Blogging as occupational therapy

It is a bit incestuous to blog about blogging, but as it is still relatively new as a medium, I do find it interesting when it reveals the way in which blogging has forced itself into the interstices of your life.

As friends on Twitter may know, my wife was recently diagnosed with tongue cancer. Please don't post comments of support – I know people mean it, but it will make me feel as though I was only blogging this for sympathy. I mention it only to give the context to what follows (the long term prognosis is good by the way).

With hospital visits, surgery, nursing at home, ongoing radiotherapy, plus childcare, this has inevitably meant a disruption to work. I had to hand over SocialLearn directorship to my (much more competent) colleague, Simon Buckingham-Shum as it was entering a very intense phase and I wouldn't be able to give the mental attention it required, or be present at enough meetings.

But during this period (I've been on annual leave for most of it) I still wanted to feel intellectually active (no jokes about why change now). In addition I didn't want to disappear off the organisational or professional radar. Blogging has proved the ideal solution. I can fit it in around my newly disrupted life, it offers feedback, and it can be broken down into convenient chunks. It is flexible, and at the same time rewarding.

And more than that, freed from some of the everyday constraints of an ongoing project, I have had time to look at tools, read blogs (and even the odd journal article), and just do some thinking. The blog has been the framework for this.

Given that during most people's working life they will have periods such as this, the blog can be a useful means of lessening their impact. One of the big issues the individual and the organisation face is that the individual becomes distanced from what is happening at work, and so when they start back in earnest there is a considerable barrier to overcome. I feel that blogging and of course, twitter, may help reduce this barrier. This is probably only true if the individual is already active in these areas, this wouldn't be the time to start them.

It would make an interesting research project to investigate whether social media use in your professional capacity reduces the work impact of life events. Come on, someone must have a PhD student looking for a subject? (I'm not volunteering to supervise it by the way).


  • AJ Cann

    Is there a hint here of your last blog post Martin – does blogging (and reflection in general) give us a feeling of ownership when life feels like it’s spinning out of control?

  • eLiz

    Yes, I agree. I’m using blogging to help me start to be intellectually active. When I started as a PhD student someone told me I had to keep a research log. I already had a personal bog so it was easy to start another.
    It is indeed a framework for thinking. I’ve found that blogging is more useful than a paper record. a) it allows me to have a linkable searchable repository of my reflections and sources b) it forces me to write with some audience in mind, instead of just notes and c) because my postings are dated, it forces me to record more often or miss possible dates, so it’s become a habit to write.
    And there are papers on blogging out there, including one from 3 PhD students in the OU iET.

  • Jim

    What becomes doubly interesting about the blog as a space to stay connected and frame your ideas, is that it is both intellectual and intensely personal all at once (I have said this before in your comments, I’m sure). But, I personally find myself involved in the people I subscribe to, and this is one of the few ways I know what they are thinking and how they are doing. From twitter I get the immediate sense that popcorn at theaters is too expensive or the move from Romero movies to Disney films marks the end of an era (I know this feeling intimately), but the blog becomes a space for context and connections and an archve of our thought and struggle.
    With all the talk about the fall of the Web 2.0 tools, I am only mildly concerned, I see many of them as potentially useful and the rate at which they have come out over the last 3 or 4 years has been both stunning and exciting, but I still feel the real power of the internet resides in the simple ability to publish so easily from anywhere, and connect of a network of folks who are genuinely invested in what you are thinking and how you are doing. So here’s to you for making that point for me yet again, and remember there’s a kid across the pond who’s thinking about you and yours these days.

  • Martin Weller

    @AJ – I hadn’t thought of it in terms of identity, but I think you’re right. Maybe one’s professional identity is made more robust by being connected and open?
    @Jim – I’ve been pondering the point you make about the personal connection. Rather slowly I have come to the conclusion that this is why I find it really difficult to write proper academic articles nowadays. The academic writing process is deliberately designed to remove all trace of the personal, even opinion is frowned upon. Yet this is exactly opposite for most social media – it’s by giving away some of our personal interests (and particularly where they meld with professional) that we make meaningful connections. And ta for thoughts.

  • Ed Webb

    As a fellow blogging academic, I have been giving some thought to the issue you raise in your response to Jim: why do I find it relatively easy to blog (and engage in other kinds of read-write web production) and not so easy to produce academic papers? The depersonalization element is an important one, I think. I was in a discussion yesterday with colleagues from a few local colleges about teaching and tech, among other things, and I think one of my take-homes was that teaching is more effective when we shuck off the myth of the prof as dispassionate dispenser of knowledge. As for teaching, so for writing. If we put our selves into the process more, rather than pretending to be ‘objective’ observers or instructors, we will engage our audiences more deeply and effectively.

  • Scott Leslie

    In 2003 I was laid off when the org I was with folded, and blogging very much kept me connected with my intellectual life as well as kept me on the radar screens of people, both around the province and further afield. And led to work. When I was hired back, it was ultimately the “same” org but with a different name and funding envelope, an I can attest to blogging helping with continuity (and employment) just as you say.

  • Laura

    I’ve been thinking about this recently in relation to the rising unemployment figures. My thoughts have been more to do with people who are used to working in teams and have close working relationships with other people. One of the difficulties unemployment brings is isolation from people working in your field. Perhaps social networks will help lessen that.

  • Martin Weller

    @Scott – didn’t know you’d been laid off back then. I pity the fool who did that. But thanks, yours is a more concrete example of what I was thinking.
    @Laura – yes! We should get government funding to get the unemployed blogging (I am prepared to do it for as low as £1Billion). I think you’re right, that sudden schism from what was previously a strong part of your identity can be hard to take, and perhaps social media can lessen that. PS good to see you back, thought you’d disappeared from the ‘sphere.

  • Virtually Scholastic

    Laura’s comment is absolutely a reflection of my reality. Thank goodness for social networks!
    I find myself living in a new country where I don’t have a work permit and have had to turn down clients all in the name of borders and government. I’ve taken solace in the OU and what has presented itself as a golden opportunity to finish my MAODE, but even though I know how to keep busy, I’m not presented with many (physical) situations in which I can mingle and exchange ideas with others in the field. So yes, blogging and social networking have been my bridge to the other side!

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