Beginning, Again

Being open, whatever else it implies, increases some possibilities for interaction, influence, and friction.

I think out loud a lot. I do that because I think a lot, and because for me talking is a vehicle for thinking. The practice doesn’t seem to bother anyone – at least, the cats and the dog have never complained to me about it, and I usually do it when they’re the only ones around.

I suppose this is an admission that I talk to myself. Granted, sometimes I am thinking out loud about what I’m going to say in class, so that the talking functions as a kind of rehearsal, which could qualify as a professional practice. Who would look askance at that? But when I’m not rehearsing what I’m going to say in class, I may be going on about something that happened in the country or the world, or something someone shared on Facebook that bothered me or got me wondering about something, or I’m trying to answer a question that occurred to me in the course of thinking about something else or because I read something or because of something someone said or the way they said it. Thinking out loud about random topics of this kind when I’m by myself in the house pretty clearly fits the description of “talking to myself.” There’s no way around that.

In all honesty, though, I like myself as a conversation partner. I’m always perfectly clear, to myself. I tend to appreciate my arguments, and to concur with my conclusions. I seldom find myself boring.

But I have been thinking lately, more and more, that I should be doing more of my thinking out loud more openly. Thinking out loud by myself lets me avoid the challenge of articulating this thinking for a conversation partner who might possibly think differently or see things differently than I do. It lets me avoid listening for someone else’s articulate response, not just that “friendly” tribal affirmative thumbs up. It lets me avoid being neighborly, when my neighbors, judging from the bumper stickers, include the members of tribes whose languages I don’t speak, or at least not well enough to understand. Thinking out loud by myself is too easy, and not helpful enough.

Social media might seem like a good place for pursuing the thinking-out-loud-together project. My own experience, however, has been that, far from providing a platform for thinking out loud in public, social media encourages me in the habit of letting all kinds of things go by in silence.

One factor is probably the norm of brevity. I realize it’s possible to compose long, reasoned speeches on some topic of interest and post them on social media – I’ve read them from some of my “friends” – but even where brevity isn’t enforced, as on Twitter, the prevailing social media ethos is the quip, the meme, the comic, the telegraphic opinion. The conventions of the social media seem to favor the quick reflexes of the gamer over the tenacious thoroughness of the hypothesist.

An even bigger factor is probably the norm of affirmation. Heaven knows people share every kind of opinion on social media. The point of all this sharing, however, seems to be the affirmation of one’s tribal membership. Facebook, for instance, doesn’t seem to be a place for the exploration of that membership and one’s reasons for it in detail, or for the calling into question of any portion or feature of it with any seriousness. It feels a little un “friendly” to challenge people’s various assumptive requests for agreement with their emotive expressions (“share this if you like teachers and believe they shouldn’t have to buy their own school supplies;” “copy and paste this to show that you care about” autistic children or women with cancer or black lives that matter or the flag and our troops and our brave police or God; “like” my joke about that awful politician). I suppose I could be wrong, but I doubt that any of my “friends” are actually asking for me to challenge their meme or text with my detailed discussion of why copying and pasting that particular thing or shouting out that particular agreement might be the wrong thing to do, or the wrong thing at this particular time, or something that might be mostly agreeable to me but only after appropriate nuancing and qualification of the part that would be disagreeable, or something that would take a little more research to determine whether that kind of whole-hearted agreement is warranted. It’s easier just to pass it by as if I never saw it (“I’m not on Facebook that much, actually”). There have been days I’ve tried not to “like” too many baby and vacation pictures and have skipped leaving “Happy Birthday” greetings so I have better plausible deniability.

I had a blog before this one – more than one, in fact. Given that history, I don’t assume that blogging – thinking out loud on the internet – necessitates a more public practice than thinking out loud with the cats and the dog. The main difference between thinking out loud on the internet and thinking out loud at home is that thinking out loud on the internet increases the possibility of being overheard.

But the possibility of being overheard does, I think, make a difference in what a person says and how she says it. I think it might be a difference for the better. The thought that motivates this renewed effort at blogging is that adding the possibility of being overheard to the practice of thinking out loud  may have some benefit, at least for the person doing the thinking, and maybe also for whoever happens to overhear.

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