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Blogging – a post modern diary or just kitsch

January 23rd, 2008 by Graham Attwell

I am delighted to post the latest in our occasional series of guest blogs. Jenny Hughes is a great friend of mine and works for Pontydysgu. She is not a regular blogger but that has not stopped us having many discussions about blogging.

“I’ve been staying with Graham in Bremen for the last 10 days. We’ve drunk too much, smoked too much, spent every evening in the pub making copious notes on beer mats and then stayed up every night discussing ideas that are going to change the world. OK when you are a student but the wisdom of doing this when you are approaching 60 is doubtful. The outcome of it all is that we did prodigious amounts of work but Graham, being the more geriatric of the two of us, is still in his bed, exhausted, at 11 am on Wednesday.

We also made lists. Every night in the bar, we made a list of work we simply had to do the next day – which we then lost and the following evening we made a new list. Last night’s list said “must do my blog – Gra” but as we crawled out of the Viva (one of the best bars in Bremen) on the wrong side of midnight, Graham’s last slurred whimper was  “You’ll hash to do m’blog f’me.”

So here goes…..

As I said, this week has been a strange mix of ‘doing’ (uninterrupted hours of banging away at a keyboard) ‘talking’ (shared coffee and fag breaks) and ‘thinking’ (invariably between 10 pm and 3 or 4 am in the Viva). Nothing particularly unusual about this except that I was fascinated how the agenda became so explicit and the fact that were planning-in thinking time (which was, in fact, intensive talk time) as opposed to ‘talking time’ when we tended to discuss what we were going to think about. (Keeping up?)  It made me wonder how many people actually have this luxury – a job where you can sit in the pub and get paid for ‘doing thinking’.

One of the first things Gra told me to ‘do thinking about…’ was the  idea of ‘bricolage’, as used by John Steely Brown to describe the different way that kids are learning in the digital age.  What JSB said was

“Classically reasoning has been concerned with the deductive and the abstract. But our observation of kids working with digital media suggests bricolage to us more than abstract logic. Bricolage…..relates to the concrete. It has to do with abilities to find something – an object, tool document, a piece of code – and to use it to build something you deem important. Judgment is inherently critical to becoming an effective bricoleur.”

Other than a month in France last summer renovating a house – which meant a daily trip to the bricollage (DIY) shop, I had largely forgotten the concept. In fact, ‘Bricolage’ was a word which I had always felt was becoming ‘devalued’ used as it now is for naming coffee bars, nightcubs, content mangagement software, record labels and the like.

However, I think JSB use of the term is interesting and helpful. This was a concept which had fascinated me as a student back in the 60’s and 70’s, when Claude Levi-Strauss was one of my guru,s but which I had not thought to apply in this context. JSB had tripped some useful switches for me.

In fact I thought it might be interesting for me to go back to the source of these ideas to see whether I could make anymore connections so I revisited “The Savage Mind” (1966) and came up with some (personally) useful ‘treasures’ (treasures = the word Levi Strauss used to describe the ‘bits and pieces’ of  knowledge a bricoleur has in his chest).

One of his (L-S)  key ideas is that the concept of bricolage refers to the rearrangement and juxtaposition of previously unconnected signifying objects to produce new meanings in fresh contexts. Bricolage involves a process of resignification by which cultural signs with established meanings are re-organised into new codes of meaning.

Meaning what exactly….well, the examples most often used examples are drawn from popular culture. For example the  construction of the Teddy Boy style of the 50’s combined an otherwise unrelated Edwardian upper-class look, a Mid West American cowboy bootlace tie and brothel creepers in the context of a youth culture. Likewise the boots, braces, shaved hair, Stayprest shirts and Ska music of the Skinheads of the 70s was a symbolic bricolage that signifies the hardness of working class masculinity.

That is not an un-useful idea for me.  There was a time when use of computers, electronic communication technology, instruments, an impenetrable technical language and the like were all part of the cultural ‘myth’ of the scientist, the academic boffin in his laboratory surrounded by wires and huge machines that in someway symbolized the idea of personal discovery and making the break through that would re-shape the world…..Conversely, ‘tools’ were symbols of craftsmen, the myth of the ‘honest artisan’.

