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Blogging – the new electronic autobiography

Blogging is the new autobiography, but there are dangers if it is not crafted.

Many students and educators are blogging as a form of electronic writing. Why?

Blogging:

  • provides regular writing experience
  • publishes instantly
  • lets you share the immediacy of experiences which would otherwise be lost
  • can be edited and reformatted into other media later
  • is a means of sharing off-beat or minority viewpoints or perceptions
  • is a fast way of keeping in touch with a broad audience
  • provides networking opportunities.

Apart from school use, blogging has wider educational implications.

Keeping in touch

If you have travelling offspring, colleagues overseas or relatives doing family histories, you need to find the cheapest way of staying in touch. Until our son Trevelyan started his five-month 'quest', cycling solo from Ireland to Istanbul, I didn't know much about 'blogging'. As a frequently travelling family of financially challenged backpackers, over the years we've been through reverse charge phone calls on Sunday nights, email, phone cards and mobiles on Roam (which didn't work in Rome nor anywhere else, especially the outback of the Northern Territory, Serbia and the Gobi desert).

Cyber-wise Trevelyan introduced us to the blog. Ideally he was to update it regularly and thus only have to type one entry in expensive or remote Internet kiosks, rather than multiple emails or letters which often vanish into cyberspace. This happens if the wrong key is pressed in response to a foreign language instruction or if the writer runs out of the local currency.

A blog is public. Anyone can read it, even your mother. So there is some censorship, either inherent or perceived. I was amused in one of the entries when Trevelyan wrote, '…but I can't go into details because my Mum reads this blog'.

Benefits of blogging for travellers include:

  • Dates and times. You know when entries were added (if you can calculate the local time zones) and so each blog entry is proof the person's still alive and not in a hospital or gone missing.
  • Intended audience can read the blog online. You don't have to forward news.

Trevelyan is an acute observer of the unconventional. Being a cartographer he analyses structures and landscape, and tends to include technical details but in a way which novices can understand. He also has a sense of humour and can talk to anyone, even if he doesn't speak the language. His blog was highly readable and so a wide range of friends, family and an increasing number of strangers read his erratic instalments.

I'd encouraged him to write regardless, because the immediacy of the experience would be lost unless written close to the daily events. And, frankly, not that many people cycle alone on a pushbike through such varied terrain and cultures. It was a way of checking his progress. Regardless of safety issues, memories fade rapidly once new challenges appear.

Recording your travel experience

When you travel alone, and in countries where you do not speak the language, writing is a way of recording and evaluating the significance of certain experiences when there is no travelling companion with whom to discuss daily events. Digital photos are another record but, even if you can upload them onto your blog, rarely will you be in them if you are travelling alone. While working in Antarctica, I'd become aware of the psychological value of writing for isolated travellers.

Apart from suffering the 'Kodak poisoning' of taking many digital photos, Antarctic expeditioners tend to write in varied forms – poetry, e-mails, journals, diaries and fiction – as a way of coming to terms with the significance of being isolated as winterers from March to November.

Since I had written the serendipitous Antarctic Writer on Ice, based on my emails from the 2001 Antarctic expedition, I know how many eager readers enjoy vicarious adventure, if the writer is honest enough about the challenges.

As an author I could sympathise with my son's hurried entries, so I collated and edited them. Not just as an 'organising parent who was also a writer' but so that the firsthand experience of cycling solo from Ireland to Istanbul could be reflected upon later.

While the blog was in progress, many bike clubs started reading it and forwarding it. Weekend cyclists related to the details of managing bike disasters like punctures, while orienteers liked the terrain details. Others liked the food details or the humorous descriptions of what went wrong. Luckily the blog avoided the boredom of repetition by focussing on a different aspect for each country.

A word of caution – blog dangers

Some of the dangers of blogging include:

  • No checking of content means any unsupported views can be spread.
  • They can be a possible channel for bigotry or propaganda.
  • Inaccuracies are perpetuated.
  • In the 'comments' area, some inappropriate or stupid comments can be added by strangers and the blogger has no redress.
  • Writing honestly in a genuine fashion, which is the most effective tone, means you are open to derogatory remarks which can be unfounded and unanswerable.
  • Repetition.

Hazel Edwards and Trevelyan Quest Edwards
Discussion notes available at http://www.hazeledwards.com

Trevelyan's blog has been taken down, co-edited and published as:
Cycling Solo: Ireland to Istanbul
by Hazel Edwards and Trevelyan Quest Edwards
Brolga Publishing
SCIS No: 1290168
ISBN: 1920785922