how the internet can be a stream or it can be a garden:

“Mike talks about the difference between what he describes as the ‘garden’ and the ‘stream.’ The stream are the other threats to the Web, I’d argue – these are Twitter and Facebook most obviously. The status updates and links that rush past us, often stripped of context and meaning and certainly stripping us of any opportunity for contemplation or reflection. The garden, on the other hand, encourages just that. It does so by design.”

I appreciated Watters’ open-ended imagination of what such a garden could look like:

“It doesn’t have to be a blog. It doesn’t have to be a series of essays presented in reverse chronological order. You don’t have to have comments. You don’t have to have analytics. You can delete things after a while. You can always make edits to what you’ve written. You can use a subdomain. (I do create a new subdomain for each project I’m working on. And while it’s discoverable – ostensibly – this work is not always linked or showcased from the “home page” of my website.) You can license things how you like. You can make some things password-protected. You can still post things elsewhere on the Internet – long rants on Facebook, photos on Instagram, mixes on Soundcloud, and so on. But you can publish stuff on your own site first, and then syndicate it to these other for-profit, ad-based venues.”

That flexibility is important to me – I do a lot of different things, sporadically over time. This generally results in a lot of half-done projects and flailing ventures that start strong and peter out as I become entranced by some new idea.

Reflecting

After reading Watters’ post, I reflected on why I’ve always been interested in publishing my writing and other work. Sometimes sharing personal thoughts to the public feels like attention-seeking and self-absorbed. Social media dulls this effect because everyone around you is sharing just as much as you are, at the same shallow level. But the real reasons I’m always driven to share are:

  • I want to challenge myself to take risks and put my ideas out there
  • I want cause/space to create in many ways (doodling, writing, thinking through shit)
  • I want to share my life with family and friends who are far away
  • I want people to interact with my created objects and gain something from them
  • I want to produce something of value to other people
  • I want motivation to write and read more

In full honesty, there’s another piece of value I’m seeking from sharing content online that I wish I weren’t looking for:

  • I want other people to validate my ideas and tell me I’m smart

I’m working on that last piece, and working on embracing the risk of putting out less thoroughly vetted content online. My most recent adventure in online publishing has floundered in part because I was nervous to put imperfect content out there; my Unofficial Economist blog on Medium is sparsely populated with half-ventured ideas and tales from living abroad because I’m afraid to put myself out there as an economist, even an “unofficial” one, and have my ideas scrutinized for value in that context.

Begin Again

I want to be an economist some day and I want to be respected in that field. Sometimes I worry that being imperfect now, before I’ve even started, will lose me respect down the line. But that’s bullshit fear talking – trying is better than not trying and I’m going to try again. And I’m leaving all my previous attempts out there b/c they’re not failures exactly, just attempts.

This is my first draft of this post, and I’m putting it on here anyways. No obsessive editing – for this piece, anyways.

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