Now I am the parent of 5 children, computers, electronic communication thingummies, gadgets, widgets, technobabble and a house full of grunting teenagers with surgically attached headphones, mobile phones Velcro-ed to their ears and  I-pods at breakfast are all part of the cultural myth of “Yoof”.

Which, of course is in total opposition to the cultural myth called ‘education and learning’.  How many parents (and the Daily Telegraph and Chris Woodward)  be-moan the fact that ‘can’t get their children to pick up a book’ or ‘they never read nowdays’ or restrict access times to computers ‘because it’s bad for them’ and they ‘should be doing their homework’ and ‘you can’t tear them away from their screens’? Hmmm! When I was a kid it was ‘ Could you get out head out of that book and do something useful.’

The other main use of the term Bricolage, is ‘the juxtaposition of signs in the visual media to form a collage of images from different times and places. This kind of bricolage as a cultural style is a core element of post-modern culture. (Sage Dictionary of Cultural Studies)

So we have concrete shopping centres with ‘modern’ architecture incorporating cafes with stripped pine furniture and red-checked Mid West ranch house table cloths juxtaposed with jungle areas of exotic plants and Victoriana pubs.

[Some people would call it kitsch (if done with irony), for others it is post modernism!]

In the same way the global multiplication of communication technologies has created an increasingly complex semiotic environment of competing signs and meanings. This creates a flow of images and juxtapositions that fuses news, drama, reportage, advertising etc into an electronic bricolage. Some people have started to use that horrible word ‘edutainment’ to try and capture this but communication bricolage works better for me.

My ramblings are about to end rather abruptly because Graham has just got up and I can hear the sweet noise of the coffee grinder …

“Graham – is blogging a post modern version of a diary or is it just kitsch…?”

(answer not printable).”

4 Responses to “Blogging – a post modern diary or just kitsch”

  1. Ohh Jenny – you are great and inspiring. And going directly to your finalizing question: Yu could triple blend your answer. Depending at your point of view, depending what it means for you (and maybe, perhaps, … others) and last but not least depending what you make out of. (Which is your benefit you will take ….) So thinking so it could be a public diary – it could be valued as artificial kitch or could be valued as a think tank – you share with others. Or maybe thats near the trouth a mixture of all! 😉 Loveliet greetings from the rhine and moselle river and its ‘confluentes’.

  2. Kerrie says:

    The question of why we blog, why some people are almost compulsive bloggers, what we get out writing the blog, and what we get out of reading the blogs of others is one that interests me greatly. I have been touching on it off and on over on my own blog.
    I have a blog that I write for work, and recently I have started another entirely different one for my crime fiction reading interests. having added visitor counting utilities etc., I am finding my reading blog is almost becominga compulsion.
    I’m close to thinking that blogging assures us of an audience, helps us feel connected, but I’m still a bit overawed by the mechanisms by which we find each other.

  3. Dear Jenny,
    Thank you for the great reflection.
    I had never thought of blogging in that way, and now that you mentioned it…blogging can be a little bit of both… sometimes….depending on the context and on its authors’ activity.
    I have found many different types of blogs and people who blog for the most diverse motives, being some of them more kitsch than others…
    But what I like about blogs –and I may be suspicious about it since I support the blogging activity – is the fact I can “access” other people’s minds and thoughts in a communicative way, making my reflections also available to them. It is the sharing and flow of information that are appealing to me.
    The texts published on the blogsphere should supposedly be different from people’s private journals, which presumably are concealed and unilateral. Blogging, on the other hand, is all about opening the communication channels. However, I recognize that there is still a lot to be learnt on how to preserve and establish our digital presence, and when people fail to understand that, that is when it gets quite kitsch-ish! 

    But like I said, I had never thought about this blog-dichotomy: kitsch vs post-modern. And I have always thought about blogging as part of the natural technological evolution…the new ways through which we communicate, and as part of a new, digital society, which, as you mentioned, is celebrated by the younger generations. (Are thy the pioneers?).

    In my mind you are a natural blogger. You write with such fluency and your writing is really enjoyable to read, which is something that always appeals to me as a blog reader. I don’t like when people try to make it too contrived by writing in a very academic way. I don’t think that is the purpose of a blog.
    Yet, your reflection is so meaningful and intelligently expressed. I wish I could write like that.

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