humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

Your Opinion: My Blog and Privacy?

Posted by spritzophrenia on August 27, 2011

I’d like your advice. On my mind recently has been the question of how to handle the tension between sharing personal stuff on my blog and my professional career.

As you know, I’m embarked on an academic career, at least for now. Like many other academics, I like to share a little of what I’m learning or questioning here. It’s inevitable that my students, colleagues or people studying similar fields internationally will come across these works-in-progress eventually. That’s fine, I only see benefit in that.

However, I also like to keep this blog interesting, and at times I write quite personal stuff. See this post, for instance, where I expose my own moral failings. Also, as a teacher I need to be careful not to let my personal opinions colour my teaching too much. But my personal opinions expressed here on, say, paganism might contradict what I teach in class.

Most of you guys seem to appreciate the mix of interest, humour, personal and thoughtful I try to aim for. But is sharing personal stuff like this likely to cause me problems, either with sniggering students sharing my secrets, or snooty professors seeing an intellectual sap because I don’t just talk about “ontological empiricism”? (Family Guy quote, right there.) 1

While I’m asking, do you like the music videos I post? I do it most of the time, I’m just curious if anyone listens.


On a completely different note, Meal With a Muslim time is rapidly approaching. Has it been a year already? It’s also the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Maybe start thinking about who you could invite for coffee or a meal?

1. Thanks to Jared in the comments below for pointing out the correct quote. My brain remembered “ontological existentialism”, and I only saw that Family Guy episode last night. 😀


Is the personal too political? What do you think?
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This song has been going around and around in my head these last days. Have a listen, it’s beautiful and profound.
Lauren Hill | Forgive Them Father

15 Responses to “Your Opinion: My Blog and Privacy?”

  1. Lisa said

    I absolutely LOVE more personal blogs, and sometimes wish for more of that with yours; however, after a year of blogging, I’ve found that it’s not always in our best interest to be as personal as I am online. You’ve probably come to realize, as I have, that more people than we thought watch what we post and our lives can become very public, as a result. Voyeurs are everywhere. Something I’ve done, while it may or may not be perfect etiquette, is edit some posts or remove them later if I find they’re too personal.

    With all that being said, I think it’s appropriate to be yourself. Blogs are more successful when they’re personal. If you find that it’s possible to cause a problem in the future, I would gear toward a more anonymous profile. Start changing things now, and editing toward that goal. I’ve started on anonymous blog and I find it’s very helpful for me to speak my mind. However, with anything, it will probably be “found out” so nothing we post online is private.

    Perhaps you’ll look at it as I have–everything you post could be a potential book one day. If you plan on publishing, and I encourage you to, you may find your audience will like a more palatable format, rather than sounding like a professor. I’ve had to come to terms with this, and although I was trained in very literary, classical writing, I’m writing now for a more “pop” audience because I’d like my message to reach more people.

    To each his or her own, and I’ll keep reading regardless. 🙂

  2. I think the Family Guy was ontological empiricism, but I’m just being nit picky. Someone talking about personal things with some limitations shows their humanity and their congeniality towards people. But showing intellectual fervor has its benefits too. It’s a delicate balance

  3. FatCatonTheHill (Karen) said

    I think your blog is absolutely wonderful. However, I share your concern about privacy. Imho I would not like the idea of my students or professors reading my personal blog, and if I were in that situation I would not continue the blog. Another option, having a more anonymous profile like Lisa has already suggested, may be a good compromise for you ?

  4. Anne said

    Jon, Good questions! …glad you asked. In terms of personal info: It’s not unlike a published autobiographer who teaches. You’re in a vulnerable place and have to decide whether or not who you are as a person will help someone, and whether you’re willing to allow yourself to be talked about. It’s understandable if you decide not to share a lot, but that also reinforces the myth that people in authority have all their **** together. It leaves out the struggle, which is really the point.

    Personally, I like to think that if I am honestly myself, the right people will be on my side… but of course, that’s oversimplifying. (It helps if those who decide our professional fate like us for who we are, also!)

    Even though you didn’t say so, I also had a perception that you might be questioning which direction to take the blog: so many topics, and, is it academic or personal interest? I think the answer to that is to decide why you want to write the blog, and who for? Who do you want to connect with here, students? Colleagues? People out there wondering about the same kinds of things? Personally, I enjoy the “search for truth in many veins” direction, because I can participate in that… and clearly, you’ve been doing most of the sharing; I, more learning. I have appreciated it immensely and will continue to read if you continue to write. But whatever direction you go should also give back to you, I believe.

    I don’t always listen to the music, but I’m always glad you’ve added that dimension–in part, because it’s you sharing something of who you are. I think it’s a mistake to try to take ourselves out of what we offer… there’s no depth in that.

    Did you change the font on the responses? I don’t like it as well… the lines seem to run together vertically; probably my vision!

