It is not just the contemporary frenziness for self-exhibition, nor the never-ending human need for public appreciation. At least, I do not feel like that: I am a lucky guy who feels more often overappreciated than underappreciated, and basically dislikes the idea of being under a spotlight of any sort.
So, the question is: why then do I have one professional, one personal, and one alter-ego site, two blogs (at least), FaceBook, Twitter, About.me, LinkedIn, Scholar, ResearchGate, Academia.edu, SlideShare, …, and so long and so forth? Maybe I am not so shy?!? Why sharing so much, in the end?
Several times, while trying to understand myself, I have given responsibility to my will to, say, “return favours” to a world of unknown people posting small bits of information on the Web, which then I found just at the right time, which helped me in critical moments, even saved me sometimes.
And in the end it is like that, but also more than that: reading the motivation letter of a young collaborator of mine, Stefano M., I finally got the point. And the point is: the value of knowledge.
I should have known by myself: I chose to become a university professor many years ago, so to be both a teacher and a researcher. A person involved in transferring and producing knowledge: within an institution, the university, whose final goal is to preserve human knowledge, pass it to the new generations, and create new knowledge to the benefit of the humankind.
That is my place, that is my goal: and so I share. My papers, my ideas, my results, my minor / major discoveries, even my mistakes. I probably do not have really so much more to say than anybody else, and it is even possible that no one will ever benefit by any of my efforts. But that is not the point.
The point, again, is that human knowledge is the most precious treasure of mankind, which was built in thousands years by a huge number of small humans, like myself. Today, technology enables us to share with anyone else on this planet whatever we think, discover, or experience, whenever we like, wherever we are. Bringing all my tiny bits of knowledge potentially to everybody, using any tool available, is how I feel good.
I know the value of knowledge, so I try not to be shy. I avoid thinking about the almost impossible task of adding something meaningful to the human body of knowledge. I know the value of knowledge, so I share.
To be clear: not a problem of being popular, having millions of readers / followers, or the like. After all, most of us, in our everyday life, are perfectly content to talk with a few friends, and to be heard by a few people we have around. We do not really need our “five-Warhol-minutes” of huge popularity: just express ourselves freely and fully, being occasionally heard and possibly understood by someone else, is typically more than enough for most people without self-esteem problems.
The point is that for years the Web was a place where to easily read everything, but hardly express anything. Technical skills were required, which constituted a barrier for most people, making them just consumers of information and knowledge on the Web.
From time to time, in the last ten years, I played with tools to set up web sites, blogs, wikis, pages: I am technically gifted, but I was trying to understand what I could have done on the Web if I were not. Not so much, actually: until FaceBook and Twitter came in, letting everybody communicate worldwide, and blog services like WordPress and Blogger emerged and evolved to maturity.
When technical skills are no longer critical, expressing yourself mostly depends on your communication skills: which, on the Web, amount at language, presentation, and organisation skills. This might not be clear in Twitter and FaceBook, where the aesthetic and structure of your communication are fixed by the service providers: but it is much more evident within blog services, or site management systems, like Google Sites. Of course, all of such services guide you to provide a consistent view over your posts and pages: but in the end you can do what you like more, and the way in which you write and organise, say, your blog, or your site, is often as relevant to your expression as what you do actually say.
So, this is when things change on the Web: when you depend no longer on your technical skills, but rather on your communication abilities. Anyone with a browser, an Internet connection, and a little patience, can nowadays publish a web page, run a blog, set up a web site.
In the end, it mostly depends on ourselves: we have finally the tools to make our voice heard on the Web, if we just have something to say, and the ability to make it interesting for others. As it should be.
Tonight, “stimulated” (so to say) by an incredibly old-fashioned editorial system of a journal, I suddenly bumped into a memory: my old papers, my first (almost) scientific production, was written using a no-longer existing word processor. It was called FullWrite Professional, and (beside being one of the first famous cases of vapourware) it was also one of the best Mac word processors ever. The problem is: it just vanished in 1998, and my files were no longer accessible / readable / nothing. Sadness: nothing so important, but…
Then I looked around and, after a little while, I found libmwaw, a tool apparently meant to “import library for some old mac text documents”. Downloaded, used, just worked. Magic! Well, it did not probably add any scientific value to my earlier technical and scientific materials: however, it brought them back to life, with most of the formatting, and all of the pictures. Just that.
I was finally able to re-read my papers, notes, tests, data from 1991 to 1994: a minor shock, personal archeology, nothing to be shared, maybe… but also some small, stupid, yet welcome happiness, tonight 🙂