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On being what I am not

September 30, 2007

I am a novice blogger. Dave Snowden invited me to blog for a couple of weeks on this website and I decided that I would try it out for fun. However, I feel a bit like a country cousin from Iowa gate crashing a New York fancy dress party. I am hoping that people will not see through the fact that I am not disguised and will actually mistake me for a country cousin from Iowa.

So what’s with country cousins? Well, numerous academic studies reveal that country cousins are rather simple people who speak their minds without malice aforethought. Here, simplicity = absence of malice aforethought, country = not New York, and cousins = relatives that you can’t expect to inherit much from. Now speaking your mind without malice aforethought is code for self-expression. Whatever is on the inside get’s displayed on the outside with little awareness or regard for the sensitivities or opinions of those who are exposed to it. Compare this with communication, the art of saying something so well aligned with what the hearer wants to hear that she doesn’t even realize that she has also swallowed something that she didn’t want to hear. Self-expression is what country cousins practice unwittingly and artists practice deliberately. Communication, on the other hand, is what advertising agencies and politicians specialize in. One of the greatest of communication skills is to be able to fake self-expression. And that, of course, is exactly what I am hoping to achieve by masquerading as the country cousin that I really am at the fancy dress party.

How might this affect my blogging strategy? From the little that I know of blogging, it offers all of the advantages of publication – a large admiring or hostile audience – with little or none of the attendant responsibilities – ie, to either entertain or to apologise for failing to do so. In other words it allows me to pass off what is really an exercise in self-expression as an act of communication – exactly the opposite of what I have defined as a communication skill.

So blogging allows a nested process in which the country cousin wants you to believe that he is skillfully disguised as a country cousin so that he can go on being a country cousin without actually having to pretend that he is so. If you’ve got that, then you’ve got my blogging strategy.

Max Boisot (Dave Snowden acting as secretary)

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