Saturday, February 13, 2016

The prod of speaking and writing

Yesterday, we heard a reporter from a local paper.  She is a rapid response reporter who is responsible for getting on the scene quickly but still getting all the relevant facts and getting them right.  She mentioned that today, anyone with access to the internet can start a newspaper.  With a computer, smartphone or tablet, you can have a free web site and put on it what you want.

Doing that, of course, does not mean that anyone will notice or actually read, much less, pay real attention to what you write.  The same thing goes for public lectures.  What if you give a talk and no one comes?  Now, in the time of being able to put lessons and demonstrations online, many students get their work of study and response done electronically.  I sometimes urged students not to attend class since I know they can get more done when surrounded by their electronic equipment than sitting in class.  Some students didn't own any such equipment and there are many who prefer the social group atmosphere of a class to working alone. So, I held class but became accustomed to have an hour when I was there but no one chose to attend.  I got in the habit of recognizing that a single attendee was fully worth working with and that the number of students showing up was more or less irrelevant.

Similarly, if I give a talk and one or two people show up, "as two or three gather" in the name of the talk, it may be of more long-term import that if hundreds come but are bored, distracted or sleepy.

But what if I pull an Emily Dickinson, the American poet who wrote hundreds of poems but put most of them in a drawer, hidden away.? I am more like most people and prefer to have an audience and some reaction and maybe some praise for my work.  But, as many people have before my time, I find, surprisingly, that much of the value of blogging, writing and speaking comes from the acts of blogging and writing and speaking.

I have taught courses in educational philosophy and in resampling statistics but it has been 20 or more years since I did.  Sometimes, when I speak to a retired professor about giving a talk about a subject from his past, he says that it was too long ago and that it would be too difficult to dredge up old knowledge and ideas.  But I find that with an old topic or a new one, the research, the planning, the thinking, the writing are most of the fun and most of the worth.  If I don't need to worry too much about attracting an audience, I am free to go wherever I want.  I am grateful for my audience and I definitely benefit from their attention, live or online, but by the time I post or begin speaking, I have already gotten a big payoff.

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