Interdisciplinary Blogging: NYTimes Happy Days blog

Posted in The Gnovis Blog

In this, my second year working for Gnovis blog, the team has been thinking through the purpose and structure of our blogging. What is academic blogging? Toward what objective do we participate? What will the gnovis ‘brand’ of blogging look like? (much more on these question in the future)

While self-reflexive blogging has been a regular feature of the gnovis blog (see here here here, here, here), I want to step back, table the discussion of what we do (focused on the ‘I’) and ask how other bloggers practice their craft (focus on ‘they’). With our lens focused externally first, I hope to eventually look back and shed more light on our own blog and blogging. To begin with, I want to first highlight one of my favorite blogs Happy Days on the NY Times website and then start to unpack their method of blogging.

So first, what work is this blog trying to do? Below, Happy Days blog explains its purpose and topic:

The severe economic downturn has forced many people to reassess their values and the ways they act on them in their daily lives. For some, the pursuit of happiness, sanity, or even survival, has been transformed.

Happy Days is a discussion about the search for contentment in its many forms — economic, emotional, physical, spiritual — and the stories of those striving to come to terms with the lives they lead.

Considering its impetus (dealing with hard times) and the content (happiness how-to), I’m thinking of this blog as a secular alternative to religious or spiritual authorities. This blog, in my reading, seeks to provide a secular platform to reorient our values through expert testimony and public debate. But on what source of authority can a secular, user contributed, interdisciplinary digital debate of happiness rely on?

Although this question of authority is interesting in its own right, it is particularly germane for us to consider at CCT, as we try and build our interdisciplinary research and blogspace. Happy Days tosses the question of happiness around a panel of experts (experts on Happiness I suppose) from across disciplines and professions, including philosophers, scientists, poets, activists, priests, and even cartoonists. Likewise, gnovis bloggers come from different disciplinary backgrounds and will leave CCT to go into a variety of fields. While the experts are the featured bloggers, commenting is frequent and often lengthy. Most of the posts by experts are followed up with a post highlighting the most insightful or passionate comments. Although we cannot know the professions or identity of the commenters, we can readily infer that through their input the interdisciplinary discussion of happiness is supplied with even greater diversity.

With all these different perspectives and worldviews, where does the authority lie? I cannot even begin to make a conclusive answer to the question, but I can offer a few observations:
1 – Personal experience is cited in nearly every post.
2 – Historical parallels are often used, some times to learn from the past, some times to simply say, ‘hey, what we’re living through now… not that new’
3 – Literary examples and analogies are surprisingly frequent. Often the authors point to novels, poems, and classical thinkers as a basis for claims regarding human nature.

Ultimately, the sources of evidence and authority are too diverse and are often contradictory. How then does a discussion of value and happiness go anywhere? What is added to our knowledge/experience in a discussion so contradictory? Is all value relative? Well, I can’t say that for sure either. I welcome suggestions.

For now, I can say that the value I see in Happy Days (and by extension our interdisciplinary CCT program) is that it holds the contradictions next to each other. Instead of segregating writers with different methods, standards, and sources of authority, the different voices are collected into one place. Debate between the experts is minimal. The reader is left to digest and resolve (or leave unresolved) any inconsistencies and contradictions. Happiness, like human life in general, may actually be enriched through the contradictions.