A tiny contribution to culture?

img-20161204-wa00031112This year I would like to think more and do a little less. Or, in other words, to make a better job of fewer things.  This resolution has caused me to think about why I write this blog and whether I should continue to do so.  I started writing it in 2012 as part of an outreach effort mandated by a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award that I held for five years until February 2016. So, the original motivation for writing a weekly blog has expired but obviously I have continued – why?

Well, a number of reasons come to mind, first: loyalty to my readers – in 2015 visitors to this blog would have filled six New York subway trains [see my post of January 21st, 2016].  The number of visitors more than doubled in 2016 so that now you would fill a small Premier league football stadium.  It’s difficult to disappoint this number of readers.

Second: the annual doubling of the blog’s readership perhaps suggests that I am doing something worthwhile – making a small contribution to our culture and society.  To quote the neuroscientist Vittorio Gallese in conversation with Stefan Klein ‘by passing on just a little bit of knowledge, every human being makes a contribution to that culture’.   Most of the time this is an altruistic motivation but occasionally it is converted into an inner warm glow when I meet someone who says ‘I read your blog and …’

The third reason is purely selfish: the process of writing is therapeutic and provides an opportunity to collect, order and record my thoughts and ideas.  My editor thinks that I focus too much on re-blogging other peoples’ ideas and that more originality would bring a bigger increase in readership. She is probably right about the connection between originality and readership but original thinking is hard to do, especially on a weekly basis, so often the best I can do is to join dots in ways that perhaps you haven’t thought about.

My final reason is more pecuniary. As an academic researcher, I need to apply for funding to support my research group of about a dozen people.  Engagement in enhancing the public understanding of science and technology is an expectation of many funding bodies and so an established blog with a stadium-sized readership is an asset that justifies the investment of time.

The relative importance of these reasons varies with my mood and audience but together they are sufficient to ensure that writing a weekly post will be one of the fewer things that I plan to do better in 2017.  I guess that means fewer introspective posts like this one!

Best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year to all my readers!

Source: Stefan Klein, We are all stardust, London: Scribe, 2015.

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8 comments

  1. Please disregard your editor (editor? Who has an editor nowadays? Or did you mean wife?). I enjoy having the thoughts of others drawn to my attention, especially by someone whose intellectual and cultural tastes so closely match mine. Keep up the good work.

  2. It is always a good idea to find out why you want to have weblog. More people should start the new year with finding out why to continue with it. Happy New Year and thanks for the effort to go on writing. I enyoy reading it.

  3. Please don’t give up. I’m encountering the scientific world at a late age chronologically, but mentally as an infant, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and look forward to your blogs. Excuse mixed metaphor. My editor has run off with the butler.

  4. I started reading your blog today with a bit of trepidation, thinking, “Oh, no he’s going to quit blogging.” Whew! Thankfully not. My additional thoughts are: First, I like the bits of culture and odds and ends from other writers, artists, scientists, and thinkers which you introduce in your blogs. I’ve learned of things I might not have ever encountered here in the U.S.A. Oddly too, I’ve found your tastes often like my own, the cosmology, poetry, art, etc. Second, I happen to like your introspective pieces. To me they are some of the best blogs, because you have a reflective and informed introspection that sometimes helps me enrich my own life. Thirdly, Realize Engineering in my Wednesday in-box is a highlight of the day. Fourthly, as far as your purpose driven funding, I have gained a better appreciation of the role of engineering and engineers in contemporary society from your blogs, and this has altered my previous stereotypes in a positive way. I fear for our MOOCs though! I hope those don’t get pruned.

  5. Sorry for posting twice,but here is a concrete example. I read widely, but had never heard of the Bailey prize until you wrote about it in your blog. Afterwards, I sent information about it to our local university library and asked if their collection development librarians could pay attention to the nominees and winners and possibly add some of the books to their library collection.

  6. Being one of your regular readers and occasionally commenting, I appreciate that you continue! This is the only post I regularly read, and its content has always been inspiring. I know that cutting down activities is a hard job, as every single one of them had a good reason of being accepted at its time. So maybe you find other activities to weed – or wait for retirement…

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