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January 12, 2012

Externalizing the Internal Monologue about the Internal Monologue

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 12:17 am

So, I’m going to try an experiment. Well, I suppose I’m going to do an experiment. With experiments, there is no try.

I just started a new Twitter account here: www.twitter.com/wanderingsource
(This is distinct from my other Twitter account here: www.twitter.com/wanderingpirate)

I’m going to attempt to use it to track everything I’m reading. Everything. Or, at the very least, everything that I might consider a “source” – whether it be related to work, activism, writing, personal projects or whatever. I’m doing this on a separate Twitter account so that I don’t flood the people who follow my regular one. And I’m doing it for several reasons:

1. I’m trying to get my head around the process of Lit Review. Searching the literature is the academic skill that I’m the least facile with. I was never really trained in it. The limited training I did receive feels obsolete in the face of contemporary media. Most importantly, I have major psychological resistance to tracking or organizing my sources in any kind of systematic way.

Dakota and I had a conversation about this over dinner tonight:

DAKOTA: What are you talking about? You’re great at searching all kinds of sources. I’ve seen the way you use the Internet when you get interested in something.

ME: Finding sources is one thing, sure. But I don’t keep track of them. The way I work, when I get excited about something, is that I follow link after link and totally immerse myself in everything related I come across until I feel like I get it intuitively – and then it clicks and I move on.

This method works well if I’m trying to, say, learn the rules to a game I want to play or getting to know someone new. It’s not so good for making arguments with a stronger evidence base than “Trust me. I know what I’m talking about.” Or for giving credit where said credit is due. Or for re-checking my analyses in the future. Or for writing the kind of academic bibliographies that my boss assumes I know how to write…

ME: But I don’t want to stop and categorize and annotate everything. It slows me down.

DAKOTA: You’re gonna have to slow down. There are some benefits to slowing down.

ME: Yeah. I know that. But try telling it to my brain. I’m not looking for a technological hack to this problem, I’m looking for a psychological hack. How do I lower my emotional resistance enough to get myself to do this thing that feels tedious and overwhelming at the same time?

My (experimental) answer: Twitter.

Why? Here are some things I know about my brain:

* It’s easier for me to do routine tasks if I can do them online, because using the Internet feels inherently pleasurable to me.

* It’s especially easy if I’m using technology I’m already familiar with – hence LiveJournal despite its downsides to encourage regular journaling, Google Calendar for tracking my menstrual cycle (yeah, really…) and how much and what kind of sex I have (…um, yeah, really), and Twitter (rather than, say, de.lico.us or RefWorks or something) for annotating my reading list.

* As much as I kinda hate this fact, I’m more motivated to do “good” things if other people can see me doing them. I think this is a pretty normal human psychological tic, although I still feel like it’s a personal failing. But whatever. I’ll take it. On the other side of that coin: I’m also motivated to do things better when I can engage and collaborate with other people on them.

* Speaking of which and finally: In terms of keeping track of the sources, there’s one situation in which I have a memory like a steel trap: Conversation. If you tell me about a neat book you read or share an idea that excites me, I may not remember the name of the author a week from now but I will remember for years that you were the person I first heard about it from. My own speech is (perhaps annoyingly) peppered with constructions like, “So, I was talking to A and they told me […] Which actually relates to thing B and I were talking about, when I told them about this conversation I had with C the other day […]!” This is because I care about people and relationships even more deeply than I care about ideas and exponentially more than I care about facts. (The absolute fastest and most effective way for me to learn about something new is to fall in love with someone who likes to talk about it. I use this particular piece of self-knowledge to my advantage perhaps less often than I could. :P)

Twitter, with its enforced brevity and interconnected references (and despite its awkward threading), feels more like a casual conversation to me than any other asynchronous medium I’m aware of. A casual conversation that’s happening online. In a familiar environment. Where people can see and participate in it.

Oh yeah, and I can update it from my dinosaur of a phone.

So, that’s the main thing. Here are some latent benefits:

2. From a media theory perspective, I’m a little obsessed right now with Maymay‘s proposed method of using the Internet, including Twitter as a sort of annotated bibliography for his stream of consciousness. (That’s an extremely reductivist description of what he’s actually doing, but his own post explains it better than I can right now.) I want to write something more analytical about that eventually and I’m interested in trying it out first-hand before I do that. This is a small step in that direction. (Notably sans many of the salient diplomatic issues that come from doing it in front of 2,500 followers, which is one of the methodological aspects I’m the most interested in.)