  5. Lydia said

    Wow, so much good advice already!

    I love what Lisa

    “Voyeurs are everywhere. Something I’ve done, while it may or may not be perfect etiquette, is edit some posts or remove them later if I find they’re too personal.”

    and Anne

    “It’s understandable if you decide not to share a lot, but that also reinforces the myth that people in authority have all their **** together. It leaves out the struggle, which is really the point.”

    said in particular. I’ve struggled with similar issues. A few things to consider:

    1) Have you considered making certain posts accessible through a password only? Some of the blogs I follow do this with varying results. With some it gives the site a yucky A-list vs. The Great Unwashed Masses ™ feel. But other blogs are very clear about why certain posts are locked and how the author decides who to share the password with that work really, really well!

    2) Would it be possible for you to eliminate more details when telling stories in order to make it harder to tell who it is you’re talking about? This won’t work when you’re talking about yourself, of course, but it might help for stories about Happygirl or your kids.

    3) Have you considered going by Jon here instead of Jonathan, removing your picture and/or no longer talking about where you live? Even simple changes like that might make it more difficult for students or colleagues to link the Jonathan they know with the Jon who posts here.

    Sometimes I watch the videos you post, at other times I don’t. But the ones I’ve watched I really enjoyed! 🙂

  6. I think you need to ask yourself why you blog. Because this blog predates any academic career per se, I would say this probably means that you should still include the personal on your blog. I think it is nice to see the various things that interest you and helps the more academic ideas that are here still be in a very human context. I think losing that would be losing something positive.

    But, you have valid concerns about how to approach academic blogging. Perhaps you might wish to read some academic or impersonal blogs like this one (http://experimentalphilosophy.typepad.com/) or this one (http://climatedebatedaily.com/) and ask yourself whether you would like it to be more like that versus how it already is.

    From my own internet experience, I spend very little time on purely academic blogs as they tend to represent a niche interest and don’t form a sense of community. Take Pharyngula, for example. Your blog and pharyngula are more likely to be far more interesting to me than the X-Phi blog even though I actually like X-Phi!

    Also, I think that if you have students in the future who come across your blog they might appreciate seeing more to the material and you than what they see in class. After all, the most enjoyable learning is usually a conversational one; hopefully that happens at the academic setting in a way that only makes having this blog more positive.

  7. How much (if any) personal information do you, or should you share on a blog?

    That’s a good question.
    I’m a mixed bag on beans on that one. For any of you who know me, I have often times posted extremely personal topic matters. But on that same note, I don’t even go by my real (legal that is) name online. In fact, under my ‘real’ legal name, I don’t believe I have ANY online presence.

    (Which should pose a question; what’s in a name? Are you your name? I should dig up and repost a few pieces I’ve written – “Finale” and “Masks”. They address these issues WAY better than I could possibly do so in a tiny blog response).

    As a teacher, I think – whether you like it or not, or are willing to admit it or not – you are doing significantly more than just teaching your students. You are shaping them – one way or another – and most especially if and when you share personal info. via a blogsite. There’s great responsibility with this.

    There was a time a few years ago that I felt I had no ‘influence’ on anybody. (Not tha tI was striving to have influence). A friend of mine was a youth pastor.
    I never realized that I had a good degree of influence on him. To the point where I think it carried over onto his ‘youths’.

    … I don’t really know.
    What do you feel?

  8. SugarPop said

    So much great advice already …

    As well as the above, the only thing I have to add is if you want academic credit for some of your blog, then i guess you need to use your “real” name, which can compromise your privacy overall. This makes the question of the purpose of your blog all the more important. It may be that you only discuss material you want to use in an academic context here, and leave the more formal publication of your work for a different forum / medium.

    Note that I’m assuming that your name and picture on this blog are not your actual name and picture. If I’m wrong and they are, read what I have to say “the other way around” if you get my meaning…

    Personally, I really enjoy the balance of personal, provocative and intellectual et al you achieve on you blog, and I take that to be a reflection of who you are. I especially like the pictures that go with your words, and I also like your ecclectic musical taste – I don’t always play the vids you include, but I always look at what they are and enjoy wondering what you are going to include at the bottom of your post before I reach it.

    I say stick to this as a winning formula for your blog, and consider other possibilities for any academic material you want credit for.


  9. santitafarella said

    Santi says . . .

    First, I sympathize. I blogged through tenure, and have tenure now, but I was (in retrospect) probably putting my academic career in a small amount of jeopardy. You’ve got to decide who, exactly, is on your tenure committee and how uptight they are (and illiberal) as human beings. By illiberal I mean intolerant of free speech and free thought. See here for an example:


    And, I’d ask the colleagues at your institution, and perhaps even the tenure committee person with whom you have the best relationship, what their take on blogging is. I was fortunate in that I was reasonably confident that the people on my tenure committee were absolutely committed to academic and intellectual freedom, and I’m in a subject (English) that is quirky.

    It’s always possible, over several years, for your tenure committee to change because someone leaves your institution (for whatever reason). You could get a new dean or teacher on the committee who doesn’t like you for some reason, and googles you, and seeks to undermine you.

    It’s possible.

    The bottom line is that, if your tenure committee likes you, and you are liked on campus, your tenure will tend to go smoothly. It’s, to a great extent, about human relationships and how you are with people at work. If people decide they don’t like you, then they’ll use your blog as confirming that they don’t like you, or as fodder against you.

    The reality is that a tenure committee has a lot of power over you for a few years, and you have to decide what level of risk you are comfortable with. You could, for example, be wrongfully dismissed, win a lawsuit to get your job back or win a settlement, but those may be outcomes in which you “win” while all you really wanted was a smooth tenure process for a few years and to quietly teach the rest of your life at the institution you were hired at (and you didn’t get that).

    As for students, you should not worry about that piece of the puzzle at all. Your best students may find you online, but if they do they will like that you blog (or be stimulated by it). What thoughtful person doesn’t like thoughtful and humanly vulnerable free speech? Your mediocre students, however, won’t care because they don’t care in general. They’ll look at your blog, say, “Well, that was crazy!” and soon change the subject in their minds to whether to eat at MacDonald’s or Burger King for lunch. For the most part, we assume (wrongly) that people are really caring and noticing what we’re up to, when the reality is that they don’t. Everybody has their own dreams and obsessions, and you’re most often not a part of them. In psychology they call this “the evocative object world.” If you aren’t in someone’s waking dream—their evocative object world—then you’ll go unnoticed by them.

    Unfortunately, you are in the evocative object world of every member of your tenure committee. They have to go to meetings because of you, and sit in your classes, and talk to you.

    At minimum, my advice is to generally avoid the obvious contemporary radioactive subjects, which is almost certainly not a problem for you anyway. Never, for example, sound racist, sexist, or cruel (even in joking). As Richard Rorty says, the worst thing a liberal thinks a person can be is cruel.

    In thinking about this whole hiring-tenure-blog issue, I put this on my blog a while back. Perhaps it helps . . .

    There are good reasons we compartmentalize in hiring (or ought to). Here are a few:

    One’s philosophical axioms (starting points) are not subject to scientific verification, and yet we all must inductively arrive at some. For example, are we inclined to believe that, ultimately, the universe was (in Mark Twain’s words from Huckleberry Finn) “made or just happened”? How we answer such a question depends on factors related to things like individual temperament, intuition, and holistic guessing, not empiricism.

    Human beings are contingent. In other words, when it comes to things like religion, each of us has a unique personal history. It is utopian (at best) and cruel (at worst) to expect the psyches of diverse individuals to arrive at roughly the same set of sensibilities surrounding non-empirical and emotionally loaded matters.

    Reasoning is often tinged with unconscious bias. All sorts of impulses can hijack reason (such as eros, revenge, thanatos, maliciousness, group-think, and envy). This means that hiring committees should strive for limited and objective criteria in hiring (quality of academic work pertaining to the job, demonstrated teaching ability, etc). It’s a trade-off, obviously. It means that sometimes a person is hired who really is, say, mentally unstable (a genuine “whack job”). But you have to weigh this against the “whack jobs” already on hiring committees, and the power you are willing to accord to them. Institutions run better with sensible checks, balances, and guidelines. One of those sensible guidelines is to set limits on the range of things that a hiring committee can consider.

    There’s strength in diversity. Human beings have always been quirky, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Like species variety in an ecosystem, there’s strength in institutional diversity; it helps the communal body resist group think.
    In an internet age with lots of social media, we don’t want to discourage online expression. People in the academic job market, or with career ambitions, shouldn’t have to, in the name of pragmatism, leave off their First Amendment rights until they reach, say, tenure. They should have some plausible means of redress through the courts if their publicly expressed beliefs undermine their winning of a job.


    • Thanks Santi, very helpful advice and I appreciate you putting time into your reply.

      By the way, tenure is a lot easier to get in many ways over here. The US system seems to be very difficult to get through. It may be changing slightly here, but… *fingers crossed*.

      Of course, I may want to work overseas one day. Australia and the dry sunny parts of the US appeal – say New Mexico, Arizona, maybe Southern Cali 🙂

  10. santitafarella said


    As for “Meal with a Muslim Day”, the day I set last year was the 17th of September. It was a Friday.

    I’m thinking we should promote, each year, the third weekend in September, which this year starts on Friday, September 16th. If I drop dead before you, you might want to keep it going as that third-week-in-September-Friday/weekend.

    Ramadan is the ninth month on a lunar calendar (which I don’t understand), but I don’t think it ever runs this late into September. It’s over this year at the end of August.

    Here’s a link to what happened last year (as a reminder of what good came of it):


    —Santi : )

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