3. Speaking of people doing neat stuff on the Internet: Once upon a time in 2008, someone I care about and admire very much started a little personal body image project in which she posted one picture of herself every single day, in public for the whole Internet to see, no matter how she was feeling about her body. It was an experiment to realign her culturally-distorted perception of (her own) feminine beauty by looking at unprocessed pictures of herself rather than hegemonic media images. I thought it was beautiful and brilliant at the time – and especially when, roughly a year later, she posted:

I’m not telling you [about my negative self-perceptions] because I’m seeking approbation. I’m telling you this in the hopes that writing down these totally absurd, negative thoughts can help me to own and eradicate them.

[…]Like everything else in life, our bodies are constantly changing. The inextricable link between body image and confidence is a social construct that effectively keeps women subjugated. I quit. I truly, finally, made a decision not to play the game anymore.

So, that’s cool. But what does it have to do with anything? Like most women (and probably most people) in our culture, I have some body-image issues that have messed with my life in major ways, sure. And at some point, when I get my head and my notes together, I’ll write something about the tricky intersections between anorexia, feminism and being a fat girl. But the reason I thought of Ann’s project in relation to this Twitter Lit thing has not much to do with my body and more to do with my brain-image issues.

Partly because of said body-image issues, and some stuff about sex-negativity and heterosexist culture and blah blah blah… Long boring story about the kyriarchy short: I internalized the idea that, as a woman, my worth as a human being relied on my fuckability – but as a fat “ugly” nerdy invisibly-queer girl, I also felt fundamentally unfuckable. (This was obviously not true and I had a lot of sex in high school but…it’s complicated.) I knew people thought I was smart, though, and I decided that might be almost as good as being attractive to boys – and, anyway, it would have to do; I’ve both defined my self-worth by and felt precariously insecure about my intellect for most of my adult life.

My impostor syndrome isn’t helped any by the fact that I’m a professional academic without a graduate degree. (See above: Things my boss expects me to know that I’m clueless about.) And my assessment of my own intelligence is further distorted by the fact that I actively surround myself with (and then compare myself to) the most brilliant people I possibly can because, well fuck, you only live once. Smart people are interesting and more fun in bed. (I also believe that “smartness” is a false dichotomy rooted in ableism – but it’s a false dichotomy that still haunts my self-image in a serious way.)

Which leads me (along a winding path) to my point! I’m massively embarrassed by the idea of being dumb or silly in public – especially on the very public Internet. Which means I self-censor all the time. This means both that I have a lot of good ideas that probably never see the light of day, and also that I have totally unrealistic expectations of myself that no person can reasonably live up to. But if I make a rule that I have to post everything I’m reading in a publicly accessible place where I can look at it all together, it encourages me to follow Ann’s third rule:

3) I can take the picture at any time of day. Just like everyone else, there are times when I look suitably doe-eyed and peachy, and there are times when I resemble a proverbial Swamp-Thing. My goal is to capture a nice mixture of both, so I can re-align my perceptions of myself and disconnect them a bit from unhealthy cultural expectations. I can’t do anything about the way other people treat or react to me, but feeling more inwardly confident could help me to deal with the sexist reactions of others.

I want to re-align my perceptions of my own intellect. Both in terms of having a more realistic sense of it and also feeling less like it defines my worth and love-ability as a human being. This “brain-image project” is a small step in that direction, too.

4. Practically speaking, keeping track of everything I’m reading will hopefully also help get a better understanding of what the fuck I’m doing with all the hours that seem to disappear into the Internet every day. That’s something I’d like to know.

5. I was going to write some stuff here about the evolution of organizational structures, what counts as a “source”, the language of keywords, and some other fun stuff. But the longer I write, the longer an increasingly sleepy Dakota has to wait to go home (where there is a soft comfy bed but no Internet). And I want to post this before I go or (due to the aforementioned fear of being silly on the Internet) I probably never will.

So, that’s that.

I start tomorrow.

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1 Comment »

  1. Hm. Interesting idea. 🙂 I’m looking forward to finding out how it works.

    Comment by maymay — January 12, 2012 @ 7:59 am | Reply